9 Ways to Build Bonds (even in times of crisis)

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Many of us are facing unprecedented circumstances with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, and suddenly find ourselves in isolation from coworkers, friends, and loved ones.  Research shows that the long term effects of not being able to connect others can be damaging.  In an article by Stanford Medicine’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research Education, Dr. Emma Seppala says this: “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.” [http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic/]

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”― Herman Melville

Somehow, we must figure out how to continue to build bonds despite the constraints of social distancing and quarantines.

What does it mean to build bonds with others? Those who are good at this competence of emotional intelligence tend to be nurturing and good at maintaining relationships. They seek out and cultivate mutually-beneficial friendships from a wide network of people. But we’re not talking about shallow, superficial relationships. People good at building bonds connect on a deep, if not spiritual level of understanding and compassion which leave others feeling valued and appreciated. They’re able to build rapport and earn the trust of those who interact with them. They value individual perspectives even when they differ from their own. And they’re willing to take time to do what it takes to reach out and check in with others.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”― Martin Luther King Jr.

Those who struggle with building bonds may have a hard time relating to those who are different than them. They fail to recognize — and respond — to the needs and/or concerns of others, and view colleagues, friends, and even family members as competitors. And when things get heated — they easily let go of once-meaningful relationships to avoid the conflict.

When we don’t have a strong network of close relationships, and experience times of stress or crisis, we become ineffective at accomplishing goals or completing tasks because we are limited in who we can turn to for help.

What’s encouraging about emotional intelligence competencies is that they can be developed. In other words, if you’re doing a poor job in the moment at building bonds — there’s hope! With some efforts you can begin to tune into your emotional drivers and alter behaviors which prevent you from making connections, especially during times like this when meaningful relationships are needed most.

Here are a 9 ways to get started on developing deeper bonds with others:

  • Determine who’s who. Decide upon the people you wish to connect with, whether it be someone you already know or someone you’d like to get to know better. Write down their names, and a few personal details you know about them for starters. Note, for each, why you’d like to strengthen the relationship.
  • Know thyself. Self-awareness is key to building bonds with others. Make a list of the positive traits you have to offer in a relationship.  If you’re not clear on your assets, consider taking the free VIA Character Strengths survey to determine your signature strengths.
  • Move beyond the chit chat. To build bonds with others, think about learning who they are vs. what they do.  Ask open-ended questions with the goal of better understanding the motivations behind the actions. Here are a few examples: “How are you — really?”,  “How did that make you feel?”, “How is that tough circumstance tripping you up the most?”, “What are you most excited about, and why?”,  “What makes your heart sing, and why?”, “When is the last time you laughed really hard, and what was it about?”, “What are you most scared of, and why?”, and my favorite, “What else?”.
  • Share authentically. In order to help others feel safe in opening up, you’ll want to to share authentically as well, relating your own stories about the above questions. Just be sure to wait until they are finished talking, and before you jump in, let them know you heard what they said by asking clarifying questions.
  • Show empathy.  It’s important you reflect appropriate emotions in reaction to their words. Obviously, you don’t want to burst out laughing when they’re sharing something sad. Instead, saying something like, “That sounds really hard” can go a long way. Try to feel what they’re feeling and think about how it would be if you were in their shoes.  Let them know you care and believe in them.
  • Be consistent. Check in with others on a regular basis. A simple, “How are you?” every few days reminds others that you’re thinking of them. Remember what they told you in the last conversation and ask how things are going around that. And don’t forget to reach out on special events — at the completion of an important project, after a doctor’s visit, before a tough conversation they need to have, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. If they shared something they are worried about, or really anticipating, be sure to ask about it.
  • Learn to listen.  Getting to know someone requires some good listening skills. Really try to focus on what they’re saying, and make a note to remember the details.  Pull out your phone and make a note if needed.  When they pause, instead of jumping in to speak, again, get in the habit of simply asking, “What else?”.
  • Become a servant-friend. Are you aware of their current needs?  If not, ask, then try to think of ways you could lend a helping hand…then go do it. It’s a little more difficult now that we need to practice social distancing, but with the many delivery services, online ordering, and ability to send money via the internet, you could probably come up with a creative way to help. Having an attitude of service can go a long way in strengthening friendships.
  • Fix the flat tire. Is there unresolved conflict which needs to be taken care of?  Letting the “elephant in the room” exist too long can dampen any relationship and prevent you from moving to a deeper connection. Though it may be easier to avoid the issues between you, having an open and honest conversation to work toward resolve may be necessary if the relationship is to move forward. If this seems impossible, consider enlisting the help of a coach or counselor.

Since most of us are practicing social isolation at the moment, research the different platforms on which you can connect virtually, and give them a try.

A note of advice: When attempting to take any relationship to deeper levels, make sure the connection is reciprocated. Do they, too, have a desire to get to know you better? Friendships don’t work real well when they’re one sided, and it’s tough to get to know someone if they’re just not interested. Try to practice ‘other-awareness’ — tuning into how the other person is feeling, and notice whether they are also interested in building bonds with you. If the relationship is not mutually beneficial, it can fall flat and your efforts can become a source of tension. If so, no harm, no foul. It’s OK.  Not everyone can be a friend. Let it go if needed and move on.

In trying times like these, having close connections will do wonders for your soul. Taking the steps to deepen your relationships can provide the emotional and physical resiliency needed in times of trouble.

“Connecting with others gives us a sense of inclusion, connection, interaction, safety, and community. Your vibe attracts your tribe, so if you want to attract positive and healthy relationships, be one! Staying connected and getting reconnected feeds the flow of goodness which empowers our humanity.”― Susan C. Young


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