Last week we talked about the fact that connecting is more skill than natural talent. I shared with you 5 factors that will help you make connections with people. The bottom line in each of those and any other connection factor is common ground. Finding common ground is what connects you with others. It’s usually pretty easy to spot what makes us all different from each other. But we connect when we find what we share in common.
In his book called Am I Making Myself Clear? Terry Felber says that people have different representational systems based on the five senses that provide the primary basis for their thoughts and feelings. For example, if several people walked down the beach together, their recollections of the experience would be very different based on their representational system. One might remember how the sun felt on his skin and sand on his feet. Another might remember the look of the water and the vivid colors of the sunset. The third might be able to describe the sounds of the ocean and birds, and another, the smell of the salty air and the tanning lotion of nearby sunbathers. Each of us creates a framework for the way we process information. Felber says, “If you can learn to pinpoint how those around you experience the world, and really try to experience the same world they do, you’ll be amazed at how effective your communication will become.” That’s basically the same thing as saying find common ground.
Four Barriers to Finding Common Ground
What might prevent us from finding common ground with people? John Maxwell, in his book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, identifies these four barriers to finding common ground:
Assumption– “I already know what others know, feel, and want.” “All miscommunications are a result of differing assumptions.” —Jerry Ballard.
Arrogance– “I don’t need to know what others know, feel, or want.” Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis observed, “Nine-tenths of the serious controversies that arise in life result from misunderstanding, from one man not knowing the facts which to the other man seem important, or otherwise failing to appreciate his point of view.”
Indifference– “I don’t care to know what others know, feel, or want.” Comedian George Carlin joked, “Scientists announced today that they had found a cure for apathy. However, they claim no one has shown the slightest bit of interest in it.”
Control– “I don’t want others to know what I know, feel, or think.”
Four Choices That Will Help You Find Common Ground
Be Present – Spend time with people. How will you ever get to know someone or find common ground if you don’t spend time together? Two subpoints to this one:
- Be Present Informally – allow yourself to “waste time” with people. The time spent in casual or fun conversation and activity reveals more potential common ground than when it’s all about the work.
- Be Present Mentally – Connection doesn’t happen by osmosis due to physical proximity alone. You have to get out of your own head (or device) and engage in the moment.
Listen – If you’re on the beach with someone, to use the example from Felber, listen to how they’re describing the experience. Are they seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling? Is that the same experience you’re having? If so, common ground! If not, could you adjust your way of experiencing it to see what it’s like to be them? You have to listen to the other person first in order to find common ground.
Ask Questions – This is another form of listening. In fact, in another post, I call this “listening with your mouth.” Asking questions shows the other person that you’re engaged in the conversation, that you’re interested in what they have to say (in other words, in them), and it helps you find out more about them by inviting them to expand on what they’re saying.
Be Humble – Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. That frees up your mind to think of others more. Humility begins with awareness. Who am I thinking about in this moment? What is my motive for this action? Then it involves a choice. What is the other person thinking about? What are they experiencing? When you make that choice enough times, it becomes a habit. When you habitually think of others first, it becomes your character, how others know you. I put Be Humble last on the list for emphasis because it is really the first step in connecting with people.