How We Mess Up Our Connections to People

Great leaders know the key to success is getting to know people. Lots of them.

Getting their respect is critical. Being likeable also helps.

No matter your aspirations…your contacts matter.

They connect you to other professionals, to opportunities, to futures you don’t even know yet.  

There are all kinds of ways to engage people (for one easy method, check out my posting  how to engage absolutely anybody).  

There are also plenty of ways we botch it up.

I present to you now the big three.

#1: We tell a great story…about ourselves

I know you’ve experienced it…in all kinds of settings.

  • We ask the person sitting next to us if they have children and they launch into a tedious story about their daughter’s recent soccer tournament.
  • We ask about a colleague’s recent vacation and they pull up dozens of photos on their phone.
  • We ask someone what they do for a living and they launch into their gruesome office politics, complete with the latest tale of their micro-managing boss.

Do people care about what’s going on in each other’s lives? Sure.

But they don’t care that much.

Which means, if we really want to connect with people…

  • …we cannot assume they love what we  love
  • …we cannot bore them with dozens of details that don’t really matter
  • …we cannot use their latest anecdote as an opportunity to turn the focus on our own story 

Most of us are guilty of this one.

But the good news is we can break this bad habit when we pay attention to how much we talk about ourselves…then stop when we go on more than a minute or two.

We must also pay attention to the non-verbal clues given by the other guy…then stop when it’s clear we’ve gone on too long.

I promise it will be obvious.

#2 – We fail to resist the great temptation

Most of us have experienced the high that comes with that vibration in our back pocket…with that unmistakable beeping sound emanating from our bag.

A new email message.  A new text message.  A new phone message.

A new…something that could be important!

At least, that’s what we tell ourselves when we interrupt our conversations in order to rush to our tiny screens. (And it’s not even true. Just read the time-sucking lie we tell ourselves).

For just one example of the impact of this seemingly innocent decision, consider the brief story of my friend Bill.

Bill is a charming, smart fellow who’s learned how to engage people in all kinds of situations.

But then…every single time…he blows it.

How? By letting his eyes wander to that pesky little electronic device, by showing the people he’s been talking to that they are no longer his primary concern. 

“I just need to respond to one message,” he’ll say as he punches in the keys, “but I promise I’m listening to you.”

And we all know the truth. He’s not. Not really.

And even if the other person understands, Bill has still broken the connection.

And that connection means everything. It’s what builds relationships. It’s what builds futures.

#3 We take ourselves way too seriously

Real people like…real people.

  • People who know that they don’t know everything, and aren’t afraid to admit it
  • People who know they have a louder-than-usual laugh, but laugh anyway
  • People who know there is plenty of opportunity and attention to go around, and so they share it all

These people are confident in themselves, and it shows. It makes us trust them. It makes us like them.


  • …fill their sentences with big words
  • …talk about all of the people they know
  • …constantly let their eyes wander around the room to see who else might be there

These people worry so much about what others think of them that their interactions are like a staged play.

Their conversations are academic.  Their compliments seem false. Their smiles look fake.

In the end, they are playing the person they think they should be instead of being the person they are.

And the saddest part about it? Everybody knows it.

Which means there’s no real relationship being formed.

Because there’s no real person to form a relationship with.

And so that person with so much to prove…winds up with no true connections at all.

So…you want to connect with people?

  • Focus on them
  • Turn off email
  • Be real

I promise you it will not just build your contacts, it will not just strengthen relationships with others…

…it will make you stand way, way out from the rest.

Which will make all the difference in your relationships…and, ultimately, your future.

Now, go do good…and do it well.




7 responses to “How We Mess Up Our Connections to People”

  1. On Da Road Avatar

    Great post … I am gonna watch that 2 minute going on & on thing 🙂

  2. John Avatar

    I completely agree and know that I sometimes fall in the “taking myself way too seriously” – working on that one! 🙂

  3. Colleen Lukoff Avatar

    Thanks for reminding us of these basics. So true!

  4. Rachel Kumar Avatar

    Thanks for the great reminders, Dierdre! So simple, yet I know I am guilty of all of these.

  5. Patty Costa Avatar
    Patty Costa

    Thank you Deirdre. Real important tips. Learning to be comfortable with me has given others permission to be comfortable with themselves.

  6. Karla Avatar

    Great post, Deirdre, so much truth in it. Thanks again.

  7. Rhonda Rhyne Avatar
    Rhonda Rhyne

    Great advice! It’s “common sense” but a whole lot of people don’t implement. Keep reminding us of the simple but powerful techniques to effectively build our networks!