Personal connection is a human need

Everyone needs personal connection. For some, they need a deeper connection to self, to friends or family, in intimacy or love, as connection to country or perhaps getting back to nature. Ask anyone successful and often they can name 1 person who changed everything for them.

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

-Lois Lowry, The Giver

Everyone Needs Personal Connection

In September this year I travelled to Sydney for a Tony Robbins event called UPW 2023 (Unleash the Power Within). I was blown away at the amount of love and personal connection in the event. People who were strangers, only moments before, hugged each other. We shared our stories and vulnerabilities with each other. I poured my heart out to people I barely knew… and they did the same to me.

Have We Lost Connection?

After 4 days of this incredible experience, I boarded a bendy bus to travel back to the airport and make my way home. Seats were filled and passengers filled the isle, so I guess there were roughly 70 or 80 people on the bus. I had my big bag, so it was difficult to know where to sit it out of the way.

At one point a woman got on, walked straight to my seat and bellowed, “Excuse me”. I quickly moved my bag and stood up. The woman pushed past me, plopped herself down in the seat and looked out the window. I decided at that point it was going to be more pleasant to stand for the 40 minute trip.

I stood up, as more people piled on the bus. I could see friends in school uniform who got on the bus together and were sitting next to each other. I could see lovers sitting next to each other. Friends travelling together to work… but the silence was deafening. No one, not even friends or lovers, said one word to each other. I looked around for a friendly face but almost everyone was staring at their phone or listening on their headphones.

Finally I heard a conversation behind me. I though finally, someone human. I turned around and observed a woman speaking loud on her mobile phone. She wasn’t speaking to someone on the bus after all.

A young woman stood next to me and we were rather squashed in the crowded bus. I noticed she had her phone in her hand. She would hold her phone up and check if there were any messages every 20-30 seconds. For 15 minutes, there were no messages, but she had a compulsion to check anyway. At one point, the driver hit the brakes hard and the young woman ran into me.

She said, “Oh, I’m so sorry”.

I said, “That’s fine. You can’t avoid it when we’re so squashed in”.

She gave me a smile, so I thought I would try to talk. I said, “I can’t believe the bus is so quiet. There’s a lot of people on here but no one talking”.

She laughed a little, said, “Yeah”, and then went back to looking at her phone, despite their being nothing on the screen.

I reflected on this bus trip for weeks. How could 70-80 people fill a bus and not one person talk to another? Perhaps we can blame technology or maybe COVID changed things. Maybe de-humanising people and ignoring their need for personal connection, at a time when people needed it most, had taken its toll.

Technology is Changing the World

Then I gave some thought to what I knew about business. New technology, like AI, is changing the world. But there will always be a need for deep personal connection. I have successfully built relationships with potential clients, partners and employers throughout my career. Despite AI being ground breaking technology, it will never replace a smile, eye contact or personal touch to build rapport.

What We’re Searching For

At the time of writing there are 74,000 Google searches every month for AI, which dwarfs any search made for intelligence, thinking, decisions, leadership or any other human skill. We’re in trouble. Big tech has successfully dumbed-down our world.

Our need for personal connection has been hijacked by big tech as well. Sharing a coffee, a beer or just good conversations with our closest friends often gets replaced with brief texts and boxed up emojis to express how we feel. Imagine trying to show your desire for a loved one by sending an eggplant emoji or the love you feel by sending a love heart emoji .

Screens Miss Something

Smartphones can never replace a friendly wave, a heartfelt smile, a warm hug, a firm handshake, a gentle kiss, intimate touch, sharing the same hot meal, enjoying coffee together, being in the same room or feeling the same experience. Obviously only a couple of these are appropriate for forging strong business relationships and I really hope you understand which ones!

Maslow created a hierarchy of needs and one of those needs is belonging. Tony Robbins taught me similarly (at UPW 2023), people have a need for love and connection. I believe that wholeheartedly because I witnessed around 9,000 people, most of them strangers, longing for real human contact. I think the craziest moment for me was when we were asked to turn to someone we didn’t know and stare into their eyes, without breaking that stare for several minutes. They say the eyes are the window to the soul and after this exercise I believe that’s true.

Build Business Relationships

Relationships matter as much in business, as they do in everyday life. I have said before, people buy with emotion and justify with logic. If that’s true, doesn’t it make sense they buy from people they know, like and trust? In order to know, like and trust you, you need to build rapport and face-to-face is the best way to do it.

People buy feelings, not products

Technology is changing the way we do business but we should never try to replace real emotion with artificial intelligence. As I learned from Tom Ziglar, technology should be used to enhance, rather than replace, personal connection. Meet with clients, share a coffee, share a meal, share a story or just a laugh.

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