I’m not 100% certain why, but for some reason I was thinking about those Verizon wireless commercials…the “Can you hear me now?” spots. Truly some of the most effective advertising in years…but something hit me differently about them today.

When was the last time we thought about whether the people we’re attempting to communicate with the most (family, spouses, friends, clients, co-workers, bosses, literally everyone) are actually hearing us. There are multiple definitions for the term “hearing,” and too often we’re not actually connecting. It’s so important when someone says, “I hear you” they mean “I understand.”

There’s a difference, and within that difference lies your influence.

Not only do each of us have the ability to truly make a difference in the lives of others, but as a leader it’s our responsibility. When Zig Ziglar said, “you can have everything you want in life if you’ll just help enough get what they want” – I don’t believe it was meant merely as a suggestion. He was showing us that our understanding of where we rank our focus on the people around us will directly impact the rate of our own success.

That said, no matter what our goals are – connection is key. More importantly – if we’re unable to connect with people it will absolutely cost us and prevent us from truly achieving success.

“Connecting may not be a life or death issue, but it’s certainly success or failure.” – John Maxwell

I’ve come up with the top 3 keys to connection. There are more, and we’ll go more in depth later, but for now – let’s start with the main three.

1. Be passionate – It’s more than just wanting to be a “people person.” You have to have a passion for it. It’s got to be what gets you up in the morning and keeps you going through the day.

2. Care – This goes hand in hand with Key #1, the difference is “passion” is inward and “caring” is outward. This is where you actually make the people around you “feel it.” John Maxwell says, “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Yes, actually give a damn about people. What a unique concept.

3. Communicate effectively – Clearly a key element of connection is communication. Communication, as a whole, can be broken down into several different elements of its own. For connection purposes, the main element of communication doesn’t have anything to do with talking to people, but has everything to do with listening to them. The better listener we are, the better communicator. Here are a couple easy ways to do that:

  1. Don’t interrupt. Not only is this incredibly rude, it sends a clear message that you could care less what the other person is saying.
  2. Listen. Actually listen and pay attention what the other person is saying, as opposed to just thinking about what you’re going to say next or what you’re next point will be.
  3. Acknowledge. Acknowledge their feelings and/or position. Mirror their key points back to them by saying, “What I understand you to be saying is….” or “What I hear you saying is…”  Even if you disagree, this will not only show the person you’re paying attention, but you’re actually understanding what they’re saying to you.

Truly connecting with people is a learned skill. Which means that even if you’ve never attempted it or aren’t good at it – you can start now and get better and better. Just like any other hobby you take up for the first time – it may take time but you’ll eventually become an expert. The key is sticking with it, and not being afraid to fail.

Start today!