Why We Connect

October 11, 2016
Mike Stallard

Peter DeMarco, a writer in Boston, lost his 34-year old wife, Laura Levis, following a severe asthma attack. Last week, The New York Times reprinted Mr. DeMarco’s “A Letter to the Doctors and Nurses Who Cared for My Wife.” It went viral. Take time to read it.

Mr. DeMarco’s letter expresses his profound gratitude for the words and deeds of doctors, nurses, technicians and the cleaning crew during his wife's seven days in the ICU.They carried out their tasks in a professional manner AND went above and beyond by taking time to care and connect.

Discovering the Benefits of Connection

For most of my life, I was unaware of the importance of human connection and relationships. The theme of the first half of my life could be described in a phrase, “failure is not an option.” Then, life hit me with a two by four when my beloved wife, Katie, was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer and her probability of survival for more than five years was less than ten percent. Our daughters were just 12 and 10 at the time and I feared losing my best friend; the girls losing their wonderful, loving mother; and Katie not being able to see the girls grow up.

During that time, the love and support my family and I received from our family members, friends and healthcare workers helped me cope. Connection with God and people kept me optimistic, calm and energized to support my wife and daughters. The experience woke me up to what I’d been missing in life.

Today, Katie is cancer free and thriving. Having experienced a life rich in connection, I wasn’t going back to the lonely life I had drifted toward. I wrote about the experience in an article titled “Alone No Longer.”

Out of that difficult season, I came to the conclusion that the best life is one that is rich with connection to God, family, friends and the people I serve through my work (my colleagues and clients).

How Connection Benefits Individuals and Organizations

An abundance of research has shown that connection helps us thrive as individuals.  It brings joy into our lives and makes us healthier and more productive.

Organizations also thrive when their cultures encourage connection. In the book Connection Culture, I describe 5 benefits to organizations:

  1. Employees who feel connected perform at the top of their game;
  2. Employees who feel connected give their best efforts;
  3. Employees who feel connected align their behavior with organizational goals;
  4. Employees who feel connected help improve the quality of decisions; and
  5. Employees who feel connected actively contribute to innovation.

These benefits add up to a powerful source of competitive advantage.

A final reason we intentionally connect with others is demonstrated in Mr. Demarco’s letter. We connect because it’s healing. When hurting, people frequently isolate themselves rather than reach out to connect with others so they can heal. Pioneering research by the neuroscientist/psychiatrist Dr. Ted George, PhD at the National Institutes of Health is showing that loving, supportive relationships are necessary to heal the damage that trauma does to the brain. You can learn more about this research in Dr. George’s excellent book Untangling the Mind.

By reaching out to connect with Mr. Demarco, the people working in the ICU at CHA Cambridge Hospital helped him. Likewise, when we reach out to help those who hurt, we become a force for healing that reconnects them with humanity and life itself.

Want to Connect? Start Here

Today, many people feel powerless because they live and work in cultures that have little connection or they have been hurt and haven’t had the healing connection they need.

My advice is to live out the expression, “be the change you want to see in the world.”  For examples, watch these videos about three of my heroes who’ve made a difference by intentionally connecting with others: Nick Medley of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Herb Pardes, former CEO of New York Presbyterian; and Francis Hesselbein, former head of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.

Finally, become an intentional connector by equipping yourself to make a difference.  Start by reading Connection Culture and signing up for our free 28-page 100 Ways to Connect e-book.  In addition, consider joining us at our upcoming Connection Culture Workshop on November 3rd.

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Michael Lee Stallard, president and cofounder of Connection Culture Group, speaks, teaches and consults on leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. He is the author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Follow him on his blogTwitterFacebookGoogle+ or LinkedIn.

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