At the Helm: Finding connections in a virtual world

David Gee Annapolis
By David Gee

I recently caught up over Zoom with a friend I last got together with a year-and-a-half ago. It was good to “see” him, but at one point he just sounded kind of sad and said, “I feel so disconnected. I don’t go into the office, I don’t have beers with my buddies, my dad died last fall and we didn’t have the big funeral we would have otherwise. I just feel like I have lost so much human connection.”

Before I go any further, let me make clear that we both recognize and acknowledge our good fortune. We’re both working, our spouses are both working, we’re healthy and our families are all healthy. But I think it also became obvious to both of us that there have been other costs to this pandemic, and that is loneliness and isolation, even if we have been relatively unscathed in other respects.

I recently interviewed Riaz Meghji, a human connection expert, and author of the new book, Every Conversation Counts: The 5 Habits of Human Connection that Build Extraordinary Relationships.

He told me “pandemics don’t change our identity, they reveal it.” And that the big reveal for many of us during this time is that human connection is not a nice to have in our lives, it’s a necessity.

“We talk all the time about social distancing, but we too often emotionally distance at the same time,” Meghji said. “Conversations of convenience have largely disappeared while so many of us work remotely and we really have to be deliberate about building stronger connections, both personally and professionally.”

He suggests approaching conversations with a sense of discovery.

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“Don’t just ask someone ‘how they’re doing,’” continued Meghji. “Ask them how they are coping. Ask them how they are taking care of themselves. We need to make our conversations more real.”

As Meghji writes in his book, social scientists are only beginning to understand the toll that isolation has taken for many of us. He cites one survey of Americans that only 14% described themselves as “very happy” – the worst results in 50 years. A survey of Canadians found that 84% said their mental health had worsened since the pandemic.

“For many this was a realization that human connection was more valuable than they thought,” Meghji told me.

So how do we better connect in a virtual world?  Meghji lists five things:

  • Listen without distraction
  • Make your small talk bigger
  • Put aside your perfect persona and be more human
  • Be assertively empathetic
  • Lift people up and make them feel famous

I’ll leave you with my favorite way to connect with people. Invite them on your boat! Happy spring and we’ll see you on the water.   

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