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Cultivate Connection in 2021

Updated: May 8, 2023

Lucy’s first event meant the world to her and it was failing.

My daughter Lucy is beautiful, smart, a passionate political activist… and she’s on the spectrum. She struggles to communicate and strains to organize her week, much less a rally. On that grey October morning, a few friends trickled in, slowly, so slowly. Nearby diners ignored us.

Until Lucy leapt onto the fountain base and raised her violin.

She played I Dreamed a Dream from Les Misérables.

Her violin sang of hopes torn apart, of yearning and love, of loss and revolution. She offered no introduction before she played nor explanation after. She didn’t speak. She just played. To her neighbors, to her town, to a country divided.

And in that moment, she united us. Friends and strangers, protesters and passers-by listened.

True leaders gather us for good, they don’t shatter us into bloody splinters. And sometimes, like Lucy, they use untraditional means to unite us, to raise us above the conflict and chaos.

Try these three tips to foster togetherness this year:

1. Cut others some slack, 2. Listen, and 3. Leverage different personalities.

Tip 1: Cut Them Some Slack!

I was serving on a committee with two friends. Julie may have dropped a ball. Marilyn, who is usually incredibly kind, sent a snarky email. Julie’s response was even snarkier. “Whoa!” I thought to myself, “this is not normal!” I called each and smoothed their respective feathers.

The next day, I read a New York Times article. According to psychologists and neuroscientists, adults are becoming socially awkward due to Covid isolation. Relationship skills are atrophying. We overshare, misunderstand, and struggle to connect. Our remote worlds feel smaller and more barren. We may confuse loneliness with sadness, anger, and fatigue.

What can you do about it?

Pause: Before you flame a colleague, take a breath. Recognize that most of us aren’t at our best right now. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Call to see if you can work things out.

Chill: Need to relax? Here’s a list of free, guided meditations that can take you from tense to tranquil. (Fragrant Heart and Tara Brach are two of my favorites.)

Learn: If you’re feeling lonely, read these astronaut-approved tips on coping with isolation.

TIP 2: Listen

I was right, and totally focused on “winning” the fight with my husband. It was outrageous that he wasn’t listening to me! We dug our heels in, deeper and deeper, until I finally stomped off.


Our opinions are tied to our identity, including our group identity. Group affiliation is a human survival tactic. Psychologically, our pre-existing beliefs keep us anchored to our world. Letting go of these beliefs, no matter how irrational they are, can feel risky, or even dangerous.

When you feel your temper rising, ask yourself, “Do I even want to understand their position?” If you don’t, you won’t get far. Stop. Get curious. Ask questions. Liz Dow, CEO and president of LEADERSHIP Philadelphia, offers the following:

Steps for active listening:

  1. Make it your sole agenda to understand the other person.

  2. Refrain from judging the person or their words.

  3. Do not try to solve their problem or fix them.

  4. Meet them where they are.

  5. Leave behind everything else going on in your life-be there for them in that moment.

I’m fascinated by body language. Observe the other person’s posture, where they look and how they move. MacArthur Award-winning actress Anna Deveare Smith deciphers body language to create her characters. Click here to see how she uses this technique in a master class on empathy.

TIP 3: Leverage different personalities

Opposites attract, but they can also drive you crazy.

I like structure. I created my first five-year plan when I was eight years old. My husband is a rule- breaker. He disdains systems, charms gate keepers, and ignores protocol. Working together we recently secured a record-breaking investment in his company.

Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs, Big Five and Strengths-Finder succeed because they demonstrate that no one personality is best. They show us how to play to our strengths and work around our weaknesses. By understanding your own personality and honoring others’, you can work together for the common good.

Oscar Wilde said, “The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.” So cast your team well.

If you’re curious, try this free test personality test. Let me know what you discover!

We have a fresh start, a chance to come together after a year of isolation and division. Cut your friends some slack. Empathize and listen. Use diversity to bring people together.

Best, Val

Valerie M. Jones, CFRE

P.S.: My New Year’s Resolution is to stop interrupting. What’s yours?

“The great leaders are like the best conductors- they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.”

– Blaine Lee

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