- Be curious and explore people's perspectives and stories.
- Authentically share something vulnerable from your own experiences.
- Pause before you get into problem-solving, fixing, or transacting.
- Work with other people to co-create solutions for your new reality.
- Stay emotionally present—don't step out of or over the emotional realm.
Intimacy is a driving need of all human beings. We are wired for connection. Knowing and feeling known, openness, safety, and understanding are fundamental to our personal and professional relationships.
In this time of crisis, we are called upon more than ever to connect in an intimate way—to step into the emotional realm in our relationships. We can achieve this by embracing the empathetic reality that we are all in this together. We are just human beings trying to deal with what has been served up to us.
Right now, what everyone you encounter needs most from you is your humanness. Trying to lead or cope by being perfect, an expert, or all- knowing makes it challenging to foster intimacy.
Instead, try to root yourself in humility. Accept your limitations. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledge that your perspective is an incomplete picture of the larger situation.
Begin by cultivating empathy toward yourself and self-compassion for who you are as an imperfect human being. This helps make intimate connections possible.
Here are 7 ways you can lean into your humanness to connect more deeply in these challenging times.
1. Reflect on the beliefs shaping your behaviors
None of us has experienced anything like the social circumstances surrounding this health and economic crisis. We are all scrambling to cope with new modes of living and working. As we do, we have to unlearn and learn new ways of engaging with each other.
This change begins with the reminder that behavior follows belief. How we act and interact is based on mental models—thoughts, beliefs, stories, and assumptions we have constructed over time about how the world works.
Meaningful changes in behavior are made possible by reflecting on your beliefs, which we call "thinking about your thinking." Ask yourself, "How are my mental models shaping my thoughts, feelings, and choices?"
In these new and somewhat confusing circumstances, take time to reflect on what it means to be a parent, a boss, a colleague, part of a team, a partner, a leader, or a friend. Or dig into your mental models about being afraid, intimate, uncertain, or powerless.
And before you act, or when you react, press pause and ask: "Where did that thought or feeling come from? What am I thinking right now? What beliefs led me to react in this way?"
2. Engage in dialogue to explore perspectives and experiences
Dialogue is a process of talking through topics to build shared meaning. It is a specific activity used to strive for understanding, alignment, and ultimately, intimacy. Whether it is with your children, your spouse, or your colleagues, you can use dialogue to explore each other's perspectives and experiences.
Reflect on how you view communication. Are you guided by mental models that conversations are used to get your views across, drive outcomes, get agreement, problem-solve, or transact? Expanding your mental model to incorporate dialogue—talking through topics—will allow you to move toward communicating to connect in an intimate way.
3. Turn your vulnerabilities into opportunities for intimacy
In a social crisis of this magnitude, everyone is vulnerable—physically and emotionally. These vulnerabilities offer us an incredible opportunity to connect to each other's humanness.
By stepping into the emotional realm, we can invite people to meet us in an intimate space. We can explore each other's feelings, experiences, stories, and the impact of how we are connecting with each other.
You can turn vulnerability into intimacy by promoting emotional safety, withholding judgments, asking curious questions, and sharing your experiences. Try to go beyond generic responses and build rapport when someone asks, "How are you doing?" Offer a thoughtful and authentic expression of how these experiences are impacting you. And ask questions about how the situation is impacting them.
4. Monitor your defenses to vulnerability
Defenses are psychological protections in response to the risk and fears we associate with being vulnerable. In a crisis, those defenses can become more powerful as our fears and vulnerabilities are magnified.
Defenses can look like anger, control, staying in hierarchy, avoiding emotions, hiding, and withdrawal. These modes are problematic—especially in a crisis—because they are barriers to intimacy. Defenses limit our ability to connect.
Be mindful of your defenses. When fears arise, focus on leaning into your humanness. Reflect on where the emotion comes from. Take the risk to share your feelings. Invite people to be helpful and kind in understanding you. This will enable you to build and sustain intimacy.
5. Stay out of hierarchy as much as possible
Hierarchy—a focus on who is "in charge"—is often a default control defense in personal and professional settings. We get into boss mode, expert mode, parent mode, "know the answers" mode, or "figure things out for other people" mode.
The challenge with hierarchies is that they shut down much of what it means to be human—in organizations, relationships, and families.
As you strive to connect in an intimate way, try to think of other people as peers—human beings who are equally important and have different perspectives.
Even in situations with natural and necessary differences in responsibility or decision-making authority, don't default to hierarchy. Practice peership by asking questions, seeking perspectives, honoring views, co-creating outcomes, and connecting at an emotional level.
6. Co-create your "new normal"
The unprecedented nature of this global health and economic crisis has opened the door for co-creation—the process of working together to design shared views and solutions.
In both our professional and personal contexts, we are all in this together. Co-creation says, "Let's explore what we're feeling and thinking. Let's withhold judgments. Let's dialogue about our views. Let's present our best options. Let's align around execution." This approach helps build intimacy around our collective view of the "new normal," versus one person saying, "This is how we should do it."
Co-creation recognizes that every human being values and benefits from having a say in how their lives are going to unfold, especially in the face of high uncertainty.
7. Foster empathy through curiosity
Author Dr. Atul Gawande's observation that "Curiosity is the beginning of empathy" serves us well in times of crisis. Curiosity allows us to step into another person's life. Hierarchy, judgments, and assuming you know best step over their life.
We are all having a unique emotional experience. We can't assume we know what other people are going through. We don't know how our colleagues are feeling, or how our spouses, partners, and children feel. All we can do is ask really good curious questions. That is how we step into their lives.
Focus on asking open-ended questions using "what" and "how," such as "What are you feeling? How are you experiencing this? How can I engage with you?" And try to steer clear of "why" questions. They are often heard as accusation or judgment, even if that is not what you intend. And they can reinforce hierarchies and limit intimate connection.
We are all in this together
As you navigate the complexities of this new reality, hold in mind that being human means we are all going to feel fearful, vulnerable, uncertain, angry, and overwhelmed. Our job isn't to suppress or overcome these emotions. It's to be human together.
By acknowledging, exploring, and connecting to these emotions, we can build the intimacy and shared meaning that will carry us through this crisis.