TLC: Waving Back–3 Wholehearted Ways to Building Connection

Three fingers side by side with happy faces and hugging arms drawn on them
Image via The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth

Building a connection, a genuine connection is one of the things human beings crave the most – yet the fear of rejection often keeps us from taking the risks necessary to find the connection we long for.

Brad Platt’s song “Waving Through the Window” vividly describes this internal conflict:

I’ve learned to slam on the brake
Before I even turn the key
Before I make the mistake
Before I lead with the worst of me

Give them no reason to stare
No slipping up, if you slip away
So I got nothing to share
No, I got nothing to say…”

The song, vocalizing the individual’s insecure self-talk, urges against taking risks to connect because previous rejections have confirmed their fears that they are not worth knowing:

On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
I’m waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
I’m waving through a window, oh
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?”

How can people “on the outside, looking in,” move from being the one tapping on the glass to the person who sees—the person waving back at others? The transformation begins with them actively confronting the internal voice that questions whether they really matter or can have an impact on others and the world around them.

In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brené Brown shared that her research found the only difference between people who were enjoying meaningful connection and people who found love and connection elusive was that people who had meaningful connection with others simply believed they were people worth knowing and loving. Knowing their own worth enabled them to connect to others without holding back. She called this “Wholeheartedness.”

Brené admits that – especially after others have “taught us” otherwise, people often face a difficult battle to really believe they are worth knowing and loving, let alone risk extending wholehearted connection.

Brown states, “I often say that Wholeheartedness is like the North Star: We never really arrive, but we certainly know if we’re headed in the right direction”.

Here are three wholehearted ways people can begin to attempt to really connect with others:

  1. Finding common ground: Often, the first place people find deep connection is in a support group with others who share a similar challenge, loss, experience, or background. Whether a grief or recovery support group, or an art, theatre, or sports club, knowing that everyone in the group shares something important can enable people to see, value, and listen to each other more naturally.
  2. Giving time: Doing something meaningful together can make attempts to start conversations and with building a connection less awkward. One simple way to do this is to volunteer—find a cause and get busy together. Some of the best connection-building conversations happen while people are distracted planting flowers, serving food, playing with stray dogs and cats, or even picking up trash. Volunteering for a common cause also makes room for shared interests to emerge.
  3. At social gatherings: In a social setting, people can scan the room for someone who looks like they feel the same way: nervous, out-of-sorts, checking their phone or watching the clock, etc. Without any pressure to make a full conversation, people can simply come alongside the other person with the simple goal of helping the other person not to feel alone. A smile may be sufficient, or a simple comment that affirms the shared challenge: “These are never easy,” or “I’ll never get used to hanging out with strangers”. Doing this as an act of care to relieve someone else’s anxiety is also an act of self-compassion because it affirms both people’s value, and one’s personal power to make someone else’s life better.

The key is to change the goal and expectations surrounding connection. Wholeheartedness changes the goal of connection from seeking acceptance to extending acceptance to others. Wholeheartedness expects rejection, but reframes its meaning, assuming others are also struggling with their own insecurities. When someone believes they have something to give, rejection does not challenge personal legitimacy. Even if rejection is real, it need not be personal. Wholehearted people know not everyone is ready for the awkwardness and struggle of building a connection today. But the more wholeheartedness (rather than acceptance) is the goal, the less frightening connection attempts will be the next time. With every attempt, connecting will become easier.

About TLC

The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth (TLC) is a social enterprise company serving the Greater Philadelphia Area. Among its five divisions, TLC offers School-based Staffing Solutions, Mobile Coaching and Counseling, and Heather’s Hope: A Center for Victims of Crime. These major programs are united under TLC’s mission to promote positive choices and cultivate meaningful connections through education, counseling, coaching, and consulting.

Find out more about The Lincoln Center for Family and Youth.

About the Author

MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging.

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