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Making Intentional and Deeper Connections (S.4, Ep.5)
June 1 @ 1:30 pm CDT
About This Episode
In this episode (Season 4, Episode 5), co-hosts Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch talk about making intentional and deeper connections – one of the eight ways of cultivating community resilience that we identified in their “Connecting Communities in Asset-based Community Recovery” project.
“Connecting Communities in Asset-based Community Recovery” is a collection of resources developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic presented some really difficult challenges, but it also revealed some opportunities for building better systems and communities.
Kalin Goble: Welcome to Practicing Connection, a podcast exploring the personal stories and collective practices that empower us to work together to improve our resilience and readiness in a rapidly changing world. Here to start the conversation are Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch.
Jessica Beckendorf: Hello, this is Jessica Beckendorf. Welcome to the Practicing Connection podcast. Today we’ll be talking about making intentional and deeper connections, one of the eight ways of cultivating community resilience that we identified in our Connecting Communities and asset-based Recovery project.
Bob Bertsch: In 2021 we worked with our colleagues Bridget Scott and Sherrill Knezel to host interactive workshops with the purpose of providing a space to share our stories of community recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants in the workshops included military family service providers, extension educators, community developers, and others. Using the asset-based community recovery framework, which was developed by Jonathan Massimi and Heather Keam for the Tamarack Institute, we worked together to identify the interdependencies, capacities, and assets that had emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic response. The stories participants shared in those workshops helped point us toward what communities did really well in their recovery and what they could do better.
Jessica: As we reflected on all of the incredible stories we heard in these workshops, eight themes for building individual and community resilience emerged for us. We’re going to discuss each of these themes in a separate podcast episode. We started with the episode, Grounding Yourself in Your Strengths and Values. If you haven’t listened to it yet, you can find it wherever you found this podcast episode. In this particular episode, we are going to discuss the theme, Making Intentional and Deeper Connections. We’ll be talking about both intention and deeper connections because they both play a part in community recovery and resilience.
In the asset-based community recovery framework, Massimi and Keam write about the increased number of connections we tend to make when a community is first faced with a significant challenge. Once a community moves out of the crisis stage, people begin paring down the number of connections they have and deepening their remaining connections. Participants in the asset-based community recovery workshops told stories about making new connections and about deepening existing relationships.
Bob: People said they felt a greater sense of connection during the pandemic. One participant said that hearing pandemic stories reminded them we were all living through this shared crisis around the world and that we could all support each other’s work globally as we work on and share info about our resilience strategies. Other participants shared stories of new friendships and connections that had been forged during the pandemic. Just in general, there was a feeling that social networks had widened and that the participants found new connections and reconnected with old friends via social media.
We heard stories about how their connections deepened during the pandemic as well. Many families, “stuck together at home” had found that they had more time for meaningful conversations, and the simple question like, “how are you” took on more meaning given the newfound space to give an authentic answer to that question. Participants shared that they had developed stronger connections with their neighbors and an increased feeling of camaraderie with their colleagues as everyone attempted to deal with the challenges of this crisis together.
Jessica: Bob, I actually discovered a lot of new friendships or found a lot of new friendships during the pandemic and I was able to work on some international teams through some associations that I belong to. Today, I still remain friends with many of these people. I really did widen my own network as well. A couple of people I’ve been able to meet in person since then that I only met online during the pandemic and it was really lovely.
Bob: We think too of the sort of somewhat of a meme that arose during the pandemic of people making sourdough bread. These hobbies, as well as making new connections, all of a sudden, we had some space to do that. I think that’s one of the things that as we talk about this particular theme from the asset-based community recovery workshops, it’s one of the things that we’re trying to hang on to.
I think that’s the point of what we want to share today as we’re talking about in this episode, is how do we hang on to at least some of that space to forge those new connections and also deepening connections? We heard people talk about all the new information they got from their coworkers. Like, even now, Jessica and I are recording this on Zoom, so I get to see a little bit of her house in Wisconsin, she gets to see a little bit of my house in North Dakota. We get to see each other’s pets and things like that.
People experienced that during the pandemic, sometimes for the first time. Seeing a coworker have their pet jump in their lap is a way of providing more bandwidth of information about that person. That’s really how we deepen connections with each other is increasing that bandwidth. The amount of information we have about each other, the diversity of that information, so that it’s not just information about me as a coworker, but me as a person, me as a dad, me as a spouse in all of our different roles. In order to do that, we have to spend time talking with each other about more than what the next task is or what project we’re working on or whatever’s going on in our work lives.
Jessica: Thinking about work, too. At Extension often, and I guess I’ll just speak from my own experience, but I have talked to a number of other Extension colleagues across from many different states but one of the things that I was experiencing and didn’t 100% realize it before the pandemic was actually how isolated I felt in my work, because here I’m the only person who works in my particular program area in a particular county.
I’m not alone in that. I’m working with the groups that I’m working with and I have those connections there, but as a profession, I felt pretty isolated. During the pandemic we found so many more ways to work together across our geographic boundaries that I finally felt like I was working on teams again and I wasn’t this entity out in the field by myself, working with the groups that I work with. That was really cool.
I can imagine that other professions have some similar characteristics where it can feel a little bit isolating sometimes to be a professional doing what you’re doing for the clients that you’re working with or for the community that you’re working in and to not have very many, especially in rural areas, not having very many people around who do what you do. The pandemic for me was it expanded my network in that I became closer to my colleagues and much deeper friends with my colleagues across the state. Now there’s some that I’ll drive three hours to go and stay with them for a weekend that I wasn’t doing that before.
Bob: That’s awesome. I think that’s why we’re talking about it and why it makes so much sense that this theme emerged when we were talking about community recovery is, that level, that depth of information, that level of trust is what’s necessary to lead to collaboration. If you’re not talking to people about what you do or what you care about or what you want to change in the world, you’re never going to have the chance to connect with people about that.
Just want to lead into that and as a reminder, lead into the idea that this is really not just talking to the same people over and over again about that, but talking to people in diverse roles and from diverse backgrounds to lead to that collaboration as well, but all of that, going back to where we started, all of that takes space, time and space to do that. That’s part of what we try to do. I think it’s a practice that I see others do as well, is taking some time to share information with each other, either at the beginning of a meeting or throughout a meeting, or at the end of a meeting that goes outside of the boundaries of the role that we’re playing in the actual topic of the meeting. You know what I’m saying?
Jessica: I do. I don’t know if you know of Chad Littlefield’s work. The connection before content, I think, is something that he says very often. I have a really hard time getting groups who are coming together about a particular topic to see value in connecting with each other as human beings before they dive into the content. I think both can happen at the same time and probably both should happen at the same time. Diving into the content, the work that you’re there to do together while you’re getting to know each other but this idea that the connection is such an important part of the content, of getting the work done together, is really intriguing to me. I recommend if you haven’t checked out his stuff, we’ll put a link in the show notes, but it’s some good stuff.
Let’s get into some of the practices that support making intentional and deeper connections. There’s three practices we’re going to suggest here, and they’re all related. Intentionally making connections can build trust. It can build trust necessary for collaborative work, like some of the stuff that we were just talking about, the groups that I was working with. Building trust necessary for collaborative and community-based response and recovery, and frankly, just for collaborative work in general.
The first practice is taking stock, like an inventory of the people that contribute to your resilience.
Bob: If we’re talking about collaboration and community, it might be a little bit surprising to that the practice starts with taking stock of your resilience, but this is how this starts. Is like, we can only make connections one person at a time. We can’t build relationships en masse, and so it’s difficult to launch a coalition or a collaboration or even a network just all of the sudden without starting with, “Hey, what about my personal resilience of whom I already connected to?”
Jessica: You haven’t seen what I can do with a microphone, Bob, so–
Bob: That’s true.
Jessica: No, I agree. It really does start really one person, one conversation at a time.
Bob: I think that’s why starting with your own social support network, it does a couple of things. I think, ultimately, here we’re talking about community resilience and individual resilience is part of that. We can’t really have community resilience unless we have as many as possible individuals in that group practicing good resilience practice and feeling like they can weather the challenges that life brings.
That’s the first practice that Jessica’s talking about is, identify your social support network. Who are you connected to and who really plays a role in your resilience, and what role do they play? How do they support your resilience? Jessica and I talk a lot when we present with groups about this, about having not just a lot of connections. That’s something that Dr. Michael Langer talks about in Individual Resilience is, one of his 12 keys to resilience is lots and lots of supportive relationships, but in addition to lots and lots, you also have to have some diversity there. Not every person in our life is going to play the same role and meet the same needs that we might have.
Having lots of different diversity in terms of even the level of connections. The folks that are your colleagues that maybe you don’t have a ton of personal information about, and you don’t share a ton of personal information about that, but you can laugh at a joke together and they can smile at you on the Zoom meeting and those kinds of things, those people are important to your resilience just like the person who you can have deep thoughtful conversations about what you’re going through or getting feedback on a potential decision about your life or work or whatever.
Anyway, I’m dominating the conversation here, Jessica, but–
Jessica: [chuckles] No. This is stuff that we talk about all the time and it’s stuff that we’re both really connected to. I think in the past, we’ve used the term, because this is a real term that’s out there, emotionships. There might be different kinds of people that we go to for different reasons and for different types of support toward our resilience, and so thinking about who is in your social support network that supports your resilience and how they support your resilience I think it’s really important. That’s the first practice.
The second practice then is another inventory, and it’s taking stock of the people whose resilience you contribute to. Relationships are a two-way street [chuckles] and you are an asset to other people just like they’re an asset to you. There might be people who maybe don’t show up on your first list as super strong that maybe you provide a lot of support too and that’s okay. We’re not– This isn’t quid pro quo. It doesn’t have to be even, but it’s really more about you understanding who you’re supporting, who’s supporting you.
Bob: Yes. I think that’s a great point that it’s not how networks work. We talk a lot about networks here, and we are talking about your social support network. Not every connection is equal in strength. In fact, most are not equal in strength and so there might be a little bit more support going one way or the other, and that is completely okay.
All of this is- not to get too far ahead of ourselves here, but all of this I think is it emblematic or transferrable to wider groups too. I think that’s like really important. If we can look at our own resilience, how we support other people’s resilience and how they support our resilience as it’s okay to be variable, not just in terms of the intensity going each direction, but also the intensity over time. It’s okay to have someone who really, really, really was supportive of you through a challenging time and provide a lot of support, and then maybe they don’t have the capacity to do that anymore because things change and so they don’t have to do that for you consistently throughout your whole life.
Maybe exceptions for maybe parents, spouses, or whatever, but we can only provide the support that we have capacity to, and that’s going to vary over time. We’re trying to give you that idea that if we can get an idea that at the individual level, we could be more accepting of that at the group and community level, where I think, my experience is people are really intolerant of that. Like if you are doing a collaboration, there are a lot of thoughts that pop into our head about, “Is everybody giving equal effort?” That can be really harmful to collaboration because it’s just not going to be the case that everybody is going to be able to do equal effort all the time and make the same contributions.
Jessica: Yes, that’s such a great point. I’m about to share the third and final practice that we’re sharing today. What I love about all of these practices is that it’s not– None of them are very difficult to do. You might think of someone while you’re out for a walk, you might be like, “Oh, I forgot to add this person to my list,” and then you can just go, when you get back, you can add them to your list, but in general, these all should be living and breathing kinds of lists.
The other thing I thought of, Bob, when you were talking is, it’s almost like analytics for your network. The reason I thought of that is I have refused up until– I still have refused to get an Apple watch or one of the smart watches, partly because the analytics just freaks me out a little bit. At the same time, I think about how important relationships are to our resilience and how important relationships are just to life in general. We have all these ways of measuring and tracking our health. We have ways to track our resilience, but we often don’t think to. It’d be really cool if Apple or some other smartwatch would develop a way of measuring our social- If there’s some biometric that could tell us if we’re running low on social. [laughs]
Bob: That would be either really cool or really frightening, and I think anybody who has seen the Black Mirror episode about that you know what I’m talking about, that might be really freaky.
Jessica: I clearly haven’t seen that.
Bob: Maybe I’ll add that to the show notes. We will link to the Black Mirror episode as a warning for you not to create an Apple watch that can measure your relationships.
Jessica: The bottom line here is keep it all on paper.
Bob: Yes [laughs]
Jessica: The first is taking stock of the people that contribute to resilience. The second practice was taking stock of the people whose resilience you contribute to. The third one is taking a look at those lists and identifying any gaps in your resilience needs. Where are the gaps in your social support network? How can you fill those gaps by intentionally seeking or deepening connections with others?
One example I can give is I realized recently that I have a number of people that I get together with one-on-one, but I’m not really doing group things. I really enjoy group events, it really feeds my resilience. I enjoy– I used this example when I was speaking at the Senior Spouse Leadership Seminar where I need karaoke. [chuckles] That supports my resilience and it’s super important to me. I haven’t been doing any of those things. I’ve just been doing one-on-one meals, which I love. I love all the people I do that with. I also need that other level of connection that I haven’t been getting lately.
Bob: What are the things that you care about that maybe you don’t have somebody to talk to about or work on together on or those kinds of things? I think that’s really what we’re trying to do here. Again, I keep talking about taking this to the next level. I just want to emphasize here that we are talking about collaboration and community resilience.
All of these have lessons and repeatable practices that you could just shift this, take stock of the people that contribute to your resilience, take stock of the people whose resilience you contribute to, and then identify the gaps. You’re going to shift that to an issue in your neighborhood or in your community and think about, okay, who contributes to addressing this issue? What are the other factors that might affect that issue, and where are the gaps that maybe we could fill in and provide more assets to?
Let’s continue on with some action steps in terms of the individual resilience thing because you have this list, and you have this list of gaps, and we’re encouraging you, oh, go out and fill those gaps. Well, how do you do that?
We have over the years, borrowed and adapted and talked to John Stepper, about the Working Out Loud process. A lot of these ideas come from John’s Working Out Loud process. That’s another one for the show notes, so we’ll get you a link to that as well. With John’s, Working Out Loud process, you just start with another list. Who would I like to connect with? Who am I already connected with that I’d like to deepen those relationships? That’s really the first step in being intentional about it.
When you think about that, make sure you’re focusing on your needs and goals, and you’re seeking out people who can contribute to your resilience. Sometimes my tendency is to seek out people who would make me feel better if they liked me, maybe or something or that I could feel like I could name-drop somebody, or wouldn’t it be cool to be friends with that person? That’s great too, but it may be is not something that would really feed my resilience.
Jessica: I just have to say that I think that the list makers out there are loving us right now.
Bob: They do. There are like so many lists.
Jessica: [laughs] Once you have that list of people, after you’ve analyzed what gaps there might be, and you’ve thought about a couple of folks that you can get in touch with, then make a plan for regularly reaching out to the people on that list. I think that’s the hardest part. I’m pretty good at coming up with a list of people that I should reach out to, and maybe even reaching out to them the first time. Then this idea of regularly reaching out to them does tend to be a spot that I get stuck in.
When you do this, I mean, for one thing, it’s this continual building of relationship and trust, of course, hopefully, of a friendship or of deepening friendship, if it’s someone who was already a friend of yours. Reach out to your connections with what we call the- and I think we got this from John Stepper as well, the universal gifts of attention and gratitude. Sharing of yourself this way in a spirit of generosity helps deepen your connections as you go along forever and always.
Bob: Those universal gifts are so helpful, especially with new connections that you’re making. Everybody loves attention. Just saying, “I see you,” like “Hey, I saw your work,” “Hey, I heard you say this in this big meeting where we hadn’t gotten a chance to meet,” or whatever, and gratitude, “Thank you for what you’re doing,” “Thank you for writing this book,” or posting this tweet or Facebook post, or whatever it is, it’s thanks.
Obviously, in OneOp we are in the military service provider context. We provide professional development for military service providers and other people who serve military families. That gratitude is something that’s baked into our culture here in the US of thanking people for their service, so it should be a reinforcement that gratitude definitely is the universal gift.
Another thing that you can do, I think, and especially when we’re trying to deepen relationships, is to practice deep listening skills. We walk through so much of our life on the surface of the water. We’re just going– Here I’m going to tease Jessica a little bit just for fun on the podcast. We had a meeting earlier today and I was saying something she’s like “What did you say?” Or “Did I understand that right?” Because she got an email-
Jessica: Is just so embarrassing. [laughs]
Bob: -she got an email from IT. I’ve done the same thing so I shouldn’t really call you out.
Jessica: It’s okay.
Bob: You see an email notification pop up when you’re talking with somebody and you’re like can’t help. Is like, “Why is that person emailing me?” Or “I do really need to get to that.” That’s just an example of we’re going on the surface all the time.
Practicing deep listening skills or active listening skills is another way to look at that can really help you build that emotional connection with people and deepen those relationships. Listening to learn and listening for understanding increases the bandwidth of information you have about people, and we talked about how important that is. It also gives you insight into what you can do to contribute to their resilience, and maybe what they might be able to provide to contribute to your own resilience.
I just want to mention a little bit about active listening. Carl Rogers is one of the researchers who came up with active listening, and he talks about three important principles for effective counseling but I think they’re really great in this context, too. Those three principles are: Empathy, so putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, understanding how they might be feeling. Genuineness, we usually, Jessica and I, when we talk about this, we talk about authenticity, I think that’s the same thing, just being yourself. Then, I love this one, unconditional positive regard, and that is that getting rid of that judgment part of us and really positively regarding this person, regardless of what it is that they’re saying.
That active listening really is a tool that fosters connection and the kind of connection that we’re looking for. That’s another way to practice this is just practice those active listening skills.
Jessica: I really love that description of active listening because I think a lot of times when people are taught active listening, they’re taught a very mechanical how to do it. You listen to what someone said, you reflect back a version of what they said, what they just told you, to check in for understanding. I’ve actually always found that to be quite surface-level rather than deep listening. I think what you’re talking about feels like deep listening.
I wanted to add something to you. You mentioned listening for understanding and it reminds me of a book I read by Alan Alda called If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? This idea of listening for understanding isn’t just listening and screwing our face up trying to understand what they’re saying without actually asking questions. The important part of listening for understanding is being curious and asking questions.
That’s really a great way to also practice active listening, because you actually just heard what they said and you’re asking them to tell you more about what they said, as you’re trying to understand. I mean, you can listen to what they’re saying, and just tighten your face up into a, I don’t get it kind of way or you could just ask them some more questions.
Bob: You can learn more about how you can help connect communities to build their resilience and these eight themes that we’ve talked about or we’ll be talking about an upcoming podcast episodes from our free booklet Eight Ways To Cultivate Community In Times Of Change, which is full of practical ways that you can boost your community building and deepen your relationships. If you want to receive a digital version of that booklet, you can sign up for the Practicing Connection monthly email at oneop.org/practicing-connection,
That’s all we have for today. Thanks for joining us. You can keep up with Practicing Connection by subscribing to the podcast in your favorite podcast app or signing up for the practicing connection monthly email that I just mentioned, oneop.org/practicing-connection. You can also follow us on Twitter. Our Twitter handle is @practicingcxn.
Jessica: Thanks so much again for joining us for this conversation. We’d also like to thank our announcer Kailyn Goble, Hannah Hyde, and Terri Eisenbach for their help with marketing and Nathan Grimm, who composed and performed all the music you hear on the podcast. We hope you’ll join us again. In the meantime, keep practicing.
Kalin: The Practicing Connection podcast is a production of OneOp and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under award number 2019-48770-30366.