Connectors Connect on Common Ground

John Maxwell, in his book on Connecting, moves from connecting principles to connecting practices. This is the first rule of communication, the practice above all others that opens the door to connection with others would be to look for common ground. The same is true when resolving conflict with your spouse, teaching a child, closing the deal, selling a product, or communicating with your class. This may sound harsh but it’s true: it is difficult to find common ground with others when the only person you focus on is yourself.

People of different temperaments cause people to think and act differently than ourselves. Maxwell writes about different representational systems based on our five senses. For example, observe several people walking down the beach. People will experience the event differently; one feels the sun on the skin, another sees the water and the vivid colors, another hears the sound of waves lapping and gulls screeching, another smells tanning oil or funnel cakes. If we learn to pinpoint how others experience the world (and strive to experience the same world they do) communication will become more effective.

Barriers to Finding Common Ground: many people are oblivious to others around them, especially to their feelings, thoughts and values.

  1. Assumption – I already know what others know, feel and want: all miscommunication is the result of differing assumptions. Remember that all generalizations are false (including this one); once we place someone neatly in a box, it becomes more difficult to think about that person as being anything different. Assumptions usually come out of our prejudice. We then miss clues that would otherwise find and reach common ground.
  2. Arrogance – I don’t need to know what others know, feel or want: arrogant people seldom meet others on common ground. They don’t make the effort, because they believe they don’t have to. I read that 90 percent of serious controversies arise from misunderstanding, one person not knowing the facts that the other person deems important, failing to see his point of view. Archie Bunker is an example: opinionated, narrow-minded, bigoted, expected everyone to come to him on his own terms. You can’t build a relationship with everybody in the room if you don’t care about anybody in the room.
  3. Indifference – I don’t care to know what others know, feel or want: they say they found a cure for apathy, but no one showed any interest in it. They might not feel superior to others but they also don’t go out of their way to learn about them either. Perhaps because it take a lot of work. Nelson Mandela once said that “If you talk in another man’s language he understands. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” Missionaries call this sharing the gospel in the other person’s heart language. Indifference in really a form of selfishness because we don’t take the time to discover what others know, feel or think.
  4. Control – I don’t want others to know what I know, feel or think: finding common ground is a two-way street. While you strive to discover things about your students, they need to discover things about you. Some leaders believe that by keeping people in the dark they have some measure of control. Maxwell says that secrecy spawns isolation, not success. Knowledge may be power, but leaders need collective power, which only comes through collective knowledge. Any time someone thinks information is being kept from, they feel like outsiders. I recently read about the “subordinate’s Lament” that says, “We the uninformed, working for the inaccessible, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.”

Cultivating a Common Ground Mind-set: anyone can learn to connect better because connecting is a choice.

  1. Availability – I will choose to spend time with others: common ground must be discovered, and that takes time and requires intentionality.
  2. Listening – I will listen my way to common ground: remember the “hot and cold” child’s game? We must listen to the instructions in order to locate the object. Everyday people are seeking success and purpose but they don’t know where it is. We must pay attention to others. Listening requires giving up our favorite human pastime, involvement in ourselves and our own self-interest. Students are asking, “Why should I listen to you? What’s in it for me if I let you in?”
  3. Questions – I will be interested enough in others to ask questions: the greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions. Larry King once said that he was curious about everything, and his favorite question was, “Why?” There are a couple of tricks that make conversations easier:
    1. FORM: Family, Occupation, Recreation, Message.
    2. FIRE: Family and Friends, Interests, Religious background, Exploratory questions (from CWT).
  4. Thoughtfulness – I will think of others and look for ways to thank them: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much your care. Simple acts of kindness go a long way.
  5. Openness – I will let people into my life: even the word communication comes from the Latin meaning “common.” Connection requires both parties to engage and be open.
  6. Likability – I will care about people: people like people who like them. If they don’t like you, they won’t listen to you or attend your class. Think about your own favorite teachers, I bet they were one that you liked.
  7. Humility – I will think of myself less so I can think of others more: humility is knowing and using your strength for the benefit of others, on behalf of a higher purpose. We must look out for the good of others. A humble leader can bring out the best in people. Arrogance plays up one’s strength to receive praise while humility raises up others so they can be praised. A great way to connect with others is to talk about your own flops, failures and fumbles. Some of the best ideas come out of the worst blunders. If you want to connect, don’t just talk about your successes, but also your failures. Humility comes from admitting your weaknesses, being patient with other’s weaknesses, being open to correction and pointing the spotlight on others.
  8. Adaptability – I will move from my world to theirs: sharing a meal can be a great way to do this; getting out of the comfort zone, sharing favorite food and visiting in someone’s home.

Connectors Go First:

  1. Ask, “Do I feel what you feel?” before asking, “Do you feel what I feel?” We must take people on a journey, and we cannot take them unless we start where they are. Connecting begins with feelings. If you connect on an emotional level it is easier to connect on other levels.
  2. Ask, “Do I see what you see?” before asking, “Do you see what I see?” It is not a matter of casting a vision well enough so others can see it, hoping they will then move forward. This causes us to want others to see things my way. Worse, we will assume that people already see things from our perspective. I read about a older father who looked back to when he was younger, and said he would work harder on seeing things through my children’s eyes. We often miss teaching moments because we want our kids to see things the way we see them.
  3. Ask, “Do I know what you know?” before asking, “Do you know what I know?” After years of dealing with marriage counseling, John Maxwell writes that couples’ greatest desire is to express their point of view from their perspective. They want to get the point across. Only after someone knows what the other person knows can you begin to understand how to connect.
  4. Ask, “Do I know what you want?” before asking, “Do you know what I want?” Attendance at church typically changes in cycles; winter is up, summer is down. Can we keep attendance up by giving people what they want, rather than what we want? This requires that we go beyond head knowledge to the heart. Ask of your people:
    1. What do you dream about?
    2. What do you sing about?
    3. What are you crazy about?

We are not supposed to just transmit massive chunks of information onto people; let’s invest in them.  Communication is a journey.

Connecting Practice: Connectors Connect on Common Ground.
Key Concept: Know the reasons you and your students want to communicate and build a bridge between those reasons.

Practical Steps:

  1. You must know your reason, know your other person’s reason and find a way to connect the two.
  2. You build a bridge by asking questions, gaining feedback, asking more questions, telling stories, share emotions, and offer lessons learned.
  3. In a group you can ask, “What brought us together?” or “What goals do we have in common?”
  4. In class: validate their feelings, share that you perhaps feel the same way, tell them what you found that helped you, offer to help them find help in their lives.

To an Unknown God

Paul had a fruitful ministry in Berea until the troublemakers from Thessalonica came, and the people urged Paul to move on (Acts 17:14, 15). The next city after the noble Bereans, was Athens (Acts 17:16) where we have to ask how some people who knew so much could really know so little. Some of Paul’s companions left him for a time while he waited in Athens (Acts 17:15, 16). It is here that Paul notices all of the idols around town.

I did not fully understand this passage until I traveled to Kathmandu Nepal. While there I discovered a cross section of Hinduism and Buddhism that manifested the city with countless shrines, statues and idols. I would walk down the streets and find shrine after shrine along the sidewalks, with candles and items of devotion in front of these little altars erected to one of the 330 million gods of Hinduism. I even discovered what they called the Kumari, who lives in a palace in the center of the city. This young girl is considered to be a living goddess, the bodily incarnation of the goddess Taleju until she menstruates, after which it is believed that the goddess vacates her body (she was also called the vestal virgin). The whole experience caused me to wonder why so many people around the world consider the resurrection to be just a silly story.

So Paul sees these altars all over town and concludes the Athenians to be religious people (Acts 17:22). I can hear him saying to them, “Let me tell you about this God you don’t know, and I’ll tell you His name.” Of all of Paul’s visits, this city is different from others he has visited so far.

The city itself was different: much smaller and less sophisticated, perhaps 100 years past her glory days. They had a reputation of being the center of higher learning with universities, philosophers and freethinkers.

Paul’s team was different: he entered the city by himself, without Timothy and Silas. They did not catch up to him in Athens (Acts 17:15, 16), which left him without the emotional, physical and spiritual support he had in other cities. No one would have known if he was too intimidated to preach, or blamed him for not engaging people with the gospel (Acts 17:17).

Paul’s speech was different: this may be one of the best sermons Paul preached, building a relevant bridge to the people and using a creative object lesson.

The response to the gospel was different: only a few people became believers (Acts 17:34). Paul does not mention a church being planted, and he never mentions any other contact with them. I suppose the lesson for us is that sometimes the best sermon will not penetrate an unwilling heart.

Paul’s leaving was different: he was not persecuted or even run out of town, he simply left (Acts 17:33, 18:1). Why no persecution? Perhaps they were too cold to care. They were so open minded that anything goes could have been the town’s motto. Live and let live, if it works for you, do it. Come to think of it, would you rather have someone hate you or be apathetic towards you? I submit that apathy is worse because if someone hates you, at least they have some sort of emotion towards you. Beth Moore says that persecution is not nearly the enemy that indifference is. The Athenians did not care if Paul left of not. Everyone was entitled to his own god.

Application: We live in a tolerant society. We also have a message that no one comes to the Father except through Christ. He is the way the truth and the life (John 14:6). He who has the Son has life while he who does not have the Son does not have life (John 3:36, 1 John 5:11-12). Don’t allow your tolerance for other faiths compromise the unique claims of the gospel story. We must discover how to build a bridge to lost people around us; but remember that the results are not up to us, they are up to God. We are called to be faithful, not necessarily successful. If one method does not work, keep trying until you can find something that makes the gospel click with them. Sometimes it is only a matter of readiness to receive the message. Most of all, never allow yourself to become indifferent to Christ. Maintain your passion for the One who saved your soul and brought peace to your life, work, marriage and family. Keep Him at the center.