Authentic Connection

How authentic connection is key to our well-being

As humans we are naturally social. Our ability to create authentic connection with others has been paramount to our survival as species. As Yuval Noah Harari mentions in his best-selling book Homo Sapiens, our language and ability to cooperate and work in groups, has helped us not only to survive but to also thrive over other human species.

Establishing authentic connection with someone we’ve just met can open up a new world of opportunities. However, this is not always possible. Sometimes there is poor chemistry or people just don’t turn out to be who we thought they were. Everyone is different and sometimes people just don’t match despite their best intentions.

So what should we do? Should we just follow our intuition when we meet someone new?

When authentic connection happens instantly

Everything we say or do matters from the very first moment we meet someone. This is because during our first encounters we are usually more alert, while sensing whether we can trust the other person or not.

Our intuitive mind can reach a conclusion much faster than our conscious mind. However, sometimes this leads to snap judgments about others that are incorrect. Despite this risk, our “bias” mechanism most of the times acts as a useful filter. From one hand it help us avoid individuals we have poor chemistry with while from the other hand it helps us attract people with whom we can have an authentic connection.

From an evolutionary perspective, we have developed mental shortcuts and heuristics that help us deal easier with a complex reality. Although unconscious, they play a key role in our everyday lives.

Dancing with strangers

Dancing is a very rich form of communication where partners many times communicate without saying a single word. It is incredible how two people, who have never met each other before, can connect so fast on the dance floor. Dancing is the celebration of collaboration, trust, and empathy.

I frequently go to social dance events and parties where I practice my dance skills by dancing with random strangers. Cuban salsa is the only thing that is bringing us together.

When I ask someone to dance, it usually takes just a few moments to realise whether there is authentic connection or not. By connection I mean both physical, where your arms connect with your partner’s in a way that you continuously signal to each other, and mental, where you make eye contact and empathise.

However, when there is no connection at all it can be a really painful experience. Every move feels forced, and there is constant start and stop rather than flow. Perhaps it is lack of empathy between the two partners, lack of focus, lack of trust or something more complicated. It is hard to define why, but sometimes things just don’t work out between two people. And this is absolutely fine.

On the contrary there are times where everything magically falls into place and you feel you have known your partner forever. Everything just feels effortless. When this happens it can be the most fulfilling experience.

Of course, sometimes we discover later that the person we felt connection to is not exactly who we expected them to be. But that’s better than not having any connection at all.

The complexity of human behaviour

There is a lot you can learn about human behaviour from dancing. Somehow you know if you can connect with your partner or not without having to think about it. In a way dancing is a shortcut to authentic connection. But it requires to let yourself go and transcend your inhibitions.

The beauty of dancing is that it removes complexity between two people. It makes everything simpler.

This approach can also work in a business environment.

Just think, how many times did you feel authentic connection with someone you have just met? Why you think this happened? Would the same have happened if you were guarded, or just not paying attention?

The difference between dancing and a formal work environment is that at work people are often guarded, and not themselves. Even worse, sometimes they change their behaviour to fit some established norm or fit other peoples’ expectations. Unsurprisingly this lack of authenticity comes through, making it really hard to establish an authentic connection.

In my previous article “How dancing enabled to discover my whole self and why it is important” I talk about how dancing opened up a whole new world to me that was always there but somehow I had kept hidden inside me. It sounds like a paradox but discovering your whole self leads to better and more authentic connection with others as well.

The impact on our mental health

Daniel Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, in his book Mindsight mentions that when our minds are integrated, both internally but also with others, there is flow and harmony in our lives.

When we attune to another person and they attune to us, our minds become interlinked into one. Together we have the ability to create something greater than when we are on our own. This is like a music band creating great music as a whole rather than individually.

Sometimes though, due to past traumas or negative life experiences many of us lack this integration and feel incomplete. This lack of connection can have serious effect on our well-being and mental health as we shut down circuitries in the right hemisphere of our brains, which leads to relational and emotional disconnection. When this happens, others struggle to connect with us and we become even more isolated and colder.

Imagine a leader that fails to relate and connect with others. Not many people would follow them. Furthermore, teams that lack the connection between their members and do not communicate well they build systems, products or services that reflect this lack of chemistry.

But not all hope is lost. Our unrealised neural connections can gradually redevelop through purposeful action and repetition. Dancing is an activity that can act as a catalyst in strengthening our ability to relate, empathise and connect with others.

The power of authentic connection

Connecting naturally with each other is a liberating force. I always love it when I meet someone new and immediately are drawn to them. It is such a refreshing feeling.

We are naturally wired to relate and connect with each other. We shouldn’t let bad experiences define our lives. Neither we should let bad relationships affect our well-being.

Every person we meet is a new opportunity for a meaningful and healthy connection. When this doesn’t happen, it is better for everyone to move on and meet new people. We shouldn’t be trying to force connections and relationships.

But, when there is immediate authentic connection, like on the dance floor, this makes us confident, relaxed and content with just being ourselves.

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