Thanks for Warning Me!

This email, entitled “Thanks,” which is currently circulating the Internet with billions of other “warnings” and “pleas,” ended up in my in-box. I’ve  edited it slightly edited for length–it’s my “best of.”  If you know who wrote it, I’d love to congratulate him or her! Continue Reading »

21 Ways to Make Meaningful Connections

A quick post to alert you to 21 Ways to Make Meaningful Connections, a piece I wrote for beliefnet, in which I draw from the book–and add a few new ideas that have occurred to me in my post-publication ruminations!

Outsiders Can Make a Marriage Stronger

Sandy (not her real name) was “moved to tears” after hearing me talk about the importance of connecting with consequential strangers in our everyday life.   She later explained in an email:

[My tears were] about my husband. I realized when you were talking about how these consequential strangers enrich our lives that my husband (a stay-at-home dad) hasn’t taken advantage of the consequential strangers he has access to, which has led to depression. I also realized that b/c my experiences are so rich and different from his (I get to meet people like you!) that he’s missing out and I just want him to be able to share experiences and “people” with me b/c it will enrich both of us, as a couple.

Sandy’s story brought to mind a point I often make about CS and marriage:  Outsiders can make a marriage stronger!  Continue Reading »

Let’s Hear It For “Soft Skills”: Communication & Collaboration

Last Friday (March 12), at Cengage Learning‘s 2010 “Course Technology Conference,” an annual gathering of college IT teachers, I talked about the importance of  connection, engagement, communication, and relationship development in the classroom–skills that educators often consider “soft.”   The points I made are relevant to any classroom, workplace, institution, or organization.

Pay attention to the small moments. Life is an ongoing series of casual, everyday interactions that add up.   You don’t hear the sound of strings swelling in the background when something important is about to happen.  So if you don’t pay attention, you might miss moments that matter.  A brief talk in the hallway, an email from a former colleague, a Facebook response to a comment, a few minutes spent helping someone else–each conversation results in a bit of information, insight, clarity, a feeling of being connected, or a good laugh.  And the more you notice them, the more you make them happen.

Celebrate diversity. An odd by-product of political correctness is that although it supposedly eradicates offensive language related to gender, race, religion, sexuality, and the like, it can also limit the celebration of differences.  A community collage classroom, for example, is a rich font of diversity, and everyone–the taxi cab driver, the single mother, the house painter–brings something different to the table–and to each other’s lives.  Different perspectives enrich us.  That’s why the Occupation Test, has a range of jobs, up and down the socio-economic ladder.  As sociologist Bonnie Erickson, having a diverse social convoy is “like enrolling in a liberal arts college and getting a degree in a little of almost everything.”

Use relationships, not rewards, to motivate. Actually, relationships are the best reward. In the classroom, in the workplace, at home, or any setting where people are expected to cooperate and contribute, the goal is to join with instead of laud over, to position yourself at the center, rather than rule from on high.  Read this post by Howard Rheingold in which he talks about dealing with students’ divided attention in the classroom by heightening their awareness and asking them to participate with him.  Smart corporate managers take a similar approach with their workers.  For that matter, so do smart parents!  A relationally-engaged person is a partner and an ally.   (I talked about the dangers of not engaging in How GM Lost Touch With Its CS.)

Today, the ability to communicate, share, and be open to others’ ideas are essential.  To think of these as “soft skills” is dismissive.   Every decision we make, every piece of information we acquire, every insight, every project that needs completion involves interactions with others–face-to-face and/or online.  We are all in it together.

Important Note:  Howard Rheingold has developed the  Social Media Classroom and Collaboratory,  a free online resource for students and teachers.  Arguably, we all need to explore what he considers the five key “Internet literacies”: attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness, and crap detection!  It’s worth a look.

The Paradox of Fleeting Relationships in Small Spaces

New York Times reporter Ariel Kaminer is surprised that four minutes into a shared cab ride, she and her co-rider, a recent college graduate, “had already done money and politics, things people supposedly don’t discuss with strangers.  So I asked if she was a person of faith, and bingo, we hit the trifecta, all before the meter even registered $5.”

Kaminer’s piece, Taxicab Confessions, written after the second day of a new cab-sharing program in Manhattan brought to mind some fascinating research I uncovered when working on a chapter about how relationships unfold.  It helps explain what makes sharing a small space with a stranger so intimidating and, at the same time, why we sometimes break all the rules and let it rip with someone we just met, even in a very short period of time.  Continue Reading »

The Truth About Consequential Strangers

Consequential strangers matter. We don’t always pay attention to the cumulative effects of a warm hello, help with a package, a bit of information.  But when someone you once took for granted is no longer there–you realize how those, brief, subtle, everyday interactions add up.  Manhattan psychologist Mindy Greenstein wrote about such a realization in her must-read piece, My Building’s Protocol, Altered in a FlashContinue Reading »