When was the last time you felt someone really listened to you, or you intentionally listened to someone else? When was the last time you had a deep desire to connect, to be seen, or to be understood? Brené Brown, an accomplished researcher in the field of vulnerability, said, “Connection is why we are here” (Brown, 2010).  She adds that we are “wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When [these] needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick” (Brown, 2022).

The desire to connect and belong are a crucial part of what makes us human. Research shows that feeling connected with others helps to enhance our quality of life (Haslam et al., 2020), positively influences our mental (Santini, et al., 2021) and physical health (Eisenberger & Cole, 2012), and can even promote and stimulate learning in educational settings (Knifsend, 2020).

The question is, how can we create this type of meaningful connection? There is no one right way to create social connection, but here are a few helpful tips to get you started on your path to belonging.

A-T-T-U-N-E

How often do we ask people “How are you?” never really listening to the response and never expecting them to say anything other than “Good, how are you?” What if instead, when asking this question, we listen intently? By truly listening, we set the stage for meaningful connection.

It is equally important to show the speaker we are listening. John Gottman, one of the foremost marriage researchers in the world, uses the acronym ATTUNE to describe a healthy way for couples to communicate (Gottman, 1979). ATTUNE stands for: Attend, Turn Toward, Understand Nondefensively listen, and Empathize. This method of communicating is valuable in any type of relationship and helps to create a deeper sense of connection.

Attend- to be mentally present and give your undivided attention

Turn Toward- physically turn towards the person

Understand- ask questions, show genuine interest, and try to understand rather than giving solutions

Nondefensively listen- don’t interrupt or react, just listen

Empathize- let them know you value how they feel even if you have never felt it yourself 

Using these tips while listening fosters connection. As we focus on being both physically and mentally present, we show the speaker that we want to connect with them. As we empathize and physically turn towards others it helps create an environment where the speaker can feel that they belong and are not alone. Listening in this way allows us to get to know someone on a deeper level as they share openly. This cycle leads to further connection and belonging in both the speaker and listener. 

Be Willing to be Vulnerable 

After we have created this sense of trust by listening intently to others, it is then important to share about ourselves as well. In my first few months of college, I remember feeling very lonely and that no one knew who I really was. I realized that part of the reason I felt so alone was because of my lack of sharing about myself. No one knew who I was because I was not willing to tell others about myself.

Opening up allows others to see us more deeply. It is in these moments of vulnerability that connection is truly made.

Now, this does not have to include telling someone your entire life story the first time you meet them. Rather it can start with little moments when you share about your day, your job, your family, your feelings, and eventually the things that weigh heavy on your heart or make you who you are. Sharing these important aspects of our lives is what helps us to feel connected and helps connect us to others.

As it turns out, it is in small moments like asking someone how they are doing that create connection. As we listen and are willing to be vulnerable, we create a sense of belonging, where both people can be completely comfortable in their own skin. As Brené Brown says, “True belonging… requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn to be present with people – without sacrificing who we are” (Brown, 2010).

About the Author:

MaCall Smith graduated from Brigham Young University in April of 2023 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Family Life: Family Studies. She is excited to begin a Marriage and Family Therapy Master’s Program at Utah Valley University in the fall. MaCall grew up in Malad, Idaho and served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Missouri Independence Mission. She feels that studying family life has allowed her two passions to meet—family/friend relationships and the gospel. Outside of school, MaCall can be found eating ice cream, playing the piano or guitar, or hammocking and playing pickleball with friends.

Notes: 

Brown, B. (2010). The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

Brown Brené. (2022). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing.

Eisenberger, N., Cole, S. (2012). Social neuroscience and health: neurophysiological mechanisms linking social ties with physical health. Nat Neurosci 15, 669–674.  https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3086

Knifsend, C. A. (2020). Intensity of activity involvement and psychosocial well-being among      students. Active Learning in Higher Education, 21(2), 116-            127. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787418760324

Gottman, J. M. (1979). A couple’s guide to communication. Research Press.

Santini, Z. I., Pisinger, V. S. C., Nielsen, L., Madsen, K. R., Nelausen, M. K., Koyanagi, A.,        Koushede, V., Roffey, S., Thygesen, L. C., & Meilstrup, C. (2021). Social   disconnectedness, loneliness, and mental health among adolescents in danish high             schools: A nationwide cross-sectional study. Frontiers in Behavioral          Neuroscience, 15. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2021.632906