The past few months have felt isolating for most people both professionally and personally. But it’s not just staying at home and meeting over Zoom that’s done this to us.
Smiles: When we go out, we wear masks. They are essential and, in a way say “I’m wearing this to keep you safe” but they also close us off. We can’t see facial expressions. This goes against our animal brain. We capture a million data points and form impressions about others through expressions. We all know the power of a smile. I keep telling people “I’m smiling under here!” All this keeps us to ourselves and makes us feel more isolated.

Diversity: The discussions of diversity and equity which have finally moved into the sunlight can also highlight differences and lack of belonging. Who can/should speak up? Am I enough of an ally? Am I Latina enough? Do I fit in?

Vote 2020: Then we are in the most polarized election cycle in a hundred-plus years. Red, Blue! My guy, your guy. Progressive, Moderate, Conservative. We can segment off into isolated groups very quickly. The biggest problem is that anyone not in that group is other. Them not us.

Social Media: Finally, social media platforms (or what I like to call anti-social media) make billions of dollars segmenting us further. same ads, same offers, same news. We make decisions on different data points event if we live next door to one another.

It’s no wonder we feel disconnected, isolated. We are. However, there is an answer, COMMON GROUND.

Common ground, as the name suggests connects us. It is a foundation and a bridge for all communication, connection, belonging. It is a magical certainty that once we see another person as like us in some way, defenses come down and we begin to pave a path that allows for greater trust and ease. But somehow, we are out of the habit of finding (if it ever really was a habit at all), building, and expanding common ground.

So here are 3 tips to take through your workday which will net big rewards. They may seem like common sense, but then again ‘Common sense is the least common of the senses.’ So, try them with your team, your clients, your board, or even strangers and watch the magic happen.

Look for Same not Different
Be Curious
Be a Bridge Builder
Look for Same not Different

When we walk in a room of strangers, we seem to be instantly aware of anything that makes us different ‘No one else is in jeans, ‘Everyone is under 30’. ‘They are all women’. This is how we begin to segment ourselves and dismiss or overlook any potential common ground. We do some version of this every day. It happened when you met your new client or when you sat down to interview a prospective new hire. It even happened in line at the grocery store when you overheard someone stating an opinion with which you disagree. But while a first impression is inevitable, we often make judgments in that first impression that can shut us off to identifying points of common ground. We jump to thinking ‘they are not like me’ This can slam the door shut on finding and establishing common ground. It’s human nature to want to connect with those we see as peers. This is certainly true at work. So, the solution is simple, no matter who or where actively look for same, not different. And remember, not everything same is easily apparent.

Be Curious

So, what happens if common ground is not apparent. Then, you will need to be curious. If we met at a meeting and you were not curious, you would never know that Spanish is my first language, that I worked in the film industry, that I’m a dog lover or that I enjoy cooking. You may wonder how knowing any of those things can help us work together more effectively. These things may not seem important if we’re looking to do a business deal together, but if you also speak Spanish or love dogs or enjoy cooking, our natural defenses will come down. Now that we have even one small point of common ground, we have a foundation for every conversation moving forward. So be curious and ask questions.

Be a Bridge Builder

Common ground truly is the bridge to connect. It allows us to feel understood. We feel we are among peers. We are more trusting and less weary of others. That is an incredibly powerful tool. However, it is a tool we seem to be using less and less. Whether it is online with the news we read or at the office with whom we chose to eat lunch, we can be very proactive about building those bridges. Even better news is that once we get better at doing it for ourselves, we can help others. What can you do to build common ground on your team or among department heads or your leadership team? They may be out of the habit too, but if the foundations of common ground can be found through your organization, everything and everyone will be stronger.

If we all did these 3 things every day, we would all feel less isolated, more connected and the path to positive outcomes would be clear and much smoother.