Guest Post – How to Create Connection in Challenging Times by Jenni Rose

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Jenni Rose,
Lecturer,
University of Manchester.

Jenni qualified as an Accountant with the ICAEW when working in Audit with KPMG in 2008. The main focus of her teaching is in auditing, financial reporting and financial statement analysis, as well as on the MBA at the University. Much of the strength of her teaching come from developing innovative and creative teaching and learning techniques to increase student engagement includuing using the flipped classroom approach and researching efficient teaching excellence.
Profile page on University of Manchester website.

How to Create Connection in Challenging Times

There is no doubt that it is more difficult than usual to create connection – much of our lives are lived online at the moment and we are unable to be in large groups of strangers or with those we love. You might be feeling anxious about missing out on marking important occasions or unsure how to make create the connections we need as social creatures. 

To frame your reflection on this you can first focus on starting where we are then we using what we do have, and moving into doing what we can. 

To ‘start where you are’ consider what connection means to you – does it mean that deep life long friendship connection or the smaller connections we have with strangers in random situations. What kind of connections do you value? How do you feel after you’ve made a good connection with someone? There is plenty of research on the benefits of connection, 50% increased chance of longevity (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, Layton 2010), Stronger gene expression for immunity (Cole 1996), Lower level of anxiety and depression (Seppala 2014), Higher self esteem and greater empathy (Seppala 2014) but what are your own personal benefits of strong connections?

Brene Brown is famous for talking about the power of vulnerability and the sense of connection you feel to someone is often in line with the vulnerability you show to the other person. This takes courage and risks being hurt but can really help with connection.

A final benefit for those who are teaching or learning (or both!) is Cole’s theory from 1996 that learning is a social and cultural process. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping track of deadline and company from someone going through the same process as you, there are also benefits of accelerated learning for students who have strong connections to peers (Gowing 2019).

So practically what can we use to feel connection? First, we need to take a look at what we have control over – we only have control over our behaviour, our reactions and what we focus on. Have a look at this video which talks about the circle of control, from our webinar.

Much of our life at the moment is conducted on Zoom, both professionally and personally but how can we best use this? I’d say the careful use of video is important. In class, speaking as a lecturer, I can only use my teaching skills on those who I can see on video or, to a lesser extent, those who talk which increases motivation and accelerates learning. On the other hand, I find a better connection when I’m speaking 1:1 to someone when it is over the phone as I’m less self conscious about what I look like. Work out feels good for you.

Emma Seppala is a researcher focused on connection who emphasises this. She points out that the benefits of connection are closely linked to your own subjective sense of connection. Therefore you need to work out what gives you the strongest sense of connection.

Here are some ways of “doing what you can” …

And other ideas from my own experience and those who came to the webinar:-

  • Look back over old photos and see which evoke feelings of connection
  • Consider how you feel in a room of strangers (do you feel connected or disconnected)
  • Take a walk without your phone – perhaps this will help you feel connected to nature, even though you are on your own
  • Try talking to random strangers or shop keepers (a famously English way to open up any conversation is to discuss the weather)
  • Smile at random people and smile at yourself in the mirror
  • Find others which may have a common interest
  • Try different ways of using social media eg browsing or what you post and what is important to you
  • Try to rekindle an old friendship where you’ve felt a connection 

To conclude, if connection is important to you then spend some time reflecting on what gives you the most satisfying feeling of connection and seek it out. Start where you are, motivate yourself by visualising the personal benefits for you of increasing connection in your life. Use what you have, technology-wise or technology-free, whichever gives you the best connection given the circumstance and how you feel. Finally, do what you can; pick one small action you will do today to increase the feeling of connection in your life and immediately start to benefit from the positivity you have created.

References

Dudley-Marling C. (2012) Social Construction of Learning. In: Seel N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6_96

Gowing, A (2019). Peer-peer relationships: A key factor in enhancing school connectedness and belonging. Educational and Child Psychology 36(2):64-77 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316

Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316

Sepalla, E (2020) https://emmaseppala.com/connect-to-thrive-social-connection-improves-health-well-being-longevity/Accessed 1st November 2020.

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