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Claiming Connection Can Cause a Disconnect: What we think will foster trust often hinders it.

As human beings, our innate need for safety drives us to seek connection constantly. It's our most reliable signpost. We're liberated to express our true selves when we find a place where we belong.  While we have learned many ways to decipher opportunities for connection, identifying people like us is a standard go-to. We tend to think that if they have the same beliefs, values, or experiences, they will “get” us and therefore accept and support us. In many instances, this holds true, allowing ourselves to let down our guard and become more vulnerable in their presence. However, this approach does not apply to every situation and person, but it doesn’t stop many from not only trying to make it apply but also defending their efforts when it’s clear the receiver isn’t receptive. 


That last sentence may sound like some cryptic coaching mumbo jumbo, as my husband calls it when he isn’t following my commentary, so I’ll share an experience where claiming connection was a definite disconnect. 


A few years ago, as I was teaching, a debate broke out about the value of staying silent versus sharing common ground with a client. We were focusing on ICF Competency #4: Cultivating Trust and Safety. I was sharing that the best way to increase trust with a client is to stay out of their story.  If we remain curious and continually gain an understanding of how they perceive their narrative and themselves and seek clarity of how they want to view their story and self, we will demonstrate empathy, increasing their trust and sense of safety. Immediately, several students pushed back. They felt this approach was too impersonal and that people need to know that we’ve been there too. We know what they are going through, and they are in good hands. They were adamant in their stance until one student, let's call her Sarah, shared her story of her job loss journey and how others repeatedly took that approach with her. She stated that with each “me too” story, she felt more lost, disconnected, and unsupported. She said she would have appreciated just one person asking how she perceived the situation and how she wanted to view herself as she went through this process.  But instead, everyone made their story her story. Sarah then read a definition of empathy that she felt was most applicable and valuable: the ability to take on another's perspective, to understand, feel, and respond to their experience. The student went on to share that those who claimed connection never invited in her perspective, so how could they ever truly understand, feel, or adequately respond to her experience? She thought they were merely responding to their own. Suddenly, students shifted from challenging the idea of staying silent when we encountered a similar situation to praising the idea of remaining inquisitive. The discussion ended with each student sharing a personal example of when they desperately needed radical curiosity and instead were met with assumptive connections, hindering the receiver more so than delivering the provider's intended help.  


Want to increase trust and safety with your people? Below are several questions to help you stay out of their way and better understand and support their story.


  • How would you describe your current situation? 

  • What/who influences how you view it?

  • How do you want to experience the situation?

  • What is required of you to experience the situation as you desire?

  • What will you need to focus on? 

  • What will you need to give less attention or focus to?


Seeking more? Join us at Learning Journeys for Level 2 ICF-accredited education. We are committed to helping people learn and skillfully provide transformational coaching to their employees, clients, patients, and more.


Your learning journey is just 3 steps away:

Trust us, you’ll enjoy the journey.



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