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Connection before content: Top tips from Chad Littlefield

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Chad Littlefield was a keynote speaker and facilitator at YBI’s recent flagship event, the Global Youth Entrepreneurship Summit. Chad is the Co-founder and Chief Experience Officer at We and Me, Inc., creator of We! Connect Cards and author of the Pocket Guide to Facilitating Human Connections. 

You're an entrepreneur yourself. Can you tell us about your story so far? 

I thought I had my whole life figured out after I saw the movie ‘Patch Adams’ with Robin Williams. He becomes a doctor and has this magical way of healing people through human connection. I thought I was going to be a doctor and then I took a chemistry class in college and knew it wasn’t going to work. I knew I was really inspired by human connection and this guided me towards interpersonal psychology, neuroscience and organisational development. But really, the shortest version of the story is sharing four people's names - the four mentors that had been doing what I wanted to be doing for 20 years. They said “come along and try this out with us” and that’s where it all began.

Why do you think building human connection is so important, especially for networks like YBI?

Studies by Google and Harvard researchers have shown that the number one characteristic of high performing teams is “psychological safety.” This level of interpersonal trust is largely built through social relationships. As long as YBI wants to make an impact, relationships are paramount. 

What are your top tips for building meaningful connections?

When working with people face-to-face, if I have ever gone 15 minutes without the group having contributed I stop what I'm doing and facilitate something that invites their perspective or contribution into the room. There are many different ways to do that. One way I really like is using space to help people make conscious choices. If we're in a room, I might say the wall on the left represents zero and the wall on the right represents ten - ten being confident, zero being not at all confident. I would ask people to stand where they would fall on the spectrum of how confident you are in your ability to make positive change in the world.  It's impossible to not be engaged because nobody is going to get caught standing in the wrong place. Everybody needs to make a choice of where they're going to be and how they're going to be in that moment.

Our members are based all over the world and we don’t always have opportunities to connect face-to-face. How can you build and maintain meaningful connections online?

In the book my business partner and I wrote called Ask Powerful Questions: Create Conversations That Matter, we talk about the mindset of following your natural curiosity and specifically, the tools that we teach people in person when you're looking to connect and build relationships of trust. Find something that the person is wearing, carrying or sharing that you're genuinely curious about, and ask them a question. It's a bit odd, but it's a psychologically safe way to talk about who somebody is, rather than just what they do. Online, I think you can often do that much better than in person as you may have an entire profile with a lot of data and you can do it from the comfort of your own laptop or phone. Click on another member’s profile and follow your genuine curiosity based on what you see. Turn that curiosity into a question and send them a message.

Do you have any tips for engaging introverts?

An overarching message in the book is to brainstorm alone first and together second. If you ask a question, give everyone some time in silence to think of their response. Secondly, having ‘take what you need’ breaks - whether what you need is conversation, or some fresh air and silence. Lastly, the reason why we use cards like the We! connect cards is because they can give introverts an excuse to be in a conversation that they would otherwise find difficult - they shield the discussion because the card allowed it. Often just facilitating and inviting people to get in the group - offering a question, task or objective - takes the pressure off.

Any final reflections?

Every year I choose a word to focus on and that's the main lens that I look through things for the year. 2019’s word is simplicity. Last year it was grit and that was a big failure, I was terrible at sticking with it. There were so many moments where I could have put in extra effort and I just didn't and fell back. My lesson about grit from all of that was that as important as it is to be gritty, it's equally as important to give yourself grace when you're not.

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