Building Connections: Definition, Tips, & How to Do It
What does it mean to build connections and how do we do it? Here, we’ll talk about tips and strategies for building healthy social connections.
What Does It Mean to Build Connections? (A Definition)
What exactly does it mean to have good social connections? Is it the number of people you know? Is it your perceived closeness to the other people in your life? Or, is it the number of quality relationships you have? The answer might surprise you… It’s actually the combination of all of these things (Holt-Lunstad, Robles, & Sbarra, 2017).
So when it comes to building connections, we have to keep these things in mind. Our goal is not just to meet more people and increase the number of connections we have on social media. Our goal is to find the people that make us feel really good about ourselves, less lonely, and well-supported. Then, we must put in the effort to make the most of these relationships so they are strong, healthy, and thriving.
Importance of Building Connections
Most people believe that love, intimacy, and social connection are more important than things like fame, wealth, and even physical health when it comes to their happiness (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008). Our intuition is right because loneliness represents one of the most significant threats to our physical health. Loneliness can impact our health just as much as lack of exercise, obesity, or smoking (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008).
Unfortunately, about 20% of people feel socially isolated (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008). In addition, more than a quarter of the US population lives alone and even 3 in 10 married couples don’t feel especially connected to each other. This is why loneliness is actually considered to be a major (and growing) public health issue in the US (Holt-Lunstad, Robles, & Sbarra, 2017). Luckily, just as we can eat healthier and exercise to boost our health, there are things we can do to combat loneliness and feel more socially connected.
How to Build Connections
Given the importance of building connections when it comes to our mental and physical health, learning how to do it is essential for our well-being. Here are some tips for getting started.
Building personal connections
We might start by developing and strengthening the personal connections we have with friends or colleagues. Is there a friend you would like to spend more time with? Ask them when they are regularly free, and set up a weekly get-together. Is there a co-worker that seems nice who you’d like to get to know better? Invite them out to lunch. Building connections with people you already know personally can be an easy way to start feeling more socially connected.
Building family connections
The connections we have with family are generally strong, but not always healthy. So building family connections may be a good strategy for some people and not others. For those who feel close to their families—or want to feel closer— it can be worth making an effort to talk more often. Even if you live far away, you could schedule a phone or video chat with a parent or sibling. Or, you could aim to plan a future vacation together to have occasional meaningful experiences together.
Building connections with strangers
Research shows that even small interactions with strangers can be good for our well-being (Sandstrom & Dunn, 2014). So don’t hesitate to talk to someone in line at the grocery store, chat with the barista at the coffee shop, or even ask for directions.
Building other healthy connections
As our culture shifts to one where fewer family members live together, young people move away for college, and adults frequently move for work, we’re often left with fewer connections to build. Since Covid emerged, even more people are working remotely suggesting that “aloneness” is only likely to increase. So we may need to go out of our way to cultivate new connections.
If we identify with a religion, joining a religious event may be helpful. Or, we can make an effort to get to know our neighbors, join a Meetup group to discuss or engage in a hobby we enjoy, or go to local events in an effort to meet new people. For example, last time I moved to a new town, I met people at the gym, a comedy club, and while volunteering at a local farm. It takes effort, but it can be done.
The Role of Interpersonal Communication in Building Connections
In addition to building a greater number of connections, it’s important that we actually feel connected to the people we spend time with. And the way we interact with people has a direct effect on how connected we feel to them. This is why effective interpersonal communication can be very important.
Communication can be defined as the act of disclosing, unmasking, or explaining something in detail (Rowan, 2003). Simple ways to improve your communication include:
We can also benefit from using an assertive communication style. That way, we can get our needs met without coming across as aggressive to others. The following assertive communication tips may be helpful in helping establish better connections (Bishop, 2013; Pipaş & Jaradat, 2010).
Learning these effective communication techniques is a great way to develop healthy relationships.
More Tips for Building Connections
In addition to communication skills, other interpersonal skills can also help us build better connections. Here are a few to work on:
Use active listening. Active listening involves being truly present when another person is talking. Nodding, reinforcing what they say, and focusing on them are key actions. Be sure to also avoid letting your mind wander to other things or what you’re going to say next.
Cultivate empathy. Empathy involves mentally and emotionally trying to put yourself in the other person's shoes. See if you can understand what their situation would be like from their perspective.
Be honest. Warm, trusting relationships are built on honesty. So be sure to tell the truth and share your true self with those with who you want to build connections.
Use emotion regulation. Managing your emotions is key to being able to work through difficulties with those you care about. For example, it’s important not to unleash your anger before first hearing the other person out.
Pay attention to nonverbal cues. People say a lot with their body language. Try to pay attention to what other people are telling you with their nonverbal cues. For example, if someone is looking around a lot or backing away from you, they might be ready to leave the conversation.
Share your stories. Self-disclosing personal information (a little bit at a time) can help others feel closer to us. So it can be helpful to learn when and how to use self-disclosure to improve your connections.
Video: Building Connections: How to Be A Relationship Ninja
How to Build Connections Virtually
Social media is a space where we can connect socially and engage in random acts of kindness—two activities that can be useful for building connections. A recent study conducted by Hopelab suggested that social media actually helps young people with depression feel less lonely. Thirty percent of young people in this study said using social media when they’re feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious can help them feel better.
But how we use social media seems to make a big impact. Engaging in more passive social media use (e.g., scrolling without interacting with others) can potentially harm social connections because we are more likely to compare ourselves and our lives to others. But using social media more actively (e.g., liking, commenting, and posting) may help us get more positive feedback, likes, and social support from others—all things that can build stronger connections (Frison & Eggermont, 2020).
This suggests that we can indeed build and strengthen connections virtually… as long as we’re engaging in the right behaviors.
Other ways to build connections online
We can build connections online using the same strategies we might use in real life. For example, we can be empathetic when others share their stories. We can show kindness when others share their options. And we can even send words of gratitude to let others know that they matter to us. All of these strategies can be used to strengthen our existing connections (or build new connections) online.
Check out my book, Outsmart Your Smartphone, to learn more.
Activities to Build Connections
If we’re having a hard time making connections (or keeping the ones we make), we might want to try some solo activities that can help improve our interpersonal relationship skills. These skills can make us more comfortable around others and them more comfortable for us. Give these activities a try and see if, over time, you find that your interactions with others become easier or more enjoyable.
Loving-kindness meditation. Loving-kindness meditation is a type of meditation where we imagine sending love to others. It can help strengthen our skills of compassion, kindness, and love. You can try loving-kindness meditation here.
Gratitude journaling. Writing a gratitude journal or list can help us appreciate the connections we have and as a result, bring our best selves to our social interactions. If we focus our gratitude practice especially on the people in our lives, we’re likely to perceive ourselves as more socially connected—remember, the science suggests that’s part of what boosts our health and well-being (Holt-Lunstad, Robles, & Sbarra, 2017). Learn how to create a gratitude journal here.
Capitalize on positive moments. When good things happen or we feel good, this presents an opportunity to share those moments with others. By engaging in this positive self-disclosure, we increase the closeness and intimacy of these relationships. Just be careful you’re not humble bragging when you share your successes.
Video: 5 Ways To Create Stronger Connections
Quotes About Building Connections
Here are some quotes that may inspire you to build connections in your own life.
More Articles Related To Building Connections
Here are a few more articles related to building connections that you might find interesting.
Books on Building Connections
Here are some books to explore if you want to learn more about building connections to improve your life.
Final Thoughts on Building Connections
Building strong, healthy social connections may just be one of the best things we can do to improve our health and well-being. Although there are lots of ways to do it, they don’t always come easy in our “island unto yourself” world. So taking one step and a time can be a good way to slowly but surely decrease loneliness and feel more connected. Hopefully, the strategies here will provide enough of a guide to get you going.