Can You Connect?

I spent the better part of my morning talking to a complete stranger on Instagram. Commenting on a series of photographs we had posted, we each shared our thoughts and reactions; often, delving into deeper introspection and reflection. Doing so, having a real-time give and take made for one of the better online conversations I’ve had in a long time.


Because we each revealed just enough about ourselves to encourage a closer connection without things becoming creepy. We each had enough information posted about ourselves to encourage exploration without fear of privacy concerns or doubts as to authenticity and we each had taken the time over the course of a few weeks to be who we are on this social/sharing platform. And, before you question the plausibility of this, let me tell you that what made the interaction so rewarding was that we both had high levels of what I like to call, “Digital Emotional Awareness” (I just made that term up).

What is Digital Emotional Awareness (DEA)?

I’m glad you asked because it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. DEA is that unique blend of awareness of self and others, social savvy, and intellectual ability, all wrapped up and placed like a cherry on top of any social media or digital platform where others can be found.

Think of it as “working the room” but without the slimy insincerity. It’s knowing when and how to behave and knowing what approach is right for whatever platform you’re using. As Susan RoAne shares in her book, How To Work A Room:

The technical skills of working a room are not enough; interest, warmth, and the desire to connect with others must be genuine and sincere.”

For those who work or interact online, the “room” may be digital, but the same principles apply.

Not everyone has built-in DEA but chances are, most everyone can develop it. Regardless of what you call it, paying attention to who has DEA and who doesn’t is pretty important. The reason I say this is because as we spend an increased amount of our working life interacting with others across social and/or digital platforms, the potential for communication breakdowns rise. These breakdowns can occur between co-workers, customers, or even with yourself (another post for another time). For those whose primary activities take place online? Well, if they don’t  have DEA and they’re not open to developing it, then you might want to think about reassigning them to less people-centered interactions.

Identifying who has DEA and who doesn’t is easier than you might think. 

It simply involves looking at how people engage with others. And, before you assume that I’m going to talk about “engagement” as it’s currently being discussed or “listening tools” (both, good things), think again. When I tell you to look at how people engage with others as a determinant of their DEA, what I’m talking about is looking at how people with very little information about others are able to create connections from scratch.  If you can spot those people, you can learn from them. Do what they do and your business is ahead of the curve.

Still unsure?

Let’s go back to the Instagram conversation that started this post, shall we?  Someone posted a picture. I “liked” it. I posted a picture. They “liked” it. This lead to other pictures being viewed and other “likes” exchanged. As more than the cursory “like” was given (meaning, both of us had been intrigued enough to learn more) comments were exchanged. Comments led to more pictures which led to more exploration of past content which led to more “likes” which led to more engagement.Think of it as a dance.

Did I mention it was one of the better moments I’ve had in a long time?  Did I also mention that this conversation took place across continents, time zones and native languages?

What made it so special? It was knowing how to dance. It was taking the time to listen and observe. It was our ability to learn about the other over the course of a few weeks through the sharing of images. It was the disclosure of real names and enough personal information on profile pages to allow for cursory Google searches of each other (you can’t be too careful!) and ensure neither of us became the subject of a Dateline TV Crime Special. It was finding out that each of us had been active and “online” for years and years (which is a great way to learn DEA) and had profiles on similar social sites.

Using our respective DEA’s, we were able to get to know a little more about the other because our desire to connect with others was “genuine and sincere”. Our initial interactions were enough to make each of us want to think about the other just a little bit more (but not in a creepy, stalkerish way). There are plenty of people who have awesome DEA and there are also those who don’t (because they don’t value it or because no one has ever told them the hard truth about how they come across online). That’s perfectly fine and part of what makes the internet such a great place. Not everyone will click with everyone else and that’s not the point of this post.

What is the point is that if you’ve made the decision to have a social presence, make sure you have the DEA to give people something to think about.