Cultural Diversity + Children Inspiration = Human Connection Beyond Stories

04/01/2015 10:58 am ET | Updated Jun 01, 2015

Is there something more poetic to connect with people than stories?

My quest and how I stumbled upon it

There was something different and memorable about this car ride with my family. "What do you think about the party?" was my conversation starter. It soon digressed towards cultures. My mom was visiting from India and she shared an interesting observation - " I enjoyed everything about the party, I need to get used to the hugs, it is quite different from what I am used to." That statement got my curiosity antenna up. I quickly followed up -"Can you elaborate more about your context?" She added, "For regular social greeting, I grew up with the Namaste/Vanakkam*. Among adults, open outstretched arms were usually reserved for emotionally difficult circumstances like death."

I was stunned by the detail of her observation on the hug. She was correct, growing up in South India, I could vividly recall that words were in short supply during those emotionally charged moments. Open outstretched arms, like a toddler awaiting the comfort of the hug, was the recurring snapshot. Gender and age were irrelevant. It is quite remarkable for a region where women and men have separate areas for seating in public bus transport. She added her reasoning, "In the most difficult moments, words almost always fail you, the emotional connection of the hug speaks volumes and is almost always right."

The insight on the hug, made me think. The implication for life both at work and at home, could be legendary. Here is my journey through stories, statistics, hugs and beyond- trying to understand what truly connects people.

In life, we tread through many observations. We remember some and we recall few. My observation is that the stories within books, and movies have a high recall rate as they connect with me as a person. On the other hand, great actors vouch that the body speaks volumes and statistically it brings the focus on 80+ percent of regular communication. So, during one of my long haul international fights, I wanted to experience the connection first hand, I watched movies on the personalized screen without headsets. It was eye opening, I did not miss a beat. Across genres and cultures, the body does speak. As humans, we are able to pick up so much of the context and detail without the mouth.

It is very tempting to dig deeper. For example, Paul Ekman (inspiration behind the TV series, Lie to me) reported that only 50 out of the 20,000 people he tested were able to pick up on and interpret micro expressions- 1/25th of second change on faces. For the remaining 19,950 folks, there is elegance in simplicity. The simplest expressions of the body are the hugs, high fives, handshakes and pat on the back. The hug is the sensory feeling with the most surface area! It is the first instinct of a mother when she gets hold of her newborn.

Success Implications: @Work and @Home

Stories and statistics stimulate different parts of the brain. During one on one interaction, both involve the mouth. When we do not open our mouth and speak with our body - handshakes, hugs or pat on the back, they are powerful in their entirety.

Words of empathy like I feel for your loss can evoke the right emotions. A well meaning hug speaks volumes. "We will work towards a fair deal" can evoke a sense that it is a meeting of equals. A handshake with palms perpendicular to the ground invokes the same words profoundly. "Great work on the project, really well done", can invoke the inner smile in your team member. A well-meaning pat on the back can be the memorable icing, cherished in the long haul.

Few weeks ago, I had to pick my daughter early from school. She was in the playground. So, she led me to her kindergarten class to pick her bag. After picking her bag, she earnestly showed me some of the class team's work proudly adorning the wall. There was one, I will remember forever. It was a collection of heart shaped symbols with each child's wish- handwritten. 80 percent of the hearts had one word that stood out - It was not special holiday gift or pizza or cake. The word came in all shapes, sizes and angles - but it was crystal clear- it was hugs.

Success stems from the ability to connect with people. In our earnestness to connect, let us be more conscious of the instinctive acts that make a difference. There is always elegance in simplicity of elementary acts- hugs, high fives, hand shakes and pat on the back, go a long way. Watch children, they lead the world with ample proof that it is possible.