How To Connect With People (Inspiring Advice From a College Student Ambassador)

Devin hanging out with the locals in Vietnam on his South East Asia Tour.
Devin hanging out with the locals in Vietnam on his South East Asia Tour.

Connection is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. It is the lifeblood of family, romantic, and business relationships, and the chief driving force of positive emotion. Recently I sat down with Devin Brown–a lifelong friend and someone who does it as well as anyone I know–to get his two cents on this important topic. Devin has experience working in the sales and communications industries and is a college campus ambassador. The following is an account of a live hour-long conversation. I hope you are able to glean the same inspiration from it as I did. FYI, you can find Devin on Instagram @devinlovespeople.

There’s a famous quote by Aristotle. He said, and I paraphrase, “Anyone who has no need of society is either a beast or a god.” Why do you think connecting with people is so important?

Human beings are naturally social creatures. We crave and thrive on connections with other people. Studies show–and we’ve talked about this before–that babies who don’t experience enough human connection get deeply impacted. We all have this need for connection, and it’s programmed into us from the very beginning.

People know intuitively what a successful connection looks like. Like you said, we are social beings. Can you break it down for the reader on an atomic level— what insights have you been able to arrive at? Does connection have more to do with personality or effort?

There are genuine connections that can happen naturally and effortlessly. Maybe two people have lived a similar life or had similar experiences, and it’s enough to just be yourself without thinking about it. Other times it takes effort. You can take two people who seemingly have nothing in common, but if you search hard enough you will always find something to connect around. Connection, to my mind, is about understanding and compassion. Understanding helps people relate to one another and to meet each other where they are. Being understood gives a sense of belonging to where people no longer feel alone. It makes them feel valued and part of a community which is extremely important. So I would say that connection is a combination of personality and effort.

Recently I got the opportunity to visit 5th graders at a local inner city school through my university’s student ambassador program. The first thing I did was observe class for a few hours. The dysfunction was obvious—kids not turning in homework, talking instead of working, and not listening to the teacher. Afterwards, I talked to students, sometimes one-on-one, sometimes in a small-group setting. I said, “Why are you acting that way?” And a lot of them made excuses. I told them how I used to do the same things they did and how it affected me later in life. And, most importantly, what they can do to avoid those mistakes. I could tell they were paying attention based on their body language. I had students come up to me and tell me how cool I was, how they wish I was their teacher, so I know the reception was positive. Part of it was my background—being able to relate to these kids—but some people don’t even try. So sometimes it’s personality, and sometimes its effort, but we can all do better in both areas.

Some people seem too different or too out-of-touch with one another to forge a meaningful connection. What tips do you have for connecting with people very different from yourself?

The first thing to realize is it’s definitely harder. It helps to have broad interests and a basic understanding of different cultures. Something as simple as greeting someone in their native language can go a long way. It can break the ice, and it shows people that you’re being mindful of them. So the first thing I would say is be intentional. Connection isn’t always this effortless process that people imagine, it often takes time acquainting yourself with the unknown and making a point to reach out.

You’ve worked jobs in sales, marketing, and communications. What role does connection play? How does this ability compare to other qualifications like education and intelligence?

Devin moments at a college networking event in Columbus, Ohio.
Devin at a college networking event in Columbus, Ohio.

Connecting with people is #1 in business. I can recall instances where people chose to do business with me over other people who maybe were more qualified due to the relationship that we had. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying–it’s not what you know, it’s who you know–the personal dimension being the most important thing. Connection is all about emotion, and emotion drives action. Feeling connected puts you in a mindset where you’re comfortable handing over your money to someone who has earned your trust. So connection is definitely a big deal. It’s the same effect marketing companies spend millions of dollars to create.  

One of the main reasons I was excited to interview you is I know you see connecting with people as an end in and of itself—not just something you do to make money or get ahead in life. Has it always been a core value for you?

I’ve always been a social person, and I’ve made connections with people without really thinking about it. But it wasn’t until later in life that connection became the priority. Where I’m at today I believe that my purpose in life is to connect with people. You see connection has this positive snowball effect in the world. People take that same energy and reproduce it in all their future interactions. I also want to leave a positive impact on every single person I meet emotionally, psychologically, etc. to where after meeting me their life was changed for the better.

What are some other memorable connections you’ve been able to make?

In high school, I fell in love with football [soccer]. After I graduated I started to take the sport seriously and train every day. I would go to this place called Antrim Park that my coach, a former professional player, had been going to every day for the last 20 years. At Antrim, I met a guy named Patrick who also trained there. What drew me to him was the fact that he was a very social person. I would see him every so often, but we started chatting more frequently and became friends. Later on, I found out he was a millionaire, but I didn’t know it at the time.

Devin and Patrick conducting free medical screenings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Devin and Patrick conducting free medical screenings in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

A few months later, Patrick put out a contest to his network for a free trip to South East Asia. Participants had to do a random act of kindness or write an essay, and he would select the most compelling submission. I wrote an essay in which I emphasized how important connecting with people was, and how my friends and I used to go downtown and connect with the homeless and volunteer at various events. I won the contest–to make a long story short–and spent over a month with Patrick in Asia. The purpose of the trip was to give free medical screenings to poor people and to leave an impact on the lives of everyone we interacted with. We started in Thailand, and from there we went to Cambodia, Vietnam, and China. Asia was a life-changing experience. One thing it taught me is that all people around the world crave the same love and community.

So my connection with a stranger at Antrim literally changed my life. My relationship with Patrick has grown from friendship to mentorship, and now he’s like a brother to me. He’s taught me a ton about real estate, the business world, and life.

Can you recall any unsuccessful attempts to connect with people? What did you learn from these instances?

For sure. I’ve learned sometimes the time is not right. Let’s say there’s someone I can’t connect with today. Maybe if I meet that same individual 5 years down the road, the outcome will be very different. What I’ve also learned is that we’re all unique individuals. We’re not meant to be able to connect with everybody in the world. Another thing is that some people simply won’t like you no matter how much love you put out. Even if you can’t connect with one person, remember there’s always 100 other people out there. But you have to keep trying. And you should never change who you are.

I’ve noticed a lot of people in the US are extremely busy with their lives. They’re overworked, overcommitted, and drowning with responsibilities. When they’re out in public, their sole focus is to handle their business and move along. What would you say to these people about the value of connecting with strangers, especially when it’s not tied to financial gain?

You never know what type of impact an interaction will have on you. At one point Patrick was a stranger and I wasn’t seeking anything from him, but look at where we are today. You also don’t know how you can change somebody else’s life. When you plant a seed of love and understanding, you have no idea what effect that will have. I know stories where people were about to kill themselves until somebody did something as simple as greet them or give them a hug.

I think a lot of people have this concept of the world as a cold selfish place. When there’s no opportunity for financial gain, people know you’re not trying to get anything out of them, and as a result I think the impact can be that much stronger.

Absolutely. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

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Author: Ben Peters

I'm a 20-something year old from the American Midwest passionate about using knowledge and the power of the mind to improve the quality of life. I enjoy researching, traveling, and connecting with people from around the world. I started this blog to share the discoveries that have improved my life and to learn from readers with access to this page.

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