Alumni Column: Making Meaningful Connections

Taylor Buonocore Guthrie, Class of 2008

In the summer of my junior year at Colgate, I had an internship with a consulting firm. As is common, the firm gathered interns from around the country for a three-day training retreat. At training, I met a girl named Mollie. We struck up a nice conversation during one of the coffee breaks. We exchanged email addresses, and after three days we went our separate ways. 

But something from that first conversation stuck, because over the next decade Mollie and I stayed in touch, often in spite of the thousands of miles between us and different career paths we pursued. We did our best to catch up each year over coffee when our paths crossed in New York City, where we’d swap stories and share updates. Year after year I was amazed by the way a chance meeting with a fellow college intern had led to a lasting relationship.

What about you? Have you ever had a brief or chance interaction that turned into a lasting relationship? Why do some connections end where they began, while others last for years? What helps transform a single interaction into a lasting relationship? 

These ideas fascinate me, and I’ve spent the past decade informally studying these questions. What I’ve experienced and observed is that the defining factor is meaningful connection. 

What makes a connection meaningful? I like to reference Brene Brown’s idea of human connection, which she defines as energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued. Considered a different way, meaningful connection is understanding what has made someone who they are, what they care about and what lights them up.

If this sounds deep, it can be. But meaningful connection can also occur in everyday interactions. And in fact, it’s important that it does. There is plenty of research to suggest that meaningful connection in our relationships not only adds richness to life, but contributes to overall health, happiness and even longevity. 

Why else is it important for you, as a Colgate student? Because in a professional context quality relationships are the gateway to opportunity. It’s not the size of your network, it’s the quality of your relationships that matters. 

Even in this age of technology, meaningful in-person connection is how most quality relationships are built. So how do you do it? Let’s put things in your context – imagine meeting a Colgate alum at a networking event on campus. The conversation often starts with you asking a question like, “What is your current professional role?” or “What did you study when you were a student?” These questions are fine, but, they’re not personal, or particularly connection-oriented. 

Your first question doesn’t have to be meaningful, but your second one should be. Your most effective “second question” will come from a place of genuine curiosity. Focus on “why” and “how” in response to whatever you’ve just heard. To be blunt, the best way to do this is to leave your desire to “get somewhere” in the conversation or “get a job” behind, and instead learn about the person in front of you. And you are a Colgate student, which means you are innately curious!

When you have this kind conversation in your first interaction, you make a meaningful connection with another person: you start to understand what has made someone who they are, what they care about and what lights them up. 

It positions you perfectly to follow up and continue to build that relationship. And you should, because you never know where those relationships might lead. Since graduating from Colgate, all of the professional roles I’ve held since graduation have come directly from personal relationships, some of which I developed while a Colgate student. 

Finally, back to my decade long friendship with Mollie. This year, 10 years after our first conversation, a business idea was born. Last month, Mollie and I launched Convers(ate), a dinner party game to spark authentic and meaningful conversation. It’s one approach to creating meaningful connection with the people in your life. After just three days on Kickstarter, the campaign was fully funded, which shows we all have a common desire to connect on a deeper level. It’s part of what makes us human. 

So tap into our curiosity and next time you have a chance to connect meaningfully, do it.

You can be among the first to get Convers(ate), at discounted pricing too, through our Kickstarter campaign  at which ends on November 10 at 7 a.m.