Simone Heng – Make a human connection transcript – Making Conversations Count – episode 98
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Topics discussed with Simone Heng in this make human connection transcript:
Human connection with social beginnings
Keeping your head down and staying safe
Loneliness is always seeking the engagement
Challenges of having a purpose
Simone’s conversation that counts
I forget what sign posted me to you, Simone, but you know when you just go, why have I not found this lady before now? Human connection speaker. And then I saw a clip of your YouTube video where you were on stage at Google. And my first question has to be, how the heck did you get invited onto that stage?
Social media. 99.9% of my work comes from social media and so I had never spoken before. I was learning to be a speaker, studying the craft of it and really learning the topic. I was researching the topic at the time. So that speech at Google was not about Human Connection, it was actually just my story and that’s what they’d ask for. But I was like, if I’m going to do this speaking thing, I really want to go out all out, right? And so they approached me on Instagram and then what I did was that whole speech came out of me complete exactly as you saw it on stage. It’s like I have been waiting 20 years for it to come out of me. But the reason that they were even attracted to me in the first place was I had started doing like bits and bobs of training, little secretive bits on the side of my radio job that I couldn’t get in trouble about. And this is my biggest tip for you, Andy. I would put up my 1 minute of brilliance. So when you’re starting out, you have 30 minutes of which 29 minutes is absolute shite. And then you have 1 minute of brilliance in that 29 minutes. And I would cut that and put that on social media. And that’s how they came to me because I was attracted them just with the 1 minute of brilliance. So whatever free features you get or whatever trainings you do, record everything and just extract that 1 minute of brilliance and edit it up nicely.
Well, that’s perfect really. That’s what we do here on the show when we’re doing trailers and sneak peeks and things like that. We’ll just grab a sentence, we don’t reveal everything, but there’s enough there for people to go, cliffhanger, what is the answer to that question?
Exactly but I guess when I was thinking of 1 minute of brilliance, it’s not so much to do with the content, but it was 1 minute where my speaking had chops. So a little bit more show-reely in that way versus cliffhanger of content because you want them to see you walking in your verbals and in nonverbals more than content. Now of course it’s all very content through because I have the topic but I didn’t then. So it was actually more about just execution that they could see that you could speak. So yes, little bit of difference if you want to go and speak at Google.
Yeah, well that talk at Google that sort of really put you on the map. So to Speak was a really touching story about you, your mom, family. What got to the heart of me, really, Simone, was that this is how our personal life leaks into our professional life. There is no separation.
We don’t clock in, clock out. It’s just people all the while, and certainly the last couple of years, is you have to look after you and yours and your family. And I think it’s allowed us to realign those values and to sort of see what’s important to us. But you were already doing this at 2018, bearing your soul, so to speak. There’s so much wisdom from such a young lady.
Oh, gosh, I’m not actually that young. I’m 38. So chinese genes? Maybe I look younger than I am. But certainly I could not agree with you more, Wendy, about this idea of bringing your full self to work. And we’re seeing leaps and bounds in the US with that and in the UK. But certainly at the time of that Google speech, I was working at a very toxic broadcasting organization here in Singapore, and I was having to hide who I was all the time. And I think that’s what ended up with that speech being so authentic and so vulnerable is because I’ve just been pushed so to the limit, so far down, that it had to get out of me. It had to get out of me. And I always say to people, HD doesn’t lie. So when you’re on that stage and you’re being filmed, if that was highly rehearsed and it came out disingenuously, people could tell. I think people can see in that recording that it is just this, like, dragon that needed to just the story needed to come out and be put out there. And it changed everything to me. It was from then on, people saw me as a complete human being, which is why telling stories is so vital for humans. We need to it’s a form of emotional disclosure, which leads to vulnerability, and vulnerability lets people authentically connect with us. So don’t be afraid to tell your stories. And I hope more organizations get on the bandwagon as you’ve got human beings, 360 degree beings, working for you, and they need to be able to show up fully. And if they don’t, the next generation of great minds and leaders are very happy to set up their own business on the Internet and not join your organization. So it’s something that we’re seeing with a great resignation, and we’re seeing within organizations they’re having to bring in now. They’re having to listen to people. And that makes me so happy to look back at how I was suffering at that time of that speech, that in such a shorter period of time, led by the pandemic, that we’ve come so much closer to making that change.
And that company culture seriously is like following the values of a family, isn’t it? It’s getting back to those grassroots of family run businesses, which is perhaps what history has taught us, is that the sons go and work and what the daughters go and work for that family run firm, and it becomes a community in its own right. And this is where towns and villages and things run up because of that. So in lots of ways, we’re going back to old values, which is great, absolutely great. And you touched on that being suppressed and it’s something that comes up a lot with the guests on the show is that suppression and not allowing your genius out really, isn’t it? If you can’t shine in the majority of the time that you have here doing, what’s the point?
Wendy, we’re going to be best friends when I come to UK. I’m going to see you… it is so true. I see the difference in how I show up now that I’ve stepped into my full power. I’m dangerous at this stage versus making myself small, making myself quiet, not wanting to upset people, not wanting to be intimidating, because that force of energy that I have within me was making me being bullied in that organization. Also, being a Singaporean organization, there was a lot of anti foreigner sentiment. I really sit culturally between the two worlds. I’m a Singapore permanent resident, was born here, mixed, raised parents, but I hold an Australian passport, so really 1ft in the east and west. And this idea that in organizations and it happens a lot, anything about you that can make you different, just like on the schoolyard that we could pin against you to make you feel a lack of belonging, which really is where loneliness begins and disconnection begins, was being thrown at me. And you’ll see this in toxic organizations, disconnected organizations all the time. And I just feel like my mission, if I could get every woman to speak their truth, if I could get every person who follows me to see this small, 152 centimeter Asian woman get up there and go, I have the right to be on a global stage just like these pale, stale and male that came before me, I deserve to be here. This is what I do, the same as them. I mean, it’s actually a ballsy thing. I don’t think I’ve ever set it out right in a bit of media like I’ve just said to you there, but it absolutely gives other people permission to do the same. And the amount of direct messages I get from women wanting to become speakers or wanting to have their voice heard and cherished and seen in the world is all because I’ve gone about it in a really ballsy way. I people saying, I deserve to be on here in my brightly colored suit just the same way as that person or that person. And there’s an audacity to that that can really either lead to people really being in your corner and becoming your super fans and you’re inspiring them to do the same, or it can lead to a lot of polarization and a lot of how dare she? That is why a lot of people don’t step into their power, because they don’t want to deal with the ‘how dare shes’. And oh, she’s living in her truth and her best life. She’s shining! How dare she? And that’s one of the things that is interesting when you talk about human connection. These all come from our base level needs to feel safe and therefore playing small allows us to feel that we belong. We fear social rejection so strongly because when we’re evolving as early man, if we were socially rejected from that tribe, it meant that we would last maybe 24 hours out of the Savannah. We would be killed by a sabertooth tiger without the rest of our tribes people to protect us. So still today, in our nonca people brain, in this modern digitized life that we live, those basic instincts are still in that head of ours and they keep us small. So it’s asking a lot of people to ignore their biology and to ignore the social rejection of just literally 30% to 50% of haters, to embrace not only yourself, but all of the good stuff that’s going to come with that. And most people never get to see that good stuff because the fear to stay small, conform and safe is too strong.
It’s ironic as well, isn’t it, Simone, that you mentioned about when you become a parent, just before we came on and as a parent myself, two daughters, one is 28, the other is 14.
You do everything you can to encourage them to be the best that they can be. So long as you do your best, you can’t ask for anymore. It really is irrelevant that you’re not very good at it if you’ve done your best, right? But then you go out into the world and company culture and conformatism says you’ve got to do just enough. Don’t raise your head over the parapet. I don’t want you to be causing a fuss which goes completely against what we teach as parents, yet we’re also reinforcing that in the workplace. Bonkers!
It’s so funny that you say this, because I marvel at this as someone and it’s what is written in my book. They have Asian parenting. So very differently, in the home, we were very much criticized and put down because our parents grew up in this kind of immigrant threat mindset and they perceived that not praising us and criticizing would keep us safe when we got out into the world. That we would not think too big of ourselves, that we would work ridiculously hard to the point of exploiting ourselves. To achieve things, but to not step into our power. So you’re achieving, but you’re never really asserting that you’ve achieved anything or letting it soak in or enjoying those achievements, even when you’re far clear of your parents and they’re long gone and passed away. And so I find that firstly beautiful and fascinating that the best was good enough in a Western home. Because certainly, and it’s a big message in my book, the best was not good enough in the way that I was raised. The best was not about your best. The best was, where do you sit in the world’s perception of your best? And then, however, to your point, once I got into the workplace and exactly what you said was shocked, that here I am trying to go above and beyond and it’s actually not needed of me. How fracturing, disconnecting that paradigm was that, hey, it’s not about achieving too much in this workplace. It’s actually about keeping yourself small. Don’t assert yourself or you won’t be seen as a team player. And then let’s just get this over the line. And the organization is not going to give you the tools to do this to the best of your ability. So it’s going to be slow on deadlines, disorganized because of the toxic culture. Right? So disorganization happens as a result of a fracture in communication. And communication and connection are very linked.
Yes. It’s the just do what we’ve asked you to do and no more.
It squashes the individuality, the ingenuity that we have in being problem solvers. And it’s like you can’t go to your boss and go, I’ve just done this and I’ve solved a problem. Isn’t it great? Because the boss will go, “Why have you done that? Who do you think you are? I’m the boss!”
I remember Wendy sending my former boss here in Singapore the link to a gentleman who’s, like, a global speaker on the future of radio, and sent her this link to a great article that I thought could help her. And she replied back. “I already know who this person is. I attended such and such.” Like, really offended that I had essentially just knowledge shared. And I remember thinking, I no longer want to be in a place where my full skill set is not appreciated. And what is incredible about running your own business and building your own brand is that you can fully inhabit anything you want to do. And to see how it’s all grown as a result of sitting in that tower is something that I would like for everyone. And I’m sorry that my doggy is barking.
Bring him on. It’s fine.
He just got the most treats he’s ever had. Wendy he got double the treats just to keep him quiet. It’ll be crazy.
I saw him sniffing around behind you. And I was kind of like is it a cat? No, it’s a dog.
It’s a dog. It’s a dog. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Apologies, apologies.
No, that’s okay. That’s your fur baby.
Massively. My fur baby. It’s a bit creepy, frankly, how much I love that dog.
Yeah, but the thing is they love you unconditionally. And this is kind of the point, isn’t it, about human connection, is that we ought to be able to meet anybody, a stranger at work, along the street, your neighbors, and have that same sensibility of love for people.
We should I should have bought my big love hoops. I have them. They say love. Look, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m working on book two at the moment, which is going to be about human connection and polarization. And I think it is a really difficult thing to love thy neighbor right now in the way that the world and social media and what the algorithm showed us has been gearing people towards. And I think if you go in through the lens of a few things that I talk about… first, when you meet someone, you go in through the lens that you have more alike as human beings than you have different about you. You both crave the same basic human needs. So when in doubt, talk about those basic human needs. Food, water and shelter, great safe topics. And love and connection, also great topics. In fact, if you think about a dinner table, how much you talk about love and relationships, food, your house, is pretty much our basic needs is what human beings talk about at dinner parties. So these are great topics. So scan through the world when you meet new people with this idea that you’re more alike than different and also have an others driven mindset in a self driven world. So by going out and I’m thinking about how can I help every person that I come into contact with, that’s a very different lens than being antagonistic, being like, I really don’t like this person because they’re wearing a shirt from a sporting team that I am opposed to or whatever it is. And we’re at a stage with disconnection and loneliness on the planet where we almost do have to prime ourselves and we go out to connect with people that aren’t our existing friends and family. Actually, you’re right, it’s a tough thing right now.
It reminds me of times where you can say on social media, you are surrounded by thousands of people. I mean, we take LinkedIn, for example, as a platform over 800 million users. So you should never ever be alone. Yet it can be the most lonely of places because you’re looking for that reassurance of traffic engagement, people acknowledging you and you’re wanting to avoid being trolled at all costs. And the thing it’s strange because when you consider the algorithms that you mentioned there Simone, they’re designed and created by corporate companies looking to drive the dollar or the pound or whatever currency is.
And they’re using us. They’re using us and our propensity to connect with other humans. The last chapter of my book is called Paradox and it’s all about look, digital connection is the junk food version of real connection. So you must have boundaries within yourself that your digital following is not the same as your friends and family. You need very specific sorts of connections to be healthy, socially connected and guess what? Social media followings and communities are not part of those connections. So they are there and they have a role in business. If they help market your business, good because the business that is the platform that you’re on is also getting used out of you and your data and God knows what else. So having that maturity to say this is not what I go home to at night is very important and I worry for the generations under me who were raised with mobile phones and social media whether that has become hardwired into them, that needs a validation through social media from very young. It’s easy for me to have boundaries because I had an entire 16…17 years before mobile phones became something that everyone had. Imagine when you don’t. I think that would be very difficult to go through puberty when you want validation, when you have this addictive device and these things happening and we’re more logistically connected than ever, but more emotionally disconnected than ever. And that is because it’s so easy to make connection that people are using online connection as the destination versus the waystation. So technology should be the waystation to meet in person, not the destination. So you’ll find a lot of people younger than me, it’ll be chatting, chatting, chatting with one person that person doesn’t want to meet up. Chatting, chatting, chatting with another person, of course. And there are infinite 800 million people you could just continue to do this with and then never actually meet anyone who cares about you in real life, who will be there for you. The kind of human connection that will extend our lifespan and improve our immunity are the kind of people, as Susan Pinker says, that you can call within existential crisis, that you can call if you’re sick to take you to the hospital and that if you’re really in a financial bind, you can call them and feel comfortable to ask them to loan your money. This is the kinds of human connection that truly nourish and satiate us. Digital connections are like junk food, they feel good, like the first bite of a hamburger, but they will not give us that nutrition that increases our immunity and helps us to live longer.
You make a really good point there, Simone, in as much as there’s three people that you need to be able to call on and it’s health, wealth and happiness really, isn’t it, that you’re referring to. So challenge for the listeners, who are your three people? Is it the same person in all circumstances? Because when my dad was alive, he would have been my port of call in any storm.
Lovely. Mine too, darling. Mine too. Rest in peace. Robert Heng. But yes, mine too.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because we have lives that are in the real world. So it is about being sure that there is that human connection, as you say. And I know you’ve referenced your book The Secret Pandemic. What a cracking title. Because it is.
I have a title coach. I wish I could say that was mine.
No, but it really just in two words. It gets to the point. It tells you what you’re going to learn and remind yourself, because we all know this stuff, don’t we, Simone? It’s just that we choose to kind of paper over the cracks because it’s not really happening to us.
We’re ashamed to be vulnerable and say, hey, I’m a bit lonely. And just to the point of what? I love that you said about the three people, but we know there are three different types of loneliness. And Bruce Austin, Rochester University of Technology, created a scale to measure how lonely an individual was. The first thing is intimate loneliness. This is where they don’t feel they have a person they can truly be vulnerable with. This could be your best friend. For a lot of people, this is their romantic partner, husband or wife. It’s got to be that person that bones and all you can be vulnerable with and they still love and accept you. The next rung of loneliness is relational loneliness. This is where you don’t feel you’re part of a social fabric, so you can’t pick up the phone to anyone, family, friends, to ask for a favour. You just perceive, or maybe in truth, there is no one there for you. And the third rung of loneliness is collective loneliness. And this is more easy to solve when organizations can help people solve this. This is collective loneliness, where you feel you don’t have a shared mission or even hobbies sometimes with people who are like minded. So they don’t have to be your deepest friends. They could be from a crafting group or a church group or a diversity and inclusion group. Within your organization. You don’t have to be best buddies, but you have shared commonality, and that gives you a sense of social connection. If you can fill all these three runs of loneliness, you’re well on your way to having healthy social connection. We know loneliness is more deadly than smoking and alcohol problems or obesity. So let’s look at this actually filling these runs of loneliness as like a well being project versus just a mental health issue.
It is that challenge, isn’t it, of having a purpose and going back to what we said in the beginning, which is being able to step into your genius. And if you’re not in your own power, then you’re only on first gear, second gear of a magnificent engine that can take you real places.
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.
I’ve got another challenge. If we’re going to think of three people that we can go to in a port of storm, it may be that we’ve lost touch with people, certainly over the last couple of years, not being able to move about as much. And I know that things have gone back to a semi normal and there’s hybrid working and all these different things, but there’s perhaps somebody or more than one that you’ve lost touch with that could be suffering from those things.
Absolutely. In the book, I give this connection challenge to go through your most used messaging app in your phone, whatever that’s WhatsApp. Maybe use SMS or Facebook and just go through the DMs and scroll back and think, who have I not heard from in the last six months to a year on this? And the names will pop up jog your memory. And the second source think about who tends to self isolate. So we all have friends who are introverts to extroverts on a spectrum and your introverts will tend to have made the pandemic an excuse to go deeper within themselves. So that’s a great way to reach out. And I always say to ping pong with people, right, reciprocity is very important in authentic connection. Start by writing a text message. They text back, then escalate that to a voice note. They voice note back. You escalate because people who feel lonely will tend to self isolate. So sometimes bombing them with a phone call, they just won’t pick up. So just slowly, slowly, gently.
Yeah it’s about being kind and gentle, isn’t it? I think there are some great tips there, Simone. If there was one thing that you could share for anybody that is just maybe struggling or just feeling a little bit overwhelmed with human connection, what would your one tip be? To sort of help them with their confidence?
Yes. So with those who feel really in a lack of confidence and feel very much introverted, and the thought of going back into a crowd of room people to socialize after your social skills of atrophy during the pandemic scares you, here is my tip. Let’s use those social media apps for what they were originally invented for, to actually connect us. So for introverts, I always say look for people who have similar values and interests to you online and start conversations in the DMs, the direct messages with those people who seem to have commonalities with you. So you have the same hobbies, you like the same things and then slowly whittle that down to people you want to have a coffee catch up with. And I’ve done this recently when I went to Perth over the Pandemic. I am based in Singapore, but made a lot of friends with like minded business owners in person via the messaging apps during the Pandemic. And then we all met up when I was in person. It was the most beautiful, wonderful thing. So rather than someone who’s scared and not self confident going into a room where you have to circulate and talk to 20 people before you find one that might have a similarity to you and then move that conversation to a coffee, catch up later. That’s a lot of exhaustion for introverts. So use these apps as a filtering device and then of course, take it to an in person connection. Don’t just stay chatting on there.
It’s all about protecting our energy, isn’t it? In the right places for the right reasons, with the right people.
We are all too frazzled as it is in the world we’re living.
Simone there’s some great insights there and you’ve made me think about a couple of people already that have popped into my head and I’m going to go and connect with them again later.
But it’s the time in the show where I go, time to share that conversation that changed everything. So I always invite guests to think about one conversation that if you didn’t have it, that change would never have happened. And when you start to think about those sorts of situations as a few guests have gone, oh, I don’t think I’ve got any, and then I’ve actually gone. I’ve got so many, I didn’t know which one to share. But there’s always some learning from those sorts of conversations. So what can you think of today for us?
Oh, my goodness, I have so many. But one of them that I was actually sharing with my girlfriend this morning, who was dealing with some imposter syndrome issues, and so it’s fresh in my mind, so I’ll share that one and hopefully it will help. So, when I first started transitioning to keynote speaking, it was, of course, terrifying and very draining. I would get sick after each speech. You’re 45 minutes memorizing and then sharing this message. And I put so much pressure on myself for it to be perfect. And one day it got so overwhelming sometimes I wouldn’t even sleep leading up to a speaking gig. And one of my girlfriends, who is a very well known MC here, so she hosts events, and I told her how I was feeling and she said, not only have you got this, this is what you do. She says, this is what you do. And there was something in the phrasing of that that made me feel so empowered, like I belong in this space. And it changed everything for me, because every time I go on stage and I think to myself, this is what you do, I stop being in this ingratiated place, like, oh, of course I’m grateful. But I was very much different to a lot of the older male speakers who felt like, I own the stage. I felt like, oh, they’ve given me a chance and aren’t I lucky? And blah, blah, blah, and I can’t believe this brand chosen me. Instead, decide your belonging and connection. I felt connected to the audience because I felt I belonged there and I could put aside my ego and everything else and my scared ego and be fully present, and therefore my audience, and connect and give them that message. Because I was like, this is what I do. This is what I do day to day. And I get up and this is part of me. It’s part of my skin and part of my DNA, and I deserve to be here. So if anyone’s dealing with moments where they have imposter syndrome, this is what you do.
Allow yourself to be you. Wow.
Yes. Because, really, nothing else matters, does it? And I would liken that a little bit, to… remember when you were really young and it was like your first crush and they show an interest in you and it’s like the only thing you can think about. It’s that same thing, isn’t it? When you find why you’re here and what it is that you’re meant to do, it’s like your first crush. You just can’t think of anything else. So you know that you’re doing the right thing.
Wendy, I love that you said that. Somebody had coffee with me who was really like I’ve known him for 20 years, like a mentor. Hadn’t seen him in a long time. He had some health issues. We met up. He said, you know, I’ve only seen your life through photos online, but even how you smile is different. And I said, of course. Because when I was working for other people, I was in a final flight mode. My pupils were dilated, I was posing in photos, but it was that fake smile. And now I smile for real because I have this crush. I’m in love with what I do, and it feels a lot more natural and effortless and innate. I feel and people could argue against this, but I feel everyone deserves to feel that way about what they do. And I’m trying to build that in the community here. I want people to feel that.
Well, Simone, my mindset coach would say there is no such thing as trying. And my observation is you are doing that. You are being that. So here’s permission for everybody to go ahead and have human connection, because Simone and Wendy said you can. Simone, I’ve absolutely loved speaking to you today.
You’re such a beautiful human. I can feel your energy.
You wait. One day we will meet. Will be in the same physicality. But until then, I always say to the listeners to carry on the conversation, it’s not just about listening today. Follow and share with Simone what you take from this. Where’s the best place for them to go and hang out with you? Simone?
Absolutely. So I’m really active on LinkedIn and Instagram, and you can just search Simone Heng speaker in LinkedIn and Simone Heng on Instagram. My book, Secret Pandemic, is available on Amazon. Just put Secret Pandemic in and the book will come up and you can get it wherever you are right now in the world.
Fantastic. It’s a great read, everybody. So I would say read it and pay it forward or get them their own.
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