The power of human connection in building high-performing teams - Simone Heng
I had an insightful conversation with Simone Heng about human connection, her inspiring story of going from broadcasting to public speaking & building communities, and the role of human connection in building high-performance teams.
Simone Heng is a human connection specialist and former international broadcaster for Virgin Radio Dubai, HBO Asia, and CNBC, among others, with over 15 years of experience around the world.
“Connection” has always been her life’s work, and as a speaker, Simone inspires people to connect in a world thirsty for connection. She just launched her first book, “Secret Pandemic: The Search for Connection in a Lonely World,” a Singaporean bestseller and an Amazon US Number 1 bestseller in the Social Science Reference category.
✅ The in-depth definition of human connection
✅ Why loneliness is more deadly than diet, obesity, and smoking.
✅ The importance of self-connection
✅ The best tips to build authentic human connections
✅ The power of human connection in building high-performance teams.
Listen or watch the full episode here: www.linktr.ee/something_bigger
Connect with Simone:
Join her community: https://www.courageousspeaking.com/
Connect with Simone: https://simoneheng.com/
Free storytelling webinar: https://www.courageousspeaking.com/courageous-speaking-webinar
Full episode transcript
Rodrigo Canelas: I’m so excited to have you here. Thank you for coming. Thank you so much. I haven’t been, I’m excited to be here. It’s so beautiful. So let’s first get to know things. So can you tell us about your background in your journey?
Guest: Sure. So I was born here in Singapore and grew up in Australia and then also lived in many places. I lived in Dubai for five years, working on-air as a broadcaster. I lived in Switzerland as well. And then in Singapore, a couple of times, this is my second time back to Singapore. And I work as a professional speaker around the topic of human connection of just authored a book and space. And I also run a community here in St. Paul called the courageous speaking community, which is to teach the everyday person how to be a stronger communicator. And that’s part of my mission to see Singaporeans on their voice and speak up a little bit more.
Rodrigo Canelas: Wow. So I read it on my own and you have a story. Maybe you can tell us, how did you get me to human connections? And you can tell us this story.
Guest: Sure. So obviously when I was broadcasting, you were using communication skills, but I always felt there was this huge gap between communication and connection. Okay. They’re related, but they’re not the same thing.
So I was seeing how there was a lot of disconnection inside an organization that was working in the media versus an organization I’ve worked for before where Virgin radio’s vibe was very connected as a team. And so we created really great content. So I was seeing the correlation between a disconnection in a team and dispatch and content.
And then at the same time, as this was happening, my mother was a very red generative disease and was also having issues, remembering parts of her own life and connecting to herself and others around her because of this dementia. And so everywhere I looked, this subject of human connection was staring me in the face, except I had connected the dots. It took a mentor at the gentleman. You might not a Frederick Heron to literally say smoke. When you walk into the room, people just want to connect with you. You’re a connector. And it was when he sent me off to research the connection. I did interviews just like you’re doing with people. I believed to be a human connection, superheroes, taxi drivers, and teachers at schools where kids have autism on all scales of the spectrum. For people like that, that is clear to me that this topic was so much deeper than how other people have been speaking about it or deeper than I even knew in terms of its impact on my life. And you really see that through the book is that it’s deeply personal to me, this topic.
Rodrigo Canelas: Wow. So what was the moment that tipping point that you felt like, okay, well, there’s something here for me, but was All this running a contest? And this isn’t my tentacle.
Guest: I ran a contest on the radio, giving away tickets to a superhero movie. And I said, ‘You know, messaging wants to of how you’d like to have and why.’ And this girl actually started cold in and her name was may shrine. I’ll never forget it. She said I wish I had the superpower of being able to connect with people that maybe nowadays people connect, but really connect with people. One-on-one and I thought she was obviously about 10 years I’m going to be. So she’ll be 28 at the time, she was like 24 or 25.
And I remember thinking, how is something that I take the garden that I’ve had my whole life, this skill of Nevada, what pain is inside of me being able to connect with people? How has this now been considered a superpower? And then, of course, I started to research and realize that the signal loneliness index Gen Z, or the loneliness of all generations in the past, would’ve been elderly people. And so what is making young people devices to connect them more than they’ve ever been connected? What is making them feel lonely? That’s when the penny dropped.
I was like, ‘Oh, my mentor was right!’ Cause that’s a bit of a disbeliever. I was like, really my mentors kind of introverted. So I thought maybe you just think someone connected because I’m extroverted, he’s super introverted, but actually, he was so right. And that was when the penny dropped. It’s like, there is some research in this that needs to be done.
Rodrigo Canelas: Okay. So let’s, let’s understand better. What is human connection?
Guest: So I believe I define connection as the energetic recall we’re experiencing right now, but we’ve all experienced when we can see feel, and discover ourselves mirrored in another human being. And there’s a reason that says, see, feel discovered there’s something called a social penetration theory that says the more time you and I spend together, the more information about yourself you disclose. And I will disclose that we naturally do some things because we’re wired to want connection. Connection makes us feel more calm and safe, right?
So if you sat us in a room together, a jail cell, it sinks the movies, habits, jail cells, all the time. People, even if they’ve got opposing views, if you just place them in proximity, eventually they would connect. And why is this really important? In my definition, is this part about, seeing and feeling the initial connection you meet with people when you’re building rapport, you aren’t just seeing and feeling? And when you move to discover that’s vulnerability, that’s the disclosure pot. So that’s where we really get the authentic connection. And it must be kind of done in that, that order. Yeah.
Rodrigo Canelas: So help us to understand what is the problem to me in terms of human connection. We live in a world that is more connected than ever, but still, there’s a lot of disconnect between people.
Guest: Yeah, sure. So I would say we’re more logistically connected than ever and more emotionally disconnected than ever. So there’s a, it’s a paradox. And so we’re lonely for a few reasons. First, there was a pandemic that just ended. And so all of our social skills about trophies it’s, everyone’s a bit awkward. We’re lonely because we’re using more and more devices. So again, the social skills that we’ve been born with and not getting exercised as much. So we’re finding new ways to connect with people. The third way is that people are using particularly Gen Z using technology as the destination rather than the waystation.
So technology should be your waystation to connect with people and feel total might get along with and move you to an in-person meeting. However, if you use it as the destination, that means you never get to that meeting and you just chat online forever. And once that person gets boring, you just shift to another person that you just talk to forever. It’s not going to satiate you with the kind of human connection that we’re wired to crave and that we need for our wellbeing.
Rodrigo Canelas: And what are the consequences of that? What are the impacts of that? The cost of that.
Guest: So you all often hear that people will go strongly socially connected will outlive lonely people or that loneliness is more deadly than diet, then obesity, and smoking. This is very common to hear these faster around, but why that actually is to explain the science of why is that? Because we evolved in tribes, we very quickly acquainted safety with numbers. So the people that try fed us food, if there was low food available, shared the food with us, kept watch over us while we slept at night, and protected us from foreign tribes and saber-toothed tigers.
So we, if we will cast out of that time, for any reason, we would not last very long. We would get a fight or flight response from our bodies. Cortisol would be running through our veins and to this day, that cave person, brain lives. Now head when we are disconnected from people or we are lonely, that flight or fight that anxiety is actually still happening in most of us would have experienced this during COVID. If you didn’t have good sleep during COVID one of the first mock markers of loveliness, Dr. Lewis hopefully has found his micro awakenings in your sleep. And that is to do with the fact there are no other tribes, people that wake up in the night and keep watch the different members of the tribe as they slept.
And if you were passed out, you would have to wake up and look out for safe, too tight for yourself. So it’s kind of incredible that we live in this digitally connected world, but those physiological responses are still within us and we still equate being safe with being connected.
So when you’re lonely, it is those stress hormones going through your body over and over again, chronically. For people who are lonely for a long period of time, that damages their immunity. And if you look everywhere in the world, for example, what it found is men go wide and shallow with their connections. Women go narrow and deep. And this is important because one of the very big signs of the kind of connection, even because not all connection is built alike.
Okay. Action is good as a toxic connection, but it’s not all built like the connection that you really need that you must make sure you have in place is the kind of person who can be truly vulnerable with that. You can call it a crisis. Okay? You need those people and women seem to invest more in that. So you actually see the statistic that everywhere in the world, except for blue zones, women will outlive men by five to 10 years and they think that this has to do with how women connect.
So it’s so my point is these, the consequences of not investing in your social connections are…
Rodrigo Canelas: Huge.
Guest: It’s huge.
Rodrigo Canelas: So lifespan. Yeah. So now if we move into the workplace, what is happening in terms of human connection? What is happening today in the world?
Guest: Yes. I’m just starting my research into a new keynote about a connection of culture. And look, I think particularly here in St. Paul, we have a huge issue with workplace toxicity and obviously, I’m a permanent resident, but all my family and lodging, a lot of my friends are local and I’ve worked for the local organization.
So I’m more probably tethered to that. And I can say local organizations, there is a huge challenge with exploitative work hours, hierarchy, and backstabbing bullying organizations. And it’s not taken care of the same way you’re made to become before in America. For example, you can go to HR in these local organizations. What I’m hearing is that HR is on the side of the organization, not the individual.
So there’s very little to be done, but of course, people need to make a living seem quite as expensive as we hear over and over again. And what is very clear is that if you want to kill innovation productivity and have awful Patricia rights in your organization, don’t do something about connection. If you want to continue to have products that look like this standard, don’t invest in human connection in your organization, you must invest in building a culture of connection and making people feel included and having a sense of belonging. If you want to retain the top talent, we see this issue in the states right now, we, the resigned people want to work at a pleasant place to work. And also one thing is clear.
I worked in a creative field my whole life from the time I first started working. And what’s really clear is fatigued. People cannot be created. The brain just cannot be created when it’s burnt out. Now, if you take out simply the logistics about that by being overworked and exploited, and you mix that with toxicity and bullying, which means that fight or flight response from feeling alone, you get someone who’s in lizard brain all the time. And when we’re that lizard brain, we don’t activate the parasympathetic nervous system. That’s where you get all the good things, right? That the oxytocin is released. It’s what we developed for building trust in others. So by having an exploitative toxic workplace, you can’t release that trust hormone in your employees to allow them to trust each other, how you work together on a project when you can’t even trust your colleague, not to stab you in the back to deliver something on time, it’s complete. It’s complete sabotage of PR productivity, innovation, everything. If an organization wants to have optimal output, it absolutely needs to look at building a connected culture. That means making everyone feel they’re welcome.
That means people in this hierarchy that we see in Asia, are very from hierarchy, right? Top-down management style, looking into how that can change. I mean, maybe not be realistic, but I would love to see that happen. But at least those leaders allowed themselves to be more approachable, which is normally seen that Asian structure having worked in an organization like that there would be fear to go to people at the top and people talking about being vulnerable so that you can connect with your employees when you leave like that. And so all of these things need to be looked at, and if you want better outcomes from your teams, create a culture of connection.
Rodrigo Canelas: Well, thank you for that. The bottom is big.
Guest: It’s big. Yeah.
Rodrigo Canelas: Yeah. And so when you had been working now when connection and you publish your book secret pandemic, so maybe you can tell us a bit about the journey with your book and also tell us about, so what are the solutions that you researched and that you would like to share with people?
Guest: I think the number one thing that we can all do-rag out at this moment that actually ironically doesn’t involve other people in terms of the solutions is to work on our self-connection.
We cannot connect well with others. Particularly if you’re a leader in the organization, you must have self-connection. I have had coaching clients C-suite or others who, if I asked them, how are you feeling right now after this session could not even find the words to explain. So imagine not having that feedback loop between tapping your body or what’s happening to your emotions or your thoughts to even communicate that, which means there’s an internal disconnection happening. So how can you share in your calendars leaders, time to sit and work on yourself? I’ve just started doing meditation after many years of resisting meditation. I don’t know why I was assisted. It’s like the best thing ever in my life right now. But what I know for sure is that when I activate that person, they know the system, and I can release the hormones that make me happier and create better trust between me and other individuals. So it means more open listening and leaders need to do that because leadership is lonely. I’ve never had fewer people ask me how I am since I became the leader of my organization.
When I was a DJ, you were very much with the people. Once people see you get a little bit of success, they really do kind of start asking. So I understand that as there was the tiny point, my company is tiny, but how a leader of a large organization must feel day in, day out, getting people, bringing them their problems. And no one asked me to lead how they are. And so I would challenge the leaders, watching this for half an hour and mark with yourself, do something that you love that is grounding, walking in nature, walk your dog, meditate, paint, whatever it is, that’s calming, grounding, where your thoughts can become aware and start asking those questions. Like, how do you actually feel right now? How do you feel about your role?
Once you connect better with yourself, sometimes you at the book, art therapy, sometimes maybe some therapies gotta help. And then that’s going to set you up better for leading. And that’s going to have a flow-down effect on the organization and anybody watching this can do that.
I wish were so distracted. And I have like a cottage industry of social media that I produce, like do all of these things, but I never miss those hours. The more hours I invest in connecting with myself, I’m so much better for other people. And so that would be my number one, tip the gentleman with the book. I wrote the book during the pandemic and it was something that I always wanted to do. And it seemed like the perfect time. I did not expect it to be received the way it has been received. I had deep fears, and I’m sure everybody who is about to publish a book has felt deep fears. It’s not a safe book. Like, don’t read this book. If you don’t expect to feel something. The whole role of the book as I have read almost every human connection book out there.
And none of them actually connected with me. They told me studies, they taught me the sites and told me how-to tips, but nothing made me feel less lonely. And so my mission for this was that it wouldn’t make people feel that smelly specifically the topic audience of local people, which was time before and the book has now is a bestseller or in Singapore, it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing that I thought would never happen. And Amazon U.S. bestseller in a social science reference category release. So yeah, so it’s been a wonderful journey.
Rodrigo Canelas: Wow. Thank you.
Guest: Thank you for having me here to help and promote it. I appreciate you.
Rodrigo Canelas: And so, so if you will now talk about building a high-performance team. So what is the role of human connection in building a high-performance team?
Guest: So I probably didn’t say very eloquently before, but the definition of high-performance is that they’re extraordinary, they’re producing great results. So I really think where some organizations do get it. They bring me in to speak to their people but building that culture of connection is what takes you to the next level because here’s the thing. If your team likes the environment they’re working in and likes the projects they’re working on and how do they like the projects they’re working on because they have a connection with their leaders to talk about the projects, right? There’s a safe, psychological safety that, that team, they are going to create much greater content.
I saw it in my own life, working for Virgin radio, where we have this thing called collective connection. So there are three different types of loneliness and I’m just going to zero in on this class, but I’m going to give everybody the model so they can check in with themselves. The first is intimate loneliness, which is where you feel. You don’t have someone who can be treated vulnerable. The second is relational doggedness where you feel you’re not part of the social fabric. And the third is the collective building where you don’t feel you have a shared vision and people without vision.
So if an organization like one experienced diversion, we knew we were creating Mavericks. That was our shared vision like fail, or you like as long as what you create is exceptionally entertaining content that was our mission and vision, your team, maybe your company has a vision, but the team itself needs to have a shared vision. And that allows them to feel that they are also connected to something bigger than themselves as well.
So that’s the first step, but that in place of your team and work on them, connecting with each other and having a look at who are the sources of toxicity in those teams. So I can say from personal experience at my last workplace, that there were definitely a couple of people that were very gossipy and who lived and thrived off that gossip and use that gossip as a currency to move up a hierarchy, which I found really bizarre. When you go to Australia, you find a lot of effort for what, what, what is the effort or the effort behind this going towards the block. But there are people like that in organizations, how can you move them off your team? They will sabotage, or my performance.
So those are my, tips for building high-performance teams and creating activities where the team could connect and, and make sure those activities are included inclusive. We’ve opened a team bonding activity that you feel is for the majority of the team, but not for everyone. You don’t feel like you want to be there. So I would suggest using an anonymous survey, like survey monkey, email it out, and find what everyone wants to do for the company offsite. How about a real good look at who are the people that are not being served by this and how can you make people feel included in one of the activities that you want to do?
Rodrigo Canelas: Wow, that’s so good. So much valuable thinking. That’s amazing.
Do you have any story of any leader that you work with that did really well? I don’t know where you went in human connection with them.
Guest: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll go back to the Virgin group, cause that’s really the standup one for me because it’s a really great example of how culture from the leader moves down. So it’s rare that an organization that size with a leader, so public like Richard Branson, that that is so global, we were in the Dubai office of this brand. And yet we felt so included in this great emergent vision.
So that has a conversion village that you would all get this email that gets gives perks to any employee for Virgin group globally, which made us feel like even though we’ve kind of have franchised out, we’re still part of this brand. That’s held in high esteem and we want to, we want to do it credit. And then within that team, I had my first PD program director there who was very careful about being involved, but not too involved with the team as a leader.
So this is really interesting because when a leader bodies up and I saw this personally at the last radio station I worked at when a leader buddies up with selected members of the team, and then it’s not with the rest of the team. They may not realize is it could be a blind spot, but it makes other people feel really excluded. And so he was with us, but really cognizant of not going to someone’s house for a barbecue. I should tell this storyline that you are the first one to get lost in the workplace. Where am I? The boss at that time organized an entire informal team trip to Bangkok and didn’t invite me and one other person and then told everyone not to put social media photos up so that we, the team members that were not invited would see. But obviously, if you say that, that means you’re cognizant of the fact, that this is an exp it’s excluding people. So how connected are you as a leader? If you see that, would you still choose to do that? And then, in the end, she ended up getting taken in because eventually you can’t hide on social media, saw it. And then I phoned. ‘So a hundred, okay. How do you feel about it?’ I was like, ‘What do you say?’ It’s a terrible thing to feel excluded. Like you don’t belong. It gives us that fight or flight response. Even if we rush like, ‘Oh, I don’t care.’ It still hurts. And leaders are responsible for creating a culture of inclusion.
So you shouldn’t be doing things like that, but that would never happen with that program director I had in Dubai who was very cognizant of, I will come for the workplace team-building thing, but I will duck out at a certain time, or I will not make it myself. Cookie there are certain people, which we saw from other people within the organization. So he did a really good job within my direct team, managing that. Some people felt if anything arose, you could always come in with an equal ear to approach that leader. Meanwhile, the team and everybody on the same rank connect with each other and do whatever they want to do. And I think that that was really strategized and really thought about, and that’s a connected leader, someone who spends their time thinking about those things.
Rodrigo Canelas: Wow, that’s an amazing example.
Guest: Oh my gosh. I, that now often I go short-form video that I didn’t even know that was in me. Why should always say yes to podcasts if you can?
Rodrigo Canelas: So now, if we look at the future, like, I mean there’s so much uncertainty and when disruptions, ‘How do you see what things are moving? And what do you think is a skill that lives there?’ They need to start working so that they can succeed in the future as a leader.
Guest: So, firstly, I think there should be an acceptance that different generations working on you are going to have different modalities with which they like to connect.
So a recent example is given to me by a C-suite friend of mine who her a new hire was replying to WhatsApp messages like, ‘Okay.’ O-K-A-Y, which you don’t really talk to your leader, laugh back. I had to, as a leadership kind of coach the new hire because it’s in the new, highest, best interest as that, you’re a little guy who’s up the corporate ladder. They’re going to have to learn a little bit of public communication. But so the first thing is accepting that not only the modality is different, but there might, you might need to do a little bit of connection teaching, teaching them how to express or write a professional email or understand that Gen Z loves WhatsApp, but also gen Z needs to understand that maybe your leader doesn’t want to be in WhatsApp. And s these are the issues, but to understand and be open to altering and to speak with your team about these things, instead of having an attitude of you must communicate like this, just be open about it with this really important, because this is something we went 3.0, and with how fast everything is heading, it’s going to be exponential. We have to catch our breath in terms of how people are going to change in their connections. So that’s on one number.
Two, I would say, do have those in-person days, as I mentioned for technology is right, but we’ve learned from the pandemic, we get more of those feel-good hormones from the in-person connection. So even if you’re working remotely, how can you share a tool company off-sites, which we’re seeing a lot of, and that’s where people like you or I come in, or how can you have those bonding days that serve everyone? So that would be my top two things I would say.
Rodrigo Canelas: Yeah. It’s I think the disconnect today between generations is huge. I love that you brought that point and I think it’s your solution.
Guest: Yeah. And it’s, and it’s a struggle on both sides. It’s not, so the connection is a two-way street. It’s an exchange. It’s an energetic rapport, as my definition says. So how could you build an energy rapport? If you’re telling another person in my organization, ‘You must communicate to me like this.’ I love it the other day. I got someone who potentially wanted to work with me and she slid into my WhatsApp and she said, lonely, is it okay that I, as if you here, I said, thank you so much for asking, but I actually do prefer email because my WhatsApp and my social media DMS are a bit crazy. And it was so beautiful that she asked because, and she’s my generation. But normally if I deal with people 10 years old than me, they will just slide directly into WhatsApp. And that was their modality of working because they want that immediacy. But I’m actually pretty limited on email. Anyway. It’s more than just helping me with not having distractions on my phone.
So, these are the things that we can all, I suppose, be more others are talking book, others driven in a self-driven world. How can you say what this person likes to be communicated with that way? Or what is the modality of communication in the organization and how can I move myself to that, to that space if I need to, and if I really don’t like it, then I guess you can choose to work somewhere else. And I made that stupid cause we all held hostage to like a WhatsApp chat. And I didn’t. I found it very, very triggering, even when you’re on leave, you’re expected to reply to that. And that, for me, was a mark of a toxic workplace.
Rodrigo Canelas: Yeah. It’s nice because it really takes to what you were mentioning before the importance of self-awareness of working on the self, the leader so that then you will be able to better connect and understand their team.
Guest: Yeah. So we can’t be, others have driven actually if we’re stressed. So that self-time allows you to be present for people. So you’re picking up on all these clues and these nuances of how people are connecting with you, which I think is really vital. If you’re stressing that you can’t do that. You Elizabeth, Brian, y’all, you’re not going to ingest all of those things that are happening in routine.
Rodrigo Canelas: Okay. So we are almost getting to the end. So fascinated with this topic.
Guest: Thank you. It is. It is. It’s the topic that keeps on giving. Really.
Rodrigo Canelas: So you’ve been on this site, I think from thinking years, asking so many questions to people and now mean you’ve been now in different podcasts and people ask you a lot of questions. So my question to you is what is one question that no one asks you and you would love to answer?
Guest: Oh my goodness. All of these are. So I feel like there are so many, no one asked me ‘What was the book writing process?’ It’s interesting. People all want, you’re celebrating the end product, but nobody says like, what was your biggest struggle? Or what’s a great hack to know, how she writes your first book.
That’s yeah, I would’ve liked that. I think one of the best things ever was that I had the book coach and the book coach said, ‘You know, the first two hours in the morning, first two hours where your brain, and you’re going to do the best writing and not to do any more than those two hours a day.’ And that’s the way that I was able to get it written.
The first draft of those four weeks was during that morning. And for anybody wanting to write a non-fiction book, do not add your research time into the timeline for writing the book, understand that the research time is separate. So sometimes people say they took five years to write a book that’s because the research time was part of that five years. And so it’s much faster to write if you’ve done all the research, which I was lucky enough to do for the keynote. So the research had been done, which made drafting just a distillation of the research. Yeah. That would be my answer.
Rodrigo Canelas: How crazy that was quite fun. So the that seems, I mean, they had so much fun and they learn so much about this topic and good luck. Keep inspiring others to connect more and yeah that amazing entity.