Seeing I to I – The Face of Authentic Connection

Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D

Has anyone ever told you, “I feel so comfortable with you; it’s as if we have known each other all our lives? Or, have you ever said to someone else, “I feel that we are soul mates?”

This type of intimacy, which we call “I to I”, occurs when one’s true self or essence makes an authentic connection with that same aspect of another, resulting in a memorable and highly positive experience. We seem to register this kind of mutual connection at an intuitive level, making it feel somewhat mysterious. It likely also occurs when many variables come into play, making it difficult to describe or explain.

What we do know about “I to I” relationships is that ego concerns are set aside. These include underlying agendas, our need to control the process or outcome, and the desire to have others conform to our needs or values. In contrast, in an “I to I” interaction, we accept the other person unconditionally, and we are truly present with and for that person.

One of the authors once had a dramatic and unexpected experience with such a connection. While living in the countryside, a neighbor who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, used to stop by to chat. One day upon leaving, he said: “You are the only person who talks to me like I am a normal person, not someone with a mental disorder.”  Upon reflection, the author realized that she was responding to his essence — to the essential person he was (and always had been) that lay beneath the layers of behaviors that were brought about by his schizophrenia (e.g., anxiety, poor eye contact, disorganized thinking). During those conversations, she was somehow able to remain focused on his true self, that aspect of him that was unaffected by his schizophrenia and, similarly, he was able to connect with hers.

What is the climate in which an authentic connection thrives? It seems to occur when we are open, not shut down; celebrating the other, not competing with him or her; accepting, not judging;  focused on the other, not self-absorbed.

Regrettably, our egos often get in the way in making an I-to-I connection.

Barriers to Making an Authentic Connection

In order to clear the path for an authentic I-to-I connection, we need to remove some of these common barriers:


Sometimes we come into an interaction with an agenda, for example: “What is in this for me?”How can I influence this person to think or behave my way?”


In our very busy culture, it’s hard to be present and focused on the “now”. For instance, we are sitting with a friend who wants feedback on a family issue but we are distracted by interfering thoughts and our immediate needs. We’re thinking about what we need to get at the grocery store for dinner. We’re worried about a project deadline.


Over the years we have built up layers and layers of defenses against being hurt, disappointed, or manipulated by others. We also have mastered the different roles we must adopt in life (e.g., parent, manager, teacher).  Unfortunately, these roles can interfere with our ability to make a true interpersonal connection; they are like a mask we wear, preventing us from revealing our true nature.

Tunnel Vision

We often walk into relationships with unconscious needs, which can blind us in seeing the whole person. When the person turns out to be unlike we thought they were; for example, highly limited, we become disappointed, disallusioned and/or unable to relate. For instance, we are drawn to, then befriend someone who is intelligent, witty, and funny. Later, we realize that we have neglected to recognize some very important limitations in them that threaten to derail the friendship. We did not see those qualities initially because of our tunnel vision and blinding needs.


Making an Authentic Connection

Imagine you had an hour long conversation with a stranger in a park where you felt a deep, soulful connection. What happened that led you to believe this? Perhaps, it was one of the following:

*You felt safe, trusting, and without the need to defend yourself — you were open to the other person.

*You experienced the other as being fully present with you and you with him or her.

*You felt unconditionally accepted. For example, you were not judged, interrupted, or stereotyped.

*You felt the other person really listened to you and that what you said interested him or her.

*You did not feel interrupted or competed with by comments the other said.

Sound more like an encounter with Jesus or the Dalai Lama?

Surely, we are not likely to meet someone where all of the conditions noted above have been met, but sometimes a connection is made that seems to transcend the mundane or every day, leaving us moved as well as capturing our imagination.

Think of a time when you made an I-to-I connection. What do you think happened between the two of you?


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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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9 Responses to Seeing I to I – The Face of Authentic Connection

  1. Robert Conrow says:

    Fascinating piece… both thoughtful and provocative. I’d always wondered what those moments were all about; you’ve done an excellent job of explaining the inexplicable!

    • cedricj says:

      Thanks for weighing in on this topic Bob plus for your kind words to us. So much of effective I to I is shrouded in mystery, obscured by pop mythology (men are from…), and twisted by unconscious dynamics (Thomas Moore calls this “skeletons in the closet and monsters in the heart). However, once in a while, you meet someone, like you and you partner, where the clear signal comes through the mists of confusion saying “this is it”

  2. ShilpiRajput says:

    Very thought provoking post, I Believe that the ‘I’ or ‘self’ is infinite and with so much happening in today’s world its very hard to introspect to bring out the real self, moreover there is hardly any listening skills left or patience to understand peoples opinion objectively, wherever you look there will be people who have to say about them and their life, we hardly have anyone who is fulfilled or content with their own life, with whom we could have an I to I connection. Unfortunately there aren’t much but we can begin to work on our selves and enrich our lives first through I to I connection with our inner selves through spirituality by meditating and having significant spells of self introspection about our own karma, which could help us become more empathetic to find other people whom we can connect without our ego; as ego limits us to connect with each and every one, and once we are content within ourselves, we can connect with everyone whom we meet and not be choosy.

    • cedricj says:

      Thanks so mich for your thoughtful comment. You are so right that there is so much static noise between and within people that the clear voice of the soul is seldom heard. Since we cannot control how others respond to us we can be the person we want to be through the spiritual practices you mention.

  3. Of course all the points you pointed out are valid. But one stands out most for me. Time. And I put TIME vs. our present day digital cultures. How can anyone has an I to I contanct, when to most people, thier iPhone or iPad are more important then the person sitting opposite them? I peronsally do not have, and would not give, the time to people who just pull out the iPhone, iPad or laptop when they are suppose to have ‘I to I’ time with me. I want ME time. And I give him/her MINE time. I basically no longer understand our society. But, life goes on with or without me.

    Below is an article I found just a few days ago, perhaps it is something worth exploring for your readers?

    It’s Time for a “Slow Conversation” Movement
    by Anthony K. Tjan | 9:00 AM January 9, 2013 (HBR)


    • cedricj says:

      You bring up such an important point about the impact of the digital culture on relationships. Being of the generation that does not own a smart phone I find it difficult to relate to the new generation and see their device behavior in company as just plain bad manners. But the digital world is now a fact of life and it is not going to go away. The art of conversation is being lost and there will have to be a “tipping point” where people are saying “this is not working for us”. Some interventions include
      1. The workplace prohibiting texting etc in meetings
      2. Certainly no driving and texting
      3. A updated version of the etiquette books/blogs that speak to speaking loud on phones in public places
      4. Setting limits on being with people who insist on consistently interrupting the conversation with their devices.

      Your comments add to this important debate. Thanks for weighing in.

      • I purposely do not want to have one. But I think there is no execuse for being bad manners. And that is what it is, execuses. Because we are in the new age, does it means that we have to have ‘certain’ behaviours? I think the problem is, the ‘majority’ of the society is too afraid to speak-up against the trend, perhaps fearing ‘since it is digitial must be important’?

        My observation is, we have lost the ability of understanding what it is to be DECENT towards others, and what it is to respect ONESELF. When we no longer able to be decent to others, then anything goes. When we behave badly, we do not respect oneself.

  4. cedricj says:

    You are absolutely right. Comments like yours tip the scale in the direction of the reestablishment of decency and respect in our society.

  5. Pingback: Seeing I to I – The Face of Authentic Connection | People Discovery Weekly |

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