Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Connecting with People

Easy, some of you might be thinking.  I talk with people all day, so I don't need to read this, may be some readers thoughts.  However, talking with/at/to people and connecting, while they can be the same thing at times, are not actually one in the same.  In fact, the majority of people talk to or at people, without really connecting much at all.

Connection is more than just talking.  Its a sense of both truly hearing someone else, and of really feeling heard by the other. And this goes deeper than just hearing the words they are saying. 

Its about putting yourself in their shoes- or at least, trying to.  Its about attempting to imagine, not how you would feel if you were them, but how they might feel.  Two different things.  Because with genuine listening, it isn't actually about you ;-).  Something a lot of people confuse, ever bringing conversations back to their opinion, how what someone is saying affects them, what "they would do" in such a situation, etc. 
But they aren't you, and you aren't them, so none of this applies.  Real listening is instead, about empathy.  Imagining how the other might feel.

True connection is also about having a clear, focused mind.  You aren't listening when you are formulating what to say next.  You also aren't listening when ruminating on your to-do list for the next week.  And it certainly isn't listening when you are forming your own judgements and opinions about what the person in front of you is saying.  Real listening requires setting all of this aside.  An endeavor that takes some significant mental efforts for sure.  But I can tell you this, when you work hard to be a present, truly good listener, people will notice and be drawn to you.  For a main reason that so few people actually do this (genuinely listen for anything much past the blink of an eye).

So, with that introduction aside about genuine listening, I will segue into how to connect and talk with just about anyone. 

Everyone, including myself, could do with a refresher on this topic (many of us think we are great communicators while few of us actually are).  Since having at least a couple of emotionally close connections within ones life is a key source of happiness, mental wellbeing and satisfaction, it makes sense to put some significant priority, focus and efforts into such.

1. An easy way to have others be drawn to you like moths to a flame?  Be interested in others.  And no, not just faking it (as people can see through that pretty quickly) but truly being interested.  An easy way to do this: look at the person with whom you are trying to grow closer/get to know/connect with as a layered mystery, a book loaded with fascinating chapters that you have yet to read, a plethora of lessons at the offering for your enrichment and learning.  That is what each person is, really.  A complex mystery, with hundreds of interesting stories from their life, lessons they can teach you, etc. 

If you approach interactions with others as a discovery and learning opportunity, you will find it far easier to be interested in them genuinely (instead of just pretending to be).  How many people do you know who are truly focused on and genuinely interested listeners in others?  Probably not many.  So be one of them.

2.  To piggyback off point #1, when you are listening intently, a plethora of opportunity for further questions you can ask the other person will present themselves naturally.  And if you are listening carefully without distraction, you can pick up on them.  Finding loads of potential further inquiry if you are both curious and present. 

For instance, if someone is talking about their love of baking, ask about their specialties, how they got into baking in the first place, do they have dreams to take this passion further, etc.  If someone is talking about their latest trip to Spain, ask about the food there, what was the best thing they ate, the coolest thing they saw, the most memorable moment of the trip.  If someone talks about a passion or hobby (drawing, writing, photography, building things, the list goes on), the fastest way to excite and alight them?  Ask to see their work.  Ask what sorts of things they photograph, what is their writing about, what do they draw?  Where do they get inspiration from?  What do they build?

Some fun get-to-know someone questions.  While most of these are technically "closed" questions, asking for one response, you could tailor them to being more open ended.  Or, a few of them might just be entertaining in a moment when needed.

3.  Have one or two great go-to jokes at the ready up your sleeve.  This is a great one for, when things relax a bit and when/if people are drinking, you can pull these out when the moment presents itself and elicit a good laugh.  Laughing together connects people and bonds them a bit in the moment.

4.  Be reading a good book at the moment.  Be semi aware and up to date on the news.  Have watched a great movie or TV show recently.  With these (and other similar things) up your sleeve, makes for great conversation prompts to have at the ready when you might need them.  Two of my own favorite questions to ask anyone and everyone, "what do you like to read?" and "what have you read lately that was awesome?"  Not only do I get new reading ideas I might not have otherwise, as well as insight into that persons interests and character depending on their answer, but its often a great conversation starter in general.

(Want a few gripping, potentially life changing book recommendations?  And why reading can make your life infinitely better?  Read this short article for both :-)).

5.  Some great questions to have at the ready: what exciting projects or goals are you working on at the moment?  What fun or new things have you done recently?  What are your favorite places to frequent in the city (or, whatever you discover this person lives...hopefully from the same place as you)?  

6.  Ask open ended questions.  Things not with just "yes or no" answers.  Some examples of bad questions.  Do you live here in Boston?  "Yes."  "What do you think of this weather?"  "What do you do for work?"  (I know, I know, the staple first or second question when meeting someone, especially of Americans.  But frankly, its often kind of a lame and limiting one.  A better question: "what sorts of exciting projects or work are you doing in your life at the moment?"  Less narrow, more open for the answering person to tailor and guide their answer as they wish to.  That way, if their job is their passion, they will mention it.  But if they hate their job, or just might not wish to focus on it, they can guide their answer to what really lights them up inside).

Open ended questions can be things like:
-"Oh wow, so you read that book too.  What did you think of it?"  
-"Oh man, you watched The Wire too!?  What did you think of it as a whole?"
-"Oh so you went to Paris last week?  How awesome.  Tell me about the trip.  What did you do and see...?  What delicious things did you eat?"
-"What were your thoughts on that book?"
-"Oh wow, tell me more about that experience?"

7.  Sounds obvious, but to reiterate my initial point, actually listen.  Many people think they do this well, but truly, most do not.  Good listening means: making eye contact, not thinking about other things (your to-do list, how hungry you are, that cute girl/guy at the bar just down the way, the text that just vibrated from your phone, etc).  Real listening means not thinking about your response to the speaker or what you will say next.  It means not forming opinions or judgements as they are speaking.  

Instead, great listening means: attempting to put yourself in the speakers shoes- not as yourself but as them.  Making eye contact.  Being truly present.  Both seeing and feeling what the other person may be feeling and trying to express themselves.

Good listening also means focusing both on what they are saying, as well as what they aren't saying.  Most verbal messages have a lot more going on underneath.  People may say something but there are often hidden meanings beneath as well, which one might glean via body language and certain phrasing. 

For instance, someone might say, "I'm not sure I want a relationship right now," while he/she actually means, "I'm afraid of being hurt, can I trust you?"  Or, "I have other priorities and am trying to let you down kindly."  It could be either of those true meanings, or any number of other ones as well. 

Someone might say, "I hate that asshole," when actually, they mean "that person smashed my heart and I am immensely hurt and thus, defensive and guarded. I hate how much they hurt me." 

A person could say, "Um, yeah, that was sort of interesting," when what they really mean is, "that was incredibly boring but I'm too polite to say such, so I will sound slightly apprehensive and unenthusiastic to hint at such instead."

The list goes on.  People say things all the time but there are often additional meanings underneath.  Things they feel but aren't saying out loud.  Part of being an observant listener is being watchful of this aspect of communication as well.

In conclusion, talking and connecting with people are not skills that anyone is born with.  On the contrary, they are things we learn.  Human interaction is often complicated, layered, complex and messy.  Therefore, learning what we can and putting in efforts to practice such can help pave the way for having better relationships and close connections to the others with whom we want such.

And what are close relationships exactly?  A close relationship is one in which both people see one another as unique, irreplaceable and quite special.  And within said relationship, there is a high degree of openness and self disclosure.  That they both feel they can tell one another personal, private things.  Feeling emotionally close to and a sense of comfort with one another generally most of the time.  Trusting in each other.  Genuinely liking one another.  Forgiving and letting go of little quirks and annoyances.  And each putting in effort to maintaining the close connection.

Though of course, the above skills and actions can be applied to both close relationships, as well as colleagues and acquaintances as well, in terms of being able to talk to and connect with people.  Those behaviors can be utilized and borrowed for any type of conversation or connection whenever needed, and tailored to whatever the specific type of relationship it might be (whether a co-worker, new friend, romantic partner, familial relationship, you name it).  This article can and will be useful to all of the above.

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