How to truly connect with those around you

By | January 14, 2016

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Today’s question is simple: How do you truly connect with those around you?

OK, you’re right. This question isn’t as easily answered as one might think, especially today. We live in a hyperactive World. As I type this, I sit in a coffee shop, surrounded by men and women staring intently at their phones and computers. We don’t make eye contact. No, we share a strange, 2016 relationship. We’re physically present in the same place. We’re all customers of the same coffee shop; however, we distract ourselves to avoid an actual, scary, social interaction. I won’t delve into why this might be, that’s not my focus. Instead, I’ll talk about how we can remove ourselves from our computers and have an actual conversation with a real, in the flesh person.

So, how do we do this? Should I just shut my computer, walk up to a stranger, and start talking? YES. It can and should be that simple. However-and this is important-our success or failure to connect with others depends in large part on WHAT we say and HOW we say it. Most likely, the person you approach will be uncomfortable. She will be wearing the uniform of an introvert, sporting headphones, staring down, purposely trying to avoid your gaze. So, how can we socialize without scaring the crap out of someone?

I have three pieces of advice:

  • Start with a happy, non-controversial topic
  • Find something you have in common
  • Keep it short, but provide an opportunity to connect later

First, let’s focus on what you should talk about. NO, it’s not a good idea to talk about the recent election, religion, abortion, or anything else that people hold strong opinions about. We need to be gentle and convince the other person that we’re worth the time and effort required to converse. In my current situation, I would first ask if I could join him at his table. After permission is granted, I would sit down and ask which drink he ordered. I love coffee, so I could easily talk about caffeine at length. If you’re not in a coffee shop, or if you’re one of those lost souls who doesn’t like coffee, then start with the weather, or ask if there are any good places to eat in the area. Be positive.

After your conversation has begun, move to number 2: find something you have in common. If your new friend mentions a band you like, explore this in more detail. If he likes a restaurant you attend frequently, ask him which dishes he likes most. In other words, expand your conversation. At this point, however, it’s important to not be too aggressive. You should share your interests, but don’t overwhelm your new friend with too many anecdotes about your life. This leads me to my third piece of advice: keep it short and offer an opportunity to connect later.

One common mistake people make is talking too much. In my experience, I’m less likely to want to be friends with you if you don’t shut up. I don’t think I’m alone. After a short while, 10-15 minutes max, end the conversation, tell him it was nice to meet him, and provide an opportunity to chat later. Don’t provide a Facebook page or Twitter handle. Yes, you can give him your phone number, but I would suggest you ask how often he visits the coffee shop. That way, you can meet up again, casually, rather than as an obligatory response to a Facebook message.

OK, I tried to help you. Now, it’s up to you. Don’t be afraid; engage with the world around you. People can be scary, but a lot of them are very kind. They’re also incredibly interesting. So, look up from your computer, take out your headphones, and talk to someone. You’ll be more than fine…I promise.

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