As I mentioned in my blog, I've been putting a lot of effort into improving my in-person social life this year. Last week I spent so much time in conversation that by Friday I was starting to lose my voice. That minor problem aside, this has been a wonderful path of development. I want to share some insights I've had regarding connecting with people deeply.
First, everyone is unique. Socially we have a tendency to try to fit people into patterns and especially to label them as being one way or another. Real human beings, however, constantly defy these patterns and labels. Seeing my expectations violated again and again has encouraged me to do my best to avoid succumbing to premature patterning when I'm creating a connection with someone.
Patterns can still be helpful, especially when you want to avoid unwanted approaches, but if you've reached the point where you're getting to know someone, it's time to set those preconceived notions aside and perceive them with an open mind and an open heart.
I find that the most important — and the most challenging — aspect of conversation is being fully present. First of all, this means setting aside distractions so you can both focus. Ideally, put away your cell phones and other devices. I like having people over at my house, especially during the afternoon, since there are no distractions then. A restaurant setting by comparison usually has frequent interruptions, which can disrupt the flow of a good connection.
When you listen, focus your energy in the center of your chest. Listen with your heart, not just your ears. Do your best to understand the emotional context behind what the other person is communicating.
When you talk, also focus your energy in the center of your chest. Speak from your heart. I like to touch the center of my chest sometimes when I'm talking with someone, as a reminder to speak from my heart, not just my head.
When you share something that's emotional in nature, allow yourself to feel some of that emotion. Similarly, when you listen to the other person speak, allow yourself to join them in what they're feeling. I sometimes feel so emotionally connected to a person that when they talk about something they're passionate about, I get misty-eyed. Then I share that they're having this effect on me, which is a nice way to acknowledge that we've created a strong connection together.
This takes practice, but when you get good at listening and speaking from your heart, it can create a very special feeling of presence. You and the other person will co-create a vibe of openness, trust, and empathy. When this type of energy is present, it's easy for people to open up and share very deep aspects of themselves. They know they can expect understanding and compassion instead of judgment.
Connecting Without Neediness
I feel that the best connections occur when no one is trying to get their needs met by the other person. When neediness is present, it tends to create resistance. If you're trying to impress the other person, earn their approval, or convince them to do something, this neediness infects the connection and sours it to some degree. Many people don't like having to give energy to someone who's behaving in a needy way. I certainly don't. This is one reason I opted out of certain online communication channels; I feel drained by too many approaches rooted in neediness.
When people come together from a place of wholeness and completeness, as opposed to coming from financial, emotional, or sexual neediness, this creates a very different kind of connection, one based on mutual respect, happiness, and exchanging value.
How Do We Exchange Value in Relationships?
I've written a lot about exchanging value in the world of business, but what does it mean to exchange value in relationships?
I sometimes run into situations where I'm very much enjoying connecting with someone, but I can tell they're concerned that they aren't giving much back to me. Many people have a natural resistance to being unfair, so if they feel they're in a situation where they're taking more than they're giving, it can make them uncomfortable. A few people in my life have told me this directly, which in a way is good since then we can discuss it openly.
Relationship value is much broader than business value. There are lots of ways people can exchange value in relationships where they'd be resistant to trading money for it. For example, people will exchange hugs and affection with each other, but it would feel weird to pay for this value.
I receive tremendous value from connecting with people socially, sharing stories, and learning more about them. I really enjoy the simple act of sharing. I don't approach conversations from a place of neediness, so I don't need the person to give me anything. I just want them to be present and go with the flow. Even if a conversation seems a bit lopsided, I still feel good about it afterwards. Talking to people is normally a very enjoyable experience for me, and it feels wonderful to share what I'm passionate about.
Seeking What You Enjoy
You'll no doubt notice that you enjoy talking to certain types of people more than others. You may feel that some people talk too much, and you can't get a word in edgewise. Others may talk too little, and trying to get any information out of them is like pulling teeth. You'll be happiest if you simply focus on connecting with the types of people you feel most compatible with.
In any conversation there's limited bandwidth for sharing. If one person talks 70% of the time, the other person has the remaining 30%. If two people who like to talk 70% of the time insist on having their way, there will be a lot of clashing. Instead of really listening, people will be waiting for a pause so they can inject something. People will often interrupt each other in this situation. Threads will be cut off, and it will be tough to achieve closure on any topic.
On the other hand, if both people only speak 30% of the time, then there will be a lot of dead air. Some people are fine with this, but others find it uncomfortable. It can also be seen as a wasted opportunity since much more could have been shared if people were willing to talk a bit more.
Since I'm a professional communicator, I'm very comfortable leading a conversation, which could involve doing most of the talking, but it could also involve helping the other person feel comfortable enough to open up. I'm pretty good at communicating with people who are shy or introverted, whereas others may find them hard to talk to.
Personally I prefer conversations where the exchange is close to 50-50, meaning that both people are talking about half the time. I don't mind having some silence either. But I don't feel as connected in conversations with someone who wants to do almost all the talking — in those situations I sort of wonder why they even need me there.
If you find that you just aren't meshing with someone's conversational style, I say just let that person go, and move on to someone else. You'll be happier in the long run.
Similarly you may find that certain conversation topics are more interesting to you than others. In that case, try leading the conversation towards topics that you love, and see if you can find one that's a good match for the other person too. I love talking about personal growth in general, but for one person the best match may involve talking about improving relationships while for another it may have to do with creating financial abundance. Lately I've been especially interested in discussing social skills and relationships with people, so I love hanging out with people who have similar interests. It doesn't take much convincing to get me to have a deep conversation with someone about relationships, especially non-traditional relationship styles; I find this subject fascinating.
If you can't figure out how to get a good connection going with someone, don't force it. Just let them go, and focus your attention on someone else. Eventually you'll find a nice match for your style and interests. There are billions of people on this planet to connect with — how abundant is that?
In years past I often felt responsibile for leading interactions, as if I'm supposed to nudge each of my connections in some goal-oriented direction. These days I see interpersonal communication as a dance where no one leads.
When I'm communicating from my heart, I usually enjoy a nice feeling of flow. Both people's energies come together in a special way. If I try to lead this energy, it feels like I'm out of sync with what's arising, and I'm not being fully present. But if I let this combined energy lead me, then I feel like I'm very much in the flow. It's easy to listen attentively and to share openly. I neither feel too pushy nor too passive.
This energetic connection is different with everyone. With some people it feels very mental. With others it's more emotional. And with some it's more playful or sensual.
I've noticed that each of these connections brings out different aspects of my personality. With one person I may be very analytical and precise, like my left brain gets a boost when I'm with them, and there's little desire to joke around. With someone else I may feel drawn to connect with great compassion and empathy, and we can create a deep emotional bond and perhaps heal some old wounds. With another person, it may feel completely natural to be flirtatious and playful, which is especially fun when two people are doing this in sync.
The key is to read the energy of the connection and flow with it. If you try to force an interaction to be something other than it is, you'll lose the flow. If you go with the flow and let it lead both of you, then the connection takes on the tone of a delightful dance that both people enjoy immensely.
This may sound like a passive approach, but it's very active in practice. It's much like surfing. I'm constantly reading the waves and adjusting my position to catch them.
The key to all of these tips is being in your heart. When you communicate from your heart, you encourage others to sync with you. You may have to give up some control as to where your connection goes, but I think you'll very much enjoy the dance.