I admire people who are real, and tell you stuff that reveals their most personal feelings. They don’t just tell you, they tell everyone. Blogger James Altucher has this quote on his Twitter profile “For some reason, I’ve turned myself inside out and all my guts have spilled onto my blog.” His last blog post is called “Claudia is worried I’ll get killed for posting this”, where he talks about how he stopped a 10 million dollar robbery. Another blogger Penelope Trunk stirred up a media frenzy when she tweeted about having a miscarriage in at work “I’m in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there’s a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.” She also regularly writes about her problems with the “Farmer”.
Who are these people? They tell their innermost personal lives not just to their friends, or even their colleagues, but to the whole world. How do they do it? Often I can be more honest about what I’m really thinking in my blog, because it’s easier then saying it to anyone in person. It feels like it’s removed from me and no one who cares will read it anyway.
In my blog I talk about heavy topics and what I feel, whereas in real life I try to make light of everything with sarcasm and hide my thoughts or emotions. But in my blog I also hide when I write about books and about what other people said, because it saves me from having to write what I’m thinking and so make myself vulnerable.
Having a conversation with my friend the other day, I realised that when talking to her I modify what I say depending on how I think she will judge me for doing certain things. Instead I tried being (almost) completely honest, even though I knew she would judge me. The best thing was she didn’t judge me, it had only been me that was judging myself.
If I don’t put myself out there as I am, and make myself vulnerable and share my real thoughts and emotions, then I can’t expect to really connect with anyone. Unless I expose myself, the other person won’t expose themselves and I’ll always have relationships that are superficial.
The same goes with blogging. The bloggers that expose themselves the most, are the most popular. People are interested in real stories, real hardships, they want to read that you hit rock bottom, that you experienced fear, loneliness, sadness, but also happiness and love. Showing the real you connects you to others, because they can relate.
There’s no such thing as over-sharing. The worst thing, the most embarrassing thing or the most weird or amazing thing that’s happened to you, has happened to others ten times worse, or better. Sharing a personal story with someone might help them comprehend the things happening in their own lives, and might prompt them to share their insights with you. In any case it will create realness and connection.
“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”
Asking questions creates better conversations, mainly because people love talking about themselves and secondly, because you can actually learn from being curious.
I often leave a conversation feeling, like I should have asked this or that question, but I didn’t because I got too busy talking about myself instead. Now I’d like to know the answer, but the moment and sometimes even the person is gone.
Listening and engaging with someone in conversation requires focus, instead of already thinking what YOU want to say after they finish talking, making a genuine effort to be interested in what they are saying, asking questions about what they said and responding to them.
Often I already have a predetermined idea of what I want to get out of a conversation or what I’m going to say. This makes things worse, because I go in saying my prepared spiel, which might be out of context now, and it stops me from really listening and responding. This means I miss out on finding out or imparting something useful.
Dale Carnegie, in his book, How to win friends and influence people said that anyone who is a good listener is a good conversationalist. He gives an example of a man who said almost nothing about himself the whole evening at a dinner party, but let his companions talk and only listened and asked questions. At the end of the evening, his companions commented on what a wonderful conversationalist he was.
Like most people, I love talking about myself, so for me to actually shut up and listen is a big effort. When I do it though, I really feel like it made a difference. It feels rewarding, I learn something, I connect with someone and have a real conversation.
PS. It’s ironic that only after writing this post, I recognised that I struggle to have real conversations with people. I always thought I was really good at it, until it dawned on me that actually I’ve been unconsciously putting up a barrier around me to protect myself. This prevents me from being real and connecting with others, because I don’t show them what I’m really thinking or feeling. I am constantly trying to guard my self-image, by not admitting weaknesses or showing emotions, by not sharing my real thoughts. This post obviously came from my desire to tackle this issue in myself, so I should be the first one to follow my own advice.
Photo credit: Milan Jurek