How to have real conversations and connect with people

Kids are not afraid to show their emotions

Kids are not afraid to show their emotions

Be vulnerable

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.

Be interested

“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”
Lou Holtz

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.

Be there

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






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6 Responses to How to have real conversations and connect with people

  1. Beryl Thomas says:

    I love your blog. I resonate with what you say about vulnerability. Beginning my time as a web TV show host I had no idea that I would become ‘so vulnerable’ on line and am grateful that not many of my family know what I do or are interested in watching the show. There are times when I have had to wipe away the mascara on line (Episode 57 with Nic Askew of Soul Biographies). However, our audience tell us that this is what helps them to feel more connected to us – and we are in a world of ‘separation’. Everything from religion to advertising ‘separates’ us when really we are all connected (Science says so now) and yet we rarely act as if we are connected. Fear stops us. What will people think of us?

    Have you watched Brene Brown’s Ted talk about vulnerability?

    Keep sharing your wonderful thoughts Maia. Thank you from a fellow ‘vulnerability’ warrior!

    • Maia says:

      Hi Beryl,

      thank you for your comment, I’m glad you like the blog :-)

      Yes I have watched Brene Brown’s talk about vulnerability, it’s one of my favourites. You’re right, everything is connected, but we forget that so we think we are separate, it’s an illusion.

  2. BNL says:

    Here’s a short, but true, story.

    This was probably about 6 or 7 years ago now. I was at work, walking from my desk to the engineering lab. I was deep in thought about a complex issue I’d been working on, so as usual for back then, I was walking with my head down and completely unaware of my surroundings. A friend of mine came up to me and began talking. I have no clue what he was talking about, because I flat out wasn’t listening. Finally, after some unknown amount of time, he said “Do you not like me?” “No, man, I like you. Why would you ask that?” I replied.

    He explained that whenever we were talking, it always seemed like I wasn’t really there. Like I had some more interesting things running around in my head, and that I’d much prefer to go about those thoughts rather than actually experience human interaction. The thing was, he was right. I absolutely would have preferred to go about my business and not sit there talking.

    I remember this conversation like it was yesterday. I made a point after that to really start listening to people, and to “be there.” This may seem hard for some people to believe, but I really didn’t like it at first. Then it got better. Then it became truly enjoyable. My friendships became stronger, as did my marriage. I realize now that all that time I thought those conversations were uninteresting, but actually it was me who was being the uninteresting one.

    • Maia says:

      Hello, thank you for sharing your moving story. I guess most of us are guilty of not really being there when listening to others sometimes. The most precious thing we can give to others is space to express themselves, but most of the time we are too busy with our own mental noise, which leaves little room to concentrate on what anyone is saying to us. Switching off that mental noise and being present is the key. I am also trying to be there more then I have in the past. I hope we both succeed in being there constantly.

  3. Maia, what you describe is a journey I’m on, in being able to share more of the real self. On the one hand, I don’t engage much in small talk, as I like to dwell on more substantive ideas. The listening part has been natural for me, but to the extreme. I’ve been more comfortable letting others talk and steer the conversation, because I’m concerned that they might be disinterested in what I’m saying. There’s always a balance to maintain, isn’t there? We seem to all struggle with connecting in various ways. Good to hear different perspectives.

  4. Maia says:

    Hi Rusty, you’re right. There is a balance of to maintain of really listening to someone, but also sharing your own views. I went to see a magician the other day, and he said something which is very true. He spoke about coming out as gay, and for him it was such a big deal. But then when he did it he realized it was only a big deal for him, because the truth is that people are mostly concerned with themselves. Information about others is just that, they don’t really register it or care that much, because they are the center of their own universe. I reckon the main thing is not to judge others or yourself or care how others see you, then you can be as open/closed as you like. (Of course easier said then done, as usual :-)

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