Awesome email here -
One of the 900 here -- and this is my FIRST time ever emailing a Blog. I was a little hesitant to write this actually, in part because I so enjoy your blog that I almost didn't want to "burst the bubble". But after reading a lot of posts and already having spent quite a bit of time previously ( and constantly ) in introspection, I would really appreciate your input on a major stumbling block....
My short question is: How do you connect with someone? And, secondly, based on your preference of doing away with pleasantries / small talk, how do you connect with someone without the seemingly required "pleasantry" stage of a conversation?
Longer Question: You mention it voraciously, hell even the tab on your blog says " Contact / Connect ".... I have no qualms talking to someone and no issues speaking in front of small or large groups. The issue for me is the actual connecting part of that. Not just "gee, crappy weather" with the stranger on the subway, but deeper, if you understand what I mean. How do you move it from something inane to something meaningful? I actually printed ( VistaPrint! ) business cards - but instead of having any of my various companies info on there, its just my email, my name, my twitter, and facebook. So instead of a business card its a "Me Cards" --- and I've been carrying them around with me, so on the occasions where I do begin connecting with someone ( subway ride, at the orphanage in Haiti, where ever ) and then we have to part ways - I can at least make the attempt at "connecting"....But that's where my ability / attempts end. I'd much rather work on skill sets to better connect WHILE we are talking ( and perhaps use some form or variation of the "Connect Cards" as a secondary or post-chat connect method ).
I too prefer to get the subject matter at hand, but after having done business with Eastern Europeans / old Soviet Bloc citizens, Haitians, and all varities and walks of life in between, it seems that the requirement for "small talk" is such an integral part of how they do business. Immelt ( of GE ) said he traveled to China a half dozen times before he even attempted to business there -- because thats very much what the culture requires ( personal attention ) vice-vie your entry about needing to "walk around" the market place.
Anyways, I've rambled to long already. Feel free to split my two questions up -- because really, at the moment, your insight to question #1 means more to me...but if you had the time / inclination for both at the moment, that would be wonderful!
Wow, that's way cool. Glad you reached out. If there's any new readers who didn't catch the "900" remark, it was something I originally mentioned in the post, "What Happens if You Have Open Hours to Talk to Your Site Visitors?" -
Final thought – everyone who signed on are pretty expansive and ambitious people with lots going on and lots of dreams, but I’d like to find a way to touch base with more people… I mean, I had 23 interesting and fascinating calls, but I’ve got 500+ people visting the site daily, and another 400+ people subscribed by RSS.
Who are you other people? There’s 900 of you… what are you doing? You – yes YOU – what are you doing? C’mon, c’mon, stop just being a consumer and come play and have adventures and talk and connect and communicate. Yes, YOU, I’m sure you’ve got some fascinating stuff going on, right? Or at least a fainter idea that more is possible?
Please feel very welcome to reach out, drop a line, and let me know how it’s going. I’ve got a variety of contact info all over the site.
What's interesting to me is now it's almost two months later, and I still see references to that. Yeah, I meant it. Our daily readership seems to have increased to around the 1,100 range now, and I get a lot of email, but not that much... and I think, why not? So I'm always glad when someone reaches out. Good to meet you N, and good questions.
Now, in case you skimmed N's email, I love idea of "Me" cards:
I actually printed ( VistaPrint! ) business cards - but instead of having any of my various companies info on there, its just my email, my name, my twitter, and facebook. So instead of a business card its a "Me Cards"
So... that's an interesting idea. Maybe something worth playing with? If you've ever had "Me Cards" made, let's hear about it in the comments. On to the questions -
1. How do you connect with someone?
2. Based on your preference of doing away with pleasantries / small talk, how do you connect with someone without the seemingly required "pleasantry" stage of a conversation?
3. Is smalltalk and chit-chat necessary in some cultures?
So, how do you connect with someone? Generally speaking, on one of their interests, not yours. The key to connecting with someone, then, is finding common ground you can conversationally hang out in.
Y'know, when the only tool you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail... but I'm going to say it again. Study history.
There's so many benefits to studying history... but a big one is going to be a wider range of ability to connect with people. Especially for you, a traveler, some very basic history goes a long ways towards having interesting conversations. Before I travel anywhere for the first time, I go check the Wikipedia page on the country's history, and I look for top leaders/heroes, top industries, things that originated that there that people are proud of, and culture.
Doing that will give you a good half-dozen to dozen topics you might connect on with someone. "What do Germans think of Bismarck?" Or "What do Italians think of Machiavelli?" become interesting conversations that move you past smalltalk. "Which of Tokugawa, Toyotomi, or Oda do you admire the most?" spurs interesting conversation in Japan.
That's political/statesman history, but you can dive into whatever you like with people. The key is knowing what topics you enjoy talking about, and then finding some intersection with those between you and whoever you're meeting.
Now, if you haven't figured it out yet, I don't mind turning some people off in order to really truly interestingly connect with others. On the blog here, I take an unapologetic pro-victory, pro-wealth, pro-ambition, pro-excellence, pro-individuality, pro-expansion stance... which is really, really rare. I gather that's a big part of why the site has grown in popularity so quickly.
But oh my, I've got detractors. Some people really don't like what we're doing here.
Well, the offline world works the same way. You can smalltalk and chat-chat, and you won't offend anyone, but you won't really deeply connect with anyone either. Thus, I try to be... hmm, how to put it... "tactfully very direct" when I meet someone in real life. I want to talk about money, business, history, politics, war, religion, art, culture, travel, love, hate... things like that.
I was going to write that I'm blunt, but that's not it. Bluntness implies a lack of tact. The key is bringing things up tactfully. But you'd be surprised at how easy it is. If you meet someone from India, you can ask, "Oh, are you Muslim, Hindu, nonpracticing... something else?" and you'd be surprised - most people won't be offended by that (though, do look to see if they have the 5 K's of a Sikh first).
It comes down to motives - if you're looking to have interesting conversations, you'd modest, curious, and interested in what the other person has to say, you're generally going to get pardoned for being tactfully direct, especially if it's a 1 on 1 meeting. Truthfully, I've had a harder time getting past smalltalk in larger groups of people - people want to be safer and more careful when there's lots of people around, understandably. I prefer, even amongst groups of people, to kind of break off into a "side conversation" with a single person for at least a few minutes so we can talk about interesting things.
So to answer your question - how do you connect? Find something the other person is passionate about, and talk on that topic. Be very curious, ask lots of questions, share your own experiences if relevant. If you find yourself doing all the talking, ask more questions.
How do you get off smalltalk? Study history to learn stuff that might be of interest, and then bring that stuff up. What's cool is, whenever you meet someone new, you can actually both learn more and expand from that. So if you like sports, for instance, you could have fascinating conversations with people about their local sports teams - the All Blacks with a New Zealander or La Liga with a Spaniard or whatever.
Is smalltalk necessary in some cultures? In groups, probably. Individually? I think not.
One thing I've found that does wonders is expressing a favorable point about something controversial about a person's cause or nation. "The Export Control Act and oil shock were a disaster, it's a god damn shame that happened... if America and Japan could've stayed neutral during World War II it would have been a better world" - or expressing that it's a shame that the sun now sets on the British Empire.
Or being extremely pro-guns, and saying it. If someone shoots, and you say, "Ah, I love guns. Like, a lot. What do you shoot?" Well, you're in. The more controversial or non-mainstream you can identify with someone, the faster you can get past smalltalk.
This, of course, runs the risk of having some people dislike you, if you misjudge or a poorly tactful about it. But the end result becomes, you have more interesting conversations, more connections, and more actually meaningful relationships with people - at the expense of some people disliking you. I reckon that's a lot better than having nothing interesting happening and offending no one, but I leave it up to you to judge.
Thanks for writing - great email. Godspeed going forwards.
A word of caution on speaking directly: I've spent most of my life believing that cutting the chase and being direct was a favor I was doing to myself and the other person, after all time is limited so why wasting it talking about the weather? Then I spent some time in China. Of course there I had bigger problems, aka the language, but if being direct already caused me troubles in the west, that attitude just didn't fly in China. But from being put off I got to a point where I actually appreciate their way of connecting, and the more I study languages and sociology across cultures the more I realize that what I used to believe was a favor I was doing to myself and others was actually closing doors and denying me opportunities. I agree that chit-chat is not a way to connect, but I got to disagree that it shouldn't be part of the process. On that note I recently came across this RSA Animate - Language as a Window into Human Nature http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-son3EJTrU which offers an interesting view of what I consider the bastard brother of chit-chat: reading between the lines. I have changed my perspective on that subject too in a similar pattern.
On a side note, kimsia's remark on being genuine reminded me of the book "How to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie, which has some really good advices on connecting with people.
I think you're really direct and that works great for you and many others I'm sure. And definitely if you can say something controversial that both you and your new friend believe in, you're off to the races.
I've found that because I read a lot and have done some work in a lot of areas, after learning more about what that person cares about, we can have a lively chat about *something*. But even if you're totally clueless about what they do, being genuinely curious will go a looong way.
Also I'd like to vouch for "me" cards. I have some printed from www.moo.com and they're great. One side has a quote that kind of sums up my perspective on life - "Some people follow their dreams, others hunt them down and beat them into submission". The other side has a picture of me (in case they forget what I look like) and my contact info. People usually get a kick out of that.
Just want to add 2 points, 2 anecdotes:
Point 1) Connecting with another person is a paradoxical activity like finding happiness. The moment you have to think about connecting with the person while talking to the person, you won't connect. Like happiness is something that happens to you while you are busy doing other stuff, a connection happens to you while you are just talking.
Anecdote 1 about point 1)
Like N, i have not been proactive to reach out. The burst the bubble comment resonates with me. One fine day, i chance upon the list of book reviews by Derek Sivers recommended by Sebastian. So i kept it on my browser tabs. After 3 days, i find it annoying and emailed Derek to put a RSS feed on that page, so i can get updates if he recommends a new book.
Next thing I know, I am sitting in a cafe having a chat with the founder of CDBaby.
Anecdote 2 about point 1)
This happened about 30 minutes ago before I posted this comment.
I got into some stupid self-inflicted problems with my OS ubuntu. I went into the ubuntu IRC channel. My cry for help was drowned by other cries for help. Someone came along and helped me. He spent a ridiculous amount of time helping me until I resolved my issues and went on to answer more questions from me. I asked him if he was an employee of Canonical or someone who just loves to help.
He said he just loves to help on occasion.
Now at this point, the natural feeling that arose was, ask him for an email address to keep in contact. In the past, the fear of him rejecting that would arise and my brain would rationalize that fear by saying "Who am I to ask him for help in future? Hasn't he helped enough?"
I still feel the fear.
I asked anyway.
He said no.
I then talked about how i started picking up on using Ubuntu despite being a long-time Windows kid.
Back and forth with being absolutely in the moment, having a conversation for the sake of having a conversation.
He gave me his email address. Without me asking for it a second time, respecting his refusal at the first time of me asking.
Point 2 is tactics.)
Be interested in the other party. And I mean be interested not in order to connect but be interested for its own sake.
I have written too long. Apologies for not having the time to make this shorter.
On the 24th of December, I wrote a post "Happy holidays. Let's have a Skype chat."
It's something I'd thought about doing for a while. Hey, why don't I take open hours to chat with people, and offer my take on anything a person is interested in. I've had a few other bloggers and website runners express curiosity with how it went, hence, this post -
The Good -
I connected with a lot of interesting people. In the guidelines to that post, I wrote "I blocked out 20 minutes for each call, so it might be a good idea to pick one or two things you’re working on or curious about before we get on the phone, because it could go fast" - most people did, in fact, have a couple items when they called, and we wound up covering a lot of interesting ground.
I wasn't sure how 20 minutes would work, but it worked surprisingly well. There was minimal chit-chat and how-are-ya's at the start, which is cool. I've never been a fan of smalltalk, and have always made an effort to move past it into interesting things as quickly as possible in real life.
Over the last couple of years, I've gone from someone who rarely traveled to feeling like the airport is my second home. Below are some of my biggest business travel takeaways that will help turn your travel experiences from mundane to enjoyable!
1. Join all rewards programs!
Make sure you get points for every plane you fly, train you ride, car you rent, and hotel you stay in. The points may take a while to accumulate, especially if you aren't loyal to particular providers, but you'll have free flights, rides, rentals, and stays before you know it.
2. Dress like a professional.