The secret to better relationships is self-improvement. I learned these 4 simple practices the hard way, but it was well-worth the process.
“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” ― Aldous Huxley
Through years of traveling all over the United States, I have found that every place I go has something in common: people are craving connection. On street corners, in high rise buildings, and on rural farms, humans are social beings seeking genuine soulful connections with others.
Unfortunately, conversations with strangers often stay at the surface level. But who wants the dull, shallow halftones? How do you go from small talk to something real and poignant?
I’ve learned that improving my approach to social interactions has drastically improved my ability to dive below the surface. Connection is really all about curiosity and interest in other people, rather than concentrating on yourself.
The paradox is that, by focusing on your own self-work and personal growth, you create more opportunities for building heartfelt connections with others. Here are 4 techniques for adding depth and texture to your relationships:
1. Be Vulnerable
In a society that praises “having it all together”, vulnerability is one of the most difficult practices.
We are taught to bottle up our emotions and put on a front that masks our true emotions so we appear “strong”. As a result, most people are lacking in emotional intelligence. They don’t have the confidence, trust, and/or vocabulary to clearly express their emotions.
“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” ― Criss Jami
I have been emotionally inept for much of my life. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable with anyone, not even myself. I hid everything behind unscalable walls, yet paradoxically craved deep real connections.
Unsurprisingly, I wound up with very few (if any) close relationships. I was unwilling to share my true raw self, therefore nobody wanted to share their softer parts with me either.
Being vulnerable brings people inside the walls. It allows them to connect with you on a much deeper level and appreciate who you are at your soul. When you are vulnerable, people trust you more. They feel like they can be open and raw with you as well.
2. Don’t Be So Quick to Share Your Opinion
There is nothing more annoying than someone who jumps at the first chance to blurt out their opinion.
Whether in a conversation with one or several other people, the person who instantly dives into their opinion is oftentimes the one who shuts off meaningful discussions. Their quickness to express their viewpoint may inadvertently demonstrate close-mindedness to what others have to say.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ― Stephen R. Covey
I know this because I’ve been that person in far too many social situations. I used to take pride in having “strong opinions” and shared them readily, without ever really being asked. Instead of intently listening to the conversation, I would be conjuring up the next point I wanted to make.
Not only did it push people away, but it made me appear arrogant and self-centered (since nobody asked for my opinon and I never asked others for theirs). Which leads me to the next point…
3. Always Ask Questions About Others (Stop Talking About Yourself)
My dad is the type of person who seems to know everyone. He walks into a random restaurant or business he’s never been to and somehow is instantly friends with the valet driver, the janitor, and the CEO.
He finds a common thread with anyone simply by striking up conversations and approaching them from an angle that is neither “beneath them” nor “above them”. He interacts at eye level and respects people without judgement. Because of this, I’ve noticed that most people really love talking to him… even though he doesn’t do all that much talking.
My dad’s network of acquaintances, friends, and professional connections is vast; probably upwards of a thousand people. What’s the trick to that level of networking and genuine connection? Simply asking questions.
From a young age, my dad always told me that people love to talk about themselves. He would go on a date with a woman and spend the whole night asking her questions about herself and she would leave completely infatuated with him, only to realize she knew virtually nothing about him. He never really talked about himself, instead expressing genuine interest in her life.
This technique is a simple, yet powerful way to demonstrate that you care about people. The more questions you ask (and the less you focus on yourself) the deeper your friendships and relationships will grow.
4. Put Away Your Damn Phone
Presence is everything. In a high-speed world that tries to grab our attention at every turn, the absolute most respectful and loving thing you can do for someone is to give them your undivided attention.
My partner and I never bring our phones to dinner. If we are having a meaningful discussion, I try to put my phone on airplane mode and out of sight. I do the same for my friends and family.
Nothing is more annoying (or downright painful) than when you want someone’s attention but they are too distracted by email notifications and social media.
You listen intently to what they are saying and then go to respond, only to see them pick up their phone. I’m guilty of it too, and it honestly sucks for all parties involved.
It is absolutely crucial to shut off technology so that you can connect with the real human beings in front of you at a given moment.
Life is Short, Make it Count
What really matters more than building meaningful relationships with others? At the end of the day, human connection is the most powerful reason for our existence.
I used to think that deep connections were rare. Yet, with these 4 simple changes to my social interactions, I’ve started finding authentic and profound friendships at every turn.
Perhaps the best thing we can do for others is to improve ourselves.