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Connecting with people more easily
It seems that I’m able to connect to other human beings faster than normal. This tends to mean that I move more fluidly and rapidly through social environments than other people. As compared to many people I grew up with, I’ve made a very large number of lateral social moves, and, as a result, even though I’m a weird person, I’ve landed in a setting where I feel at home.
Also, I tend to make connections everywhere I go, in a way that strikes other people as unusual. I’m writing this post because of this comment, on my recent post about Japan.
It’s my general, unstated expectation that if I travel to another country, I’ll probably experience a few moments of real bonding with total strangers, and maybe make a friend or two.
Some examples of how this plays out:
—Once, I talked to some strangers on the street in Bangkok, and within 24 hours, I moved into their apartment
—Once, I struck up a conversation with some people in line at a coffee shop in Lima, later we went swimming in the ocean, and hung out all day, one gave me a piece of art to take home
—Once, I met someone at a restaurant in Hyderabad, his father was a real estate developer and he gave me a really cool tour of a half-constructed building, we went out drinking all night
—When doing reported pieces as a freelancer, I often ended up with an abundance of excellent tape, it was easy for me to get people off-script
—Often, people tell me about their personal concerns, hopes and dreams, relationship issues, and so on, much sooner after meeting me than I gather is normal
Maybe if you’re reading this, you’re getting the idea that I’m hypnotically charming, or, if you haven’t seen a picture of me, incredibly good-looking. I’m neither of those things. I think, rather than being a product of preternatural attributes, this a skill that I’ve developed over time, made of component parts that are replicable. Some of it is composed of an unteachable “feel” that’s developed through practice, but a lot of it is just the following things.
Have unbounded expectations of how much connection people want from you
You can, if you try, hold the following two assumptions in your head, as untested hypotheses operating in tension:
—Everyone is my new friend who I haven’t met yet
—Everyone will immediately want to stop talking to me
Both are important. If you expect everyone to be your best friend, you bring an expectant energy to interactions that can be a little creepy, or overbearing. On the other hand, if you think it’s impossible that a stranger is your new friend, you’re not going to be as adventurous a conversationalist as you could be.
If you get it right, you can put out the signal: “down for whatever, but no expectations.” This allows people to soak up as much of your attention as they want to, while also not obligating anyone to interact with you. If you get good at it, you can invest this energy into a statement as simple as “how’s it going,” which means you can comfortably begin speaking to anyone you make eye contact with.
Don’t be afraid of looking stupid
Friendship is a game of escalating trust. To deepen a friendship, it is necessary to be a little bit vulnerable. This can look therapy-like: disclosing something that might be reputationally damaging if repeated in the wrong context. Or it can look like martial camaraderie: doing something difficult together, such that you display what you’re made of, and there is a real chance of failure.
This makes the process sound dramatic, but, often, the small steps along the way aren’t that dramatic. You can be vulnerable by exposing a tiny bit of your personality, or being silly, or self-deprecating just a little bit. Some small gesture that says: I’m not interested in being a flawless person, and I’m willing to risk offending you or making things awkward. And, moreover: I am going to be stupid, so it’s also okay for you to be stupid.
I wish I could say that this was a growth area for me—that I was some collected but uptight person who worked to become more comfortable with exposing his underbelly. Instead, I was humiliated a lot in my youth for looking stupid, which could’ve sensitized me, but in fact turned out to be effective exposure therapy.
Roughly match the tempo, volume, and style of others
One thing I’ve learned to do intuitively is match the tempo of someone I’m talking to—I can’t do it perfectly, but I try. If they’re quiet, meek, and deliberate, I refrain from overpowering them. If they’re fast and snappy and loud, I try to keep up. This is pretty crucial. If you stomp all over someone who’s got a slower tempo, they’ll probably shell up like a scared turtle. If you don’t match pace with someone who’s quick, they get bored. Unless you’re dealing with someone who’s truly extreme in either direction, it’s typically doable.
This applies to eye contact especially. I make fairly strong eye contact by default, but I’m flexible. Some people are not fond of direct eye contact, and I try to match that. Some people have Infinite Love Stare, where every conversation is an eye-gazing session, and I go along with that to the extent I can take it.
I wrote a whole post about this. But, in short: when somebody serves to you, hit the ball back. Return the energy you’re given, as graciously as you can. Softly “yes and,” in the language of improv.
Relaxed body language
Body language is interestingly contagious. I notice this with posture. My posture isn’t fantastic, but it’s maybe unusually upright and open for the Bay Area, an environment that wants you to become a laptop hunchback. If you’re more upright than others around you, often, they straighten up to meet you.
The same is true of bodily tension—it travels between people.
During my 20s, I did a couple of years of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which invariably involves a strong, sweaty man almost killing or maiming you with his bare hands, many times. This sort of activity makes you less protective of your personal space, both through sheer exposure, and because it increases your confidence that you can handle a threat. After a year of training, I noticed that I felt unafraid more often, and that this was directly reflected in the way I moved through the world.
And, during my 30s, serious meditation decreased my level of habitual muscle tension. Now, I am often a tall noodle, walking around loose and unflinching. This has a relaxing effect on others. If you’re unthreatened by people around you, they usually don’t feel threatened either.
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