We all long for genuine human connections, and even in a busy life with lots of people around us, these genuine connections can be hard to find.
In the last year or two, I’ve made it a point to have fewer friendships, but with deeper connections … while also being open to the miracle of a random encounter with another human being. This philosophy has paid off in more genuine connections with my family and friends, but less busy-ness.
Today I’ll share a few reasons for creating genuine connections, and my strategies for creating them.
Why Genuine Connections Are Important
There are many reasons, but these are the ones that strike me as important:
We need it to be happy and fulfilled. All the money in the world, and the best job in the world, and all the material possessions in the world … won’t matter much if you’re alone and have no genuine human connections. We have a human need for this kind of connection, and there’s no doubt that it makes us happier, even if it complicates our lives a bit.
It boosts creativity. I find that working in solitude is the best way to create, and having some time for solitude is important for reflecting on ideas … but having a genuine discussion with someone is really important for expanding on those ideas. When I get together with a friend, or with a family I inevitably walk away with several new (or reinvigorated) ideas that excite me.
Life is better when you make genuine connections. You are happier, less isolated, more creative, with new opportunities.
Let’s look at how to make these important connections.
How to Make Genuine Connections
Here’s the thing … you can’t just force a connection to be what you want it to be. Many people make this mistake in different ways: they try to create a connection with someone who doesn’t want it, or hope the person responds in a certain way, or want the other person to be something they’re not, and so on. The key to an unforced, genuine connection is openness.
So here’s what works for me:
Be open to random connections. While I accept fewer invitations these days than I did a couple years ago, when I randomly meet someone, I try not to be closed to them. This means opening up, wondering who they are and setting aside any prejudgements that happen, sharing who I am openly and with a smile. I don’t know if this will be a connection to last a lifetime, but it can be one to brighten a moment.
Make time for the important relationships. While work is important, it’s important to me to make time each day for them. Even just reading a book, or taking a walk, or sitting down and talking about something — if the relationship is important, I’ll make time most days for it. But it also extends to a small circle of friends who I might not see every day, or even every week — if I can, I’ll make time for them.
Be open to who they are. Try to notice your expectations of the other person, and let them go. Don’t pigeon-hole them, don’t try to make them someone they’re not … just explore who they are without knowing what you’ll find. Be curious. You’ll find the real them this way, and it’s much better than finding what you hoped to find.
Be open to what happens. Many people go into a meeting with someone else with an agenda, and try to get that done. Like it’s a task that needs to be accomplished. But it’s not — a connection with someone else isn’t about productivity or goals. It’s about connection. It’s two very different human beings spending time together and merging their random personality traits into one experience. That’s true even if it’s a business meeting. Let your personality come out, and allow theirs to come out, and see what happens. It could be talking about a project, but it could be random topics and ideas, it could be a discussion of what’s been going on in your lives and what you have in common, it could be helping one or the other of you with a problem that you have, it could be a debate of ideas, and so on. Don’t try to force it.
Be open about yourself. Often we try to present a certain good side of ourselves. We try to come across as competent, knowledgeable, interesting, accomplished, funny, smart, etc. But that’s a front. It’s only a part of who we are — the good part. If it’s true at all. Why bother trying to connect with someone when we’re just going to give them a false identity, just a façade? Might as well stay home. Much better is to open yourself up, to show the real you. This is scary. It means being vulnerable, and being willing to be embarrassed. That’s a huge amount of trust to put into a human being, especially if it’s not someone you know well. But it’s totally worth it. When you become vulnerable, you risk a lot, but you also get much, much more. You get trust from the other person. You get a deeper connection. You get a better friendship. They open up more too. And when you’ve done this a few times, you realize — there isn’t that much risk, because it never really ends up in a bad way. It’s pretty much all upside.
Guidelines for Making Friends
In my experience, people (generally) want to be friends with other people who follow these general guidelines:
Be positive, not negative. While it’s OK to share your struggles with people (I recommend it), if you’re complaining all the time, and are generally negative about other people and life in general, then people get tired of the complaining and negativity. We have enough trouble in life without having friends who are negative all the time. That said, a good friend will always listen when you’re in need, so don’t take this as “never complain.” Instead, just generally try to be a positive person, and if you have struggles, also try to show how you’re tackling those struggles with a positive outlook.
Be interested & a good listener. Be interested in other people! Don’t make the mistake of only wanting to talk about your stuff, and being bored and unimpressed with what other people are doing. I try to find the interesting in everyone, even if they lead a relatively uneventful life, there’s something fascinating about them. When someone wants to talk, listen. If they only talk about themselves all day and don’t want to hear your stuff, then they probably aren’t going to be a great friend, but still give them a chance and be interested for as long as you can.
Be excited about life, have energy. We generally don’t want a friend who is bored all the time. Someone who is excited about life, interested in things, has good energy … that’s someone you’d by hyped to be around. Not super hyper, necessarily, but just containing a positive energy.
Do interesting things. If you’re excited about life, you manifest that by doing new things, learning, creating, exploring, trying out new experiences, meeting new people. If you are this kind of person, you’ll be interesting. If you shut out life, people might not be as interested.
Tell good stories. No one wants to listen to someone who tells long boring stories. After the first two such stories, people generally start tuning you out. So try to keep your stories shorter, unless you can tell people are interested. Find something interesting to hook their curiosity, and then draw them in with that curiosity until you satisfy it with a good ending. Practice your storytelling when you meet people, and try to get better at it. It’s not one of my strong points, to be honest, but I recognize that and am trying to be better.
Smile. I’m not saying you should have a fake smile, but a smile puts you in a friendly mood, versus frowning at someone. Don’t smile all the time, or at inappropriate times. Just generally have a smiling disposition, as it signals that you like the person (also try to genuinely like the person, moving away from tendencies to judge them or complain about them).
Put yourself out there, be willing to try things. Sing in public even if that scares you. Try new food, new experiences, new ideas. This open-mindedness attracts others who are looking to get the most out of life.
Be calm, not overly dramatic. While it’s great to have a lot of energy, people who are overly dramatic about little things can be a turn-off. So learn to react to most problems as if they’re not a big deal (because they usually aren’t), and handle them with calmness instead of overreacting.
Be authentic, don’t try to show off. All of the above recommendations might seem like I’m recommending that you be someone you’re not. I’m not recommending that at all. Instead, I want you to be an authentic version of yourself (there are lots of versions of ourselves) — but choose the version that is more in the directions recommended above, in general. If there is a positive and negative version of you, generally choose the positive version. But most importantly, don’t try to impress people all the time — if you’re confident in yourself, you don’t need to impress. Instead, be a genuine person, not just the “best you.” When this recommendation is in conflict with any of the above recommendations, choose this one.
Be happy with yourself & confident. This is just something that’s good to do for yourself. Be happy with who you are, even the flaws. If you are, you can be confident that you’re good enough when you meet someone else. People generally don’t respect someone who is constantly harsh on themselves. How can you learn to be happy with yourself? That’s a whole other post, but in general, become aware of any tendency to be harsh and critical of yourself, and don’t let yourself stew in those kinds of thoughts. Start to see the good in yourself, the genuine heart and caring nature, and let that be the story you tell yourself about yourself.