December 13, 2013

Keys to Building Relationships. ~ Jeremi McManus

“Did they look impressed when I told them I had a Master’s degree? How many Facebook likes did I get on my new post? If I buy that pair of Seven jeans, will Tricia think I look good?”

Any of this sound familiar? If it sounds like a day in the life of your thoughts, you’re certainly in good company. At just the moment when the other powerful voice of self-criticism takes a rest, this voice of “What do I need to do differently so people will like me more” is often on blast.

And I listen to it. I organize my entire weekend around reservations at a restaurant that I’m sure will impress. I try to cut corners in parts of my spending to save for BMW’s latest model as well as my Spring trip to the Hawaiian Islands (heard it’s the hot new spot!). I spend entire restless nights debating whether or not I should have gone for my PhD instead of M.S. because maybe I’d be a little more dazzling with letters in front of my name.

I’m craving affirmation. In the fantasy scenario I often visualize, I casually mention that I have recently mastered scorpion pose in yoga class and the listener oozes, “Wow, that’s really amazing. You must be an incredible yogi.”

I then go on to awe them with my many other skills and feats, so they simply can’t help but become my new friend.

Somehow, regardless of my incredible exploits and seemingly tireless attempts to try to make this fantasy reality, it never happens. Is it possible to understand the chasm between the fairyland of awed bystanders and reality which, in my experience at least, includes no such thing?

I think so. We can make sense of it by pausing for a moment to put ourselves in the shoes of the audience. The moment the insecure-self starts on about say, plane hopping between islands, a few things begin to happen.

First, as the audience, I quickly feel inadequate. That usually surfaces in my emotional self as envy (because who wants to sit with inadequacy, really). Then I begin to wonder why this person should get to tour exotic islands when at best, I’ve done some backpacking through part of Mexico.

Next, I start deciding which of three response routes I’m going to take:

1. Up the ante with a more impressive thing I have done: “I went to Fiji last year, really something. Not to mention it was Travel + Leisure’s #1 vacation spot.”

2. Put down or criticize: “Small planes are pretty hard on the environment – plus, just think of how many starving kids in Uganda that vacation money could have fed.”

3. Or withdraw—suddenly the bathroom beckons loudly.

As you can tell, insecure-self isn’t doing a great job achieving the oohs and aahs of adoration that they (we) might have wished for. In fact, they aren’t doing much at all in the realm of making a connection.

So how do we achieve said adoration? I don’t know. If I did, I’d probably be out there doing it. That said, I’m confident there is some part of me that is hoping that the article that you are currently reading will at long last bring the awe I so desire. (Commence blowing up the comments below and my Facebook wall with all of that admiration… now.)

But I do have a few ideas on how to create connection and better relationships, which I suspect is at the root of this desire to be liked and be impressive.

1. Be awed instead of trying to awe.

When your new friend shares something notable that has happened in their lives, ooh and ahh: “Congrats on the new Beamer Mike! I bet it feels really good to get such a stylish ride.”

2.  Practice vulnerability.

Which by definition means you are opening yourself up to attack or wounding. And yes, it’s risky and incredibly difficult to do regularly. I’ll give it a shot… “I feel kind of nervous about submitting an article to the elephant journal. What if they don’t publish it? Or worse, what if they do and no one reads it??”

Vulnerability is also the very place where the person you’re sharing with can really see you and feel a little more connected to you. As they feel your vulnerability, it begins to create the space for them to practice the same with you. Brene Brown has a must-see Ted Talk called The Power of Vulnerability where she explores this further.

“Empathy is the birthplace of relationships.” ~Brene Brown

3. Validate and empathize.

“I totally get it” and “Wow, I can only imagine how difficult that must be,” are great places to start. In letting the other person know you understand, they feel less judged and a little more accepted. The door of connection swings open.

“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

~ C. S. Lewis

So to wrap it up, what am I saying? Well, we all want to be liked. But our instinct to wow and dazzle usually doesn’t do much to promote good connection and friendship. Instead, be wowed, be vulnerable, and be empathetic. And then enjoy your relationships as they blossom.

This isn’t a monologue, it’s a dialogue, so as always, your thoughts are welcome here and below in the comments.

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Assistant Editor: Melissa Horton/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: provided by the author


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