In the Artist and Designer Networking Guide, I discussed many tips on how to connect with other artists. Meeting new people is the first step Now what do you know that you know them? That’s the question for today’s Monday Q&A:
How do you continue after having met new people?
Hi folks, I love your ideas on meeting new people. But how can we become friends or continue from there? (I don’t mean finding a partner or lover.)
Anonymous (via Quora)
How do you form deeper connections with others? Be genuinely interested and curious about the people in your life! Have the courage to be the one who follows up. Being human as we all are, we fear the vulnerability of reaching out. Interest creates opportunities to follow up. Reaching out feels less scary if we know it’s something the person likes.
Having an interest in others is not as one-sided as it sounds. Empathy and thoughtfulness are traits that you bring to the table. Listening is a key idea in conversation, relationships, and friendship. Contact me saying “Hey remember the other day you mentioned you love art! Want to do dinner at Place and then check out the new Art Show at Gallery?” Wow, I’m impressed! You know what I like. And you gave me an easy plan to say yes to without me having to do the work of asking a billion questions. And you treated me like a grown-up who can make suggestions if I need to.
“We teach best what we most need to learn.”
Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah
We’ve all been there. The new school. The new job. A new town. Old friends move away or caught up in other parts of their lives. I’ve experienced all of those. It’s not easy. New things never are. Here are some tips I’ve squeezed out from my experiences:
Tip 1: The cool thing about respect
Perhaps there was radio silence for a week or so. Rather than just sending a blank “Hi”, bring something to the conversation. “Hey, you said you were going to have a big meeting last week. How’d it go!”
In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey borrows the concept of the “Rule of Agreement” from improvisational comedy. With this rule, we agree with other people’s right to their beliefs by thinking “Yes”. Even if we disagree with someone, we’ll earn respect by being respectful. If we respond negatively to most things, we’re not very fun to be around. Who would be your friend, the guy who says “No, that’s a stupid idea!!” or the one who says “Oh yeah? Why do you think so?”
Agree to disagree. A cool thing about respect is that it’s okay to disagree! Close friends don’t agree on everything. We don’t want to walk on eggshells feeling like we can’t be ourselves. Especially not around our friends who are supposed to be a positive force. Awesome friends are people who will say “I totally hate tennis, and I get why it’s awesome and fun for you!”
“Social fallacies are particularly insidious because they tend to be exaggerated versions of notions that are themselves entirely reasonable and unobjectionable.”
In his article on “Geek Social Fallacies“, Michael Suileabhain-Wilson touches upon disagreement. The first two fallacies discuss how many of us feel we must be agreeable or even people-pleasers. It’s okay to not like everything about everyone. You don’t have to like anyone or anything. Accept not being interested in every friend’s every interest. Having respect for someone’s interests is a different concept than agreeing.
If a friend hates tennis, they will be supportive when they can. They still won’t want to hear about tennis all of the time. Friends won’t always be a positive force either. Neither will you. The idea is that you’re adding to each other’s lives when you feel you can.
Tip 2: Choose to contribute
Tina also discusses the improv concept of “Yes, AND”. Be an interesting person with your own passions, dreams, and goals. Learn to be comfortable adding to conversations. Add in both expected and unexpected ways.
The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.
Experiment. Experiment by bringing up subjects with waiters, customer service workers, and coworkers. You’ll get to see a variety of reactions. Some individuals will be delighted to jump on a subject. Others will be uninterested. Many will be less excited to talk one day and in a better mood the next.
When you test the waters, you’ll get to witness how the response is rarely just about you at all. Most of us wish we could embody sunshine and rainbows and bring joy to every action. Sometimes though, I just don’t feel like going to a movie tonight or talking about my weekend. It’s not personal.
Get outside of the box and keep trying new ways of connecting. One experiment found initial evidence that people who sing together as an icebreaker are more likely to become friends over time.
Believe it’s not personal. Some days I may have the energy to explain “I really love seeing you and I’m tired, so not up for hanging out. Let’s plan for next week on Friday night.” On other days I’m exhausted, it’s just easier to trust that other people will understand if I say “Not tonight.”
“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Be honest and considerate. If you’re still very unsure, be honest about not being clear. Just ask! Practice asking follow-up questions with kindness. “Hey New Person, I’m getting the feeling that you might not want to see this movie, and if so that’s okay! Am I reading things right?”
I feel closest to people who understand that I give my time and energy to them freely. It’s tempting to be demanding when feeling anxious. Resist that urge.
In the book “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work”, Chip and Dan Heath float the idea of taking small steps to test your assumptions. Asking questions, listening to the answers, and if they fit with the actions. Practice leaning toward the benefit of the doubt. I’ve learned to underreact to hinting. Hints or perceived hints lead to miscommunication. React without jumping to conclusions.
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”
Is your new friend honest? And are you? A paper in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships discussed a strong relationship between authenticity and connection. In a study of young girls, those who strive to be honest and open with friends and family were happier and had greater self-esteem. It makes sense that their connections were more meaningful and intimate. Conflict is inevitable. Honesty in conjunction with consideration and respect is the best bet for dealing with it.
Tip 3: I’m often wrong and a great person
There will be some new people you meet who you hoped would be great friends. Then it turns out that you’re less compatible than you thought. That’s okay!
“There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”
Some people you may never see again. That is okay! If plans or connection or friendship doesn’t happen, it’s because it wasn’t right for both of you. It’s not because anyone did something wrong. You both show up, you be yourselves, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Even if you both had the ability to act perfectly, that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll connect in the exact ways you’d hope to.
So what if they aren’t your new best friend? Sometimes you make it on each other’s Christmas card lists and rarely much else. Maybe you just comment on each other’s Facebook posts. This may be someone who you just see when you hang out with mutual friends. Perhaps you’ll just check in every few months or a year just to have a nice online chat.
Have various activity partners. Some are friends who just like to get together for a certain activity like a painting class. You might just have dinner a few times a year or every year and catch up. You both love the renaissance festival and that might be the one time you hand out.
As the last of Michael’s Geek Social Fallacies suggests, friends don’t need to do everything together. Like with any investment, diversify. We can’t be all things to all people. We can’t expect any one friend to be all things to us.
“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.”
There’s no such thing as a perfect friendship. There are no prizes for perfect friends. Unless you want to have trophies made and hand them out, which would be hilarious. I have all of these kinds of friends and they’re all awesome.
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.