Forming Deep Connections With Humans
Wonderful things can happen when we meet someone who also strives for empathy and a desire for self knowledge. We feel heard and our ideas really mean something to the other person rather than feeling shut down or rejected. It’s possible to develop strong and honest connections that build trust over time. Here are a few ways I’ve been working on this in my own life.
I realized I had a problem with offering solutions to problems my friends were facing. That was a skill which made me good at technical consulting but lousy in relationships. My friends didn’t need me to solve any problems. They really just wanted me to hear about their experiences and I found out that I wanted that too.
By listening intently while suspending judgments I could really hear what was occurring for my friend. After they spoke I would paraphrase it back to them. Then I could check to see if I had understood what they said.
Example of empathic listening:
Chris: I just got home from work. I'm kinda pissed because this customer yelled at me on the phone when I would not refund his order. Then he asked to speak with my manager. I don't think I deserved that. Mark: So while you were at work he yelled at you on the phone and you got mad? Chris: Well, no. He yelled at me because I wouldn't refund it and I was kinda of frozen at that time. I didn't know what to do with all the hostility. I'm mad now because of how he treated me, I didn't know what to do, and my manager got on my case about it. Mark: Oh, so he yelled at you, you froze up, and now that you're processing it you feel angry because of how you were treated and that you didn't know what to do in the moment? Chris: Yeah!
In the example Chris was relating his experience at work and Mark reflected it back as questions to find out if he heard it correctly. Mark offers no advice or solutions and he draws out more depth to the story.
It can feel clumsy but people really liked it when I started doing that. Edwin Rutsch demonstrates empathic listening in many videos. I also found Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication to be another superb way to build empathy.
Even though journaling is a solo act it can impart benefits on our relationships with others. In our journal we can refine our ideas and put some energy into processing the day’s events. What we write in our journal can help us take some the intensity, the load, from the other person and help us retain responsibility over our own problems. It also serves to help us identify with patterns where one or the other is getting stuck in their progress.
In our journal we can directly write about the other person or write a fake letter to them. By taking the time to write about your thoughts and feelings of another person you can think about what you like or dislike about something they are doing before saying it to them if necessary. You can also speak with them about something more processed and refined and avoid blurting things out which could be hurtful and regretted later.
It is not a betrayal to write our experience of someone else but rather a thoughtful act of reflection to help us connect with them more honestly. Many times I have started out thinking one way and after writing about a friend for a while I came to understand how we were both contributing to a problem or even something very joyful.
Collaboration & Reciprocity#
Relationships are not the responsibility of one person but rather a co-creation between the two. No one person can take credit for all of the successes and failures in a relationship. It does depend on the level of depth that you both want and also the commitment you have with each other.
We don’t all possess the same gifts and it can be difficult to reciprocate on the level that people want especially if we don’t know how. There are some fundamental things we all have which are helpful to exchange. We can each ask questions, remember preferences, provide time for listening, and give materially. There are so many ways to connect and only limited by imagination. It doesn’t have to be objectively 50/50 and some of us like to give more than others. That’s okay! Your instincts will tell you via uncomfortable feelings when there is an imbalance too great.
Honesty & Relentless Curiosity#
One of the greatest and most difficult ways to connect with someone is to be honest and open about our emotions and motives. If done consistently it allows us to form a secure bond rather than an insecure bond. With that level of explicit detail about how and why we are making decisions it can go a long way to build trust.
A few times I’ve been afraid to tell my friend if I was feeling annoyed or even angry at something they did. People from our pasts would react in a hostile way to any negative feedback. After building a strong connection with my friends for a while I could voice my concern about my feelings, even difficult ones, and they heard me.
Probe! Ask questions about how your friend is feeling and offer freely your state. It is not abusive or manipulative to share our emotions whether positive or negative. It would be if we demanded that they changed their behavior based on our emotion. However, if we share what is really alive in us with the goal of getting some understanding of why it can be tremendously helpful. You’ll feel like you’re making real progress when you work to discover the origins of emotions!
I recommend the book Real Time Relationships by Stefan Molyneux. It’s a real gem and has helped me out a lot.
People who are connectible and deep are rare. Tell your friend how much you appreciate their work in the friendship and acknowledge their actions. Cite instances which made you happy and that you enjoyed a specific thing they did for you.
Best wishes to you on your journey to a deeper connection!