Have you ever been in one of those social situations in which the conversation is all in one direction? You know what I mean, the people you are talking to all focus on telling you about them and their lives, ask you nothing about you and your life, and generally show little or no interest in anything you have to say.
At a recent event I found myself in this position repeatedly. I complained to my wife that I didn’t know how much longer I could smile, show interest in other’s stories, and think of follow up questions.
As a professional listener, I have gotten quite good at asking people about themselves and finding genuine interest in what they have to say. I can do it in social situations too, but it can be frustrating at times to leave a party with no sense of real connection. I’m not looking for depth at a party, just a bit of genuine give and take.
So, after getting fed-up, I sat down and really thought about the cause of this behavior. It was not surprising to me that in my pondering I stumbled upon an answer in an oft quoted (by me) question from one of my best graduate school professors: “How many people do you know who have enough love in their lives that they can afford to treat any of it as dessert rather than main course?”
Sit with that for a few moments, and it will change your attitude about social bores.
People who are “full of themselves” or “like to hear themselves talk” are often only seeking an exaggerated form of what we all want. As The Who so beautifully stated in their rock opera Tommy, “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.”
Human beings wither without attention, acknowledgement, and validation, and there is no better way to get attention, acknowledgement, and validation than by being loved.
Now, I’m human too, and I also need and want the attention, acknowledgement, and validation that come from being loved. I like being the center of attention and want to believe that what I have to say is interesting for others to hear. But I have also been blessed with enough love in my life that there are times, more frequently the older I get, that, through grace, I have enough to share with others without the need or expectation of reciprocity.
At those times, I am not thinking about what I want to say next. I am engaged fully in the moment, and the only things that come out of my mouth are validation of the other’s experience, encouragement to say more, and questions designed to elicit more.
I have discovered that when I am able to check my ego at the door and genuinely open my heart, my ears, and my eyes to whomever I am interacting with and give them my love, amazing things transpire.
The key word in the previous sentence is “genuinely”. This is not a technique but a stance, an approach, to others. There are by-products to be sure – new relationships, happy people, even sales and influence – but they are exactly that, by-products. When they happen they are the dessert. And when they happen, I can feel good about them because I know that the source of the dessert was, in that moment, a satiated soul.
I know that when I am able to find a way to interact from a stance of love and validation my own life is enhanced. To paraphrase my favorite speaker, Jim Rohn, “The more love you pour out, the more love will be able to pour in.”
But don’t take my word for it. Give it a try the next time you find yourself stuck talking to a social bore. You just might be surprised by the outcome!
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