By Leo Babauta
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.
We socialize online, but that’s not very genuine (why I quit Facebook). We work with people, but often that’s task-oriented and not human connection-oriented. We might have family and friends in our lives, but when we are busy or distracted by the online world, those connections might fade.
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 talk something over with my wife, I inevitably walk away with several new (or reinvigorated) ideas that excite me.
- It creates opportunities. I am not in favor of “networking”, but when you make a connection with someone, new opportunities for collaboration and creation emerge that weren’t there before. For example, before I met Jesse Jacobs of Samovar Tea Lounge, I wasn’t a big tea guy. But after we became friends, I became interested in tea, and we sat down and recorded some lessons on tea (where I was the beginner student) and that turned into the excellent new Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Tea. That wasn’t a realistic possibility before we connected. This has happened to me numerous times — I met Scott Dinsmore and later contributed to his new course, Connect With Anyone … I met Susan O’Connell of San Francisco Zen Center and co-created the Zen of Work course with her … I met Corbett Barr and contributed to his fantastic platform for people creating online businesses, Fizzle … and so on and so on.
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. For me, this starts with my wife and kids. 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. We get together for tea or a workout usually.
- 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.