how i (attempt to) win friends and influence people, part i: get curious.

or more accurately… how i (attempt to) connect with humans and create meaningful interactions, where winning friends and influencing people are not uncommon side effects. 

i remember being confused the first time someone told me they thought i was a people person. weird. people are scary and complicated. i'm scary and complicated. how can someone so socially anxious be a people person? 

a year or two later, i was shocked that a different person thought i was an extrovert. me? O_o

a couple years after that, i was described as “bubbly” and “outgoing”. i then proceeded to poll my friends to see if they agreed with this latest assessment because i couldn’t believe it. most people seemed to agree on these descriptions... if not both, then at least one or the other. i suspect that their agreement is more telling of the types of people i'm surrounded by (other introverts, science/tech folks all day errday) rather than some objective unbiased unfiltered measure. so, disclaimer: this is what works for me. your mileage may vary.

step one: shift your attention from you to them.

…and that’s about it. there isn’t really a step two. i’m not saying that i pander to people’s narcissism or that i don’t share anything about myself or that i become a doormat and forget about my own values and needs. i’m saying that when we talk to other people, by default, most of us are paying attention to ourselves. we’re often preoccupied by our insecurities, what we’re going to say next, and what we want from the other person. instead, practice shifting your attention toward making the other person feel comfortable, doing your best to understand/ process what they’re trying to communicate, and noticing what they might want.

easy peasy, yeah? i've decided to write this as a series of parts instead of publishing one long mega-post. each part will focus on a different aspect of what i mean by shifting attention away from myself and toward the other person. this is part i. stay tuned for more.

get curious.

despite being a hella introvert (yes, i believe that’s the terminology susan cain uses) who is easily drained by large groups, gets cranky and stressed without alone time, and thinks most effectively when no one’s watching, i can’t help but fill my time with people-oriented activities. why? there’s some force that competes for my energy and inexplicably draws me towards other people. i become extremely curious about interesting people (and extremely motivated at the prospect of discovering interesting people). what drives them? how do they make decisions? why do they behave the way they behave? what were they like as a kid? what do they value?

given enough time, the right questions, and a mutual commitment to openness and honesty, i’m able to take some abstract 2d rough draft i have of them in my head and revise it into some model that resembles an actual multidimensional person. and somewhere in that process are meaningful moments of i get youyou get me, some reminder that we’re all human and that we’re all connected in some way. 

those moments of connection are my crack, and crack is the stuff life’s made of. for crackheads, at least. personal crack example: i choked on a gigantic heap of SRSLY when my friend sunil beautifully commented on the question “how are you?” with “what a fucking waste of a perfectly useful phrase, right?”

when talking to someone new, get curious about the parts that are unique to them: what it was like to grow up in a huge family, why they’re enthusiastic about their field, what traits they admire in their role models, whether there's any meaning behind their tattoo. anyone can rattle off the who/ what/ where/ when superficial facts of an everyday event, but discussing the feelings/ reactions/ opinions/ internal monologue that went along with it turns it into an engaging story. if i wanted someone to talk facts at me, i’d take a class or read wikipedia. be curious enough to steer the conversation toward engaging story and away from wikipedia.

as nice as it is to agree on things and feel like 'wowowow we're the same!', it's the differences that pique curiosity. for example, fleet week sf took place a couple weeks ago, which meant the bars were filled with navyfolk. one of my friends pointed out that this is a great opportunity to learn about another person who made such different life choices than the ones we'd made. and she was right! our curiosity led to some interesting conversation where i learned about whether this dude gets lonely on the boat, his immense respect for his colleagues, the brownie badges on his uniform, how he's american yet grew up in yokosuka, japan and speaks mandarin. 

i'd like to believe that all people are interesting, but it's up to us to be curious (and patient) enough to find the interesting bits. don't be afraid to ask questions. seek answers to 'why?' and don't let them get away with one word answers. ask them to expand on things that interest you. if you find yourself getting stuck and being terrible at this, don't panic! practice makes perfect. you can even practice with yourself by role-playing as someone else getting curious about you. what's important to you that you'd be willing to share? what parts of you would you want to be discovered? what kinds of questions would you ask yourself in order to discover those parts? 

stay tuned for part ii on how i (attempt to) win friends and influence people.