Why I’m Not As Smart As I Thought – 4 Ways to Connect with Anyone

Caution Stairs, Why I'm Not As Smart As I Thought - 4 Rules To Make More Connection, connection, communication, challenges, listen, heart connection, talk to anyone, conversation skills, You Think You’re So Smart
I used to think, that I was so F-ing smart. I blamed all my social woes on my above average intelligence. People just couldn’t interact on the same level with me. Or that’s what I thought, until I met a Zen Master.

The Zen Master
After moving into Great Vow Zen Monastery, I learned that it’s customary for new residents to have tea with one of the teachers. It’s a special privilege and super intimidating.

I remember entering the tearoom. It wasn’t huge but it was filled with sacred art, wall hangings, as well as, rare and valuable objects. The Zen master made tea slowly and mindfully. I watched trying my best not to be nervous.

When we started talking. He would ask a question and listen carefully to my response. It was scary. Yet, I felt safe enough to reveal myself in many ways I normally wouldn’t.

During the tea, I told him that I struggled connecting with people. I felt like it was hard for me because I was so smart. I felt like people couldn’t meet me on my level.

The Folly of Youth
Before I tell you what he said. I should say that it is dangerous to tell a Zen Master how awesome you are. Being confident is great, but excess pride is folly in life. And especially with someone who can see through your BS.

His reply was kind, but put me in my place. He started talking about the other teacher and Zen Master at the monastery. He told me of her accomplishments and skill as a doctor and teacher.

This explanation conveyed that she was not only smart, but had accomplished a lot with her intelligence. (The latter was something I was very much lacking.)

Then he said, “If you watch her she meets every person where they are at. It doesn’t matter if they are the smartest person or the dimmest. She is able to connect with them. She makes them feel seen and heard. That is the test of real intelligence, more than anything else.”

I had never thought of it that way before. When I had struggled to connect instead of looking at myself, I blamed it on everyone else.

I realized that I was looking ‘out there’ without doing the hard work ‘in here.’

I soon found this lesson applied to all parts of my life. And that message has stayed with me.

Now when I talk to people I don’t think, “Is this person worth my time?” I think, “How can I connect? What do they care about?”

4 Rules To Connect
Along the way, I learned a few things. I’ve found that most people are easy to connect with if you follow 4 simple rules.

1. Ask open-ended questions:
This is the oldest trick in the book. Ask questions that can’t be answered with a yes or a no. Questions like, “What do you do for a living?… How did you get into that business?”
“What do you like to do with your free time? … How did you get started in that hobby?”

People love to talk about themselves. If you can get someone talking about what they care about, they will often come alive.

2. Ask expansive follow up questions:
You may have noticed this above, but you should always have a good follow up question. People are used to being asked what they do. But a great follow up will reveal much more.
Some examples are:
What is the biggest challenge you face in your current career?
What do you know now that you wish you knew 5 years ago?
What are your favorite aspects of what you love to do ?

Each of these questions asks for more than just information. They ask for analysis, reflection, and engagement.

3. Make eye contact, lean in, smile, and nod.
Don’t over do it, but this works wonders. It gives you something to focus on. Plus it will encourage the person to keep going. Nonverbal cues are huge parts of our language so don’t neglect them.

4. Really listen and reflect.
The biggest key to connecting is actually listening. People are used to others being polite. Show you are paying attention by hearing what they are saying and reflecting it back to them.

One trick my teacher always recommended was to imagine a beam of energy running from their heart to yours. This will help you feel connected even if you aren’t interested in the same things they are.

MindFitMove Practice

  • Think of someone who you have had a hard time connecting with.
  • Maybe a coworker or a neighbor.
  • Don’t choose someone you have a lot of conflict with, but someone more neutral to start.
  • Try out the above techniques and see what you find out.
  • Learning to be present with anyone is one of the best gifts we can give the world.

Let’s Discuss
What tricks do you use when you are trying to connect?


The Truth About Loneliness

Interdependence and Loneliness
As a Buddhist I have often been told we are all one inter-being.

We might imagine this as being different cells in the body of Dharma. Or perhaps even a subtle part woven into the machine of Karma.

Sometimes this idea seems perfectly inline with my human experience. Sometimes it seems in conflict with it.

The young attractive woman who is lonely The Truth About Loneliness Mindful Fitness Mind Fit Move

The Monastery
I lived at Great Vow Zen Monastery for 2 years.  I had many experiences of being part of a seamless system. It was an organic heart that shared it’s beat with so many people.

I also had experiences of deep and unyielding loneliness. It’s funny for some people to imagine feeling alone at the monastery. There is hardly any time where someone is not close at hand.

I slept in a room where other practitioners were a mere cubicle wall away. I could feel and most definitely hear their presence. Yet I often felt very, very alone.

The Experience of Loneliness
The experience of loneliness always comes as a sickness. A distinct longing to be seen and heard. A desire to be known in a deep and fundamental way. A hope and desire for intimacy.

Sometimes this longing manifests as a desire for a romantic partner. Sometimes as a distinct and dull depression.

It comes as a sense that something just isn’t quite right. I often wondered, ‘how does loneliness happen if we are all one being?’

Leaving the Monastery
Since leaving the monastery I have struggled with loneliness from time to time. Entering lay life is a challenge after the strict discipline and strong container of the monastery.

I have done many things to help contain my mind. Still, loneliness comes up.

Deep Connection
When I feel lonely I wonder if my heart is expressing its deep connection to the other human beings around me.

I feel a deep compassion and love. Yet my day-to-day experience doesn’t match the felt truth of inter-being.I live in a world with suffering beings one of which is me.

We are often caught up in our own agendas, our own ego games, and our own complex defenses to realize how deeply connected we all are.

This dissonance can amplify our suffering and lead to a feeling of disconnect and misalignment we call loneliness.

Nothing Is Amiss
Even though it is hard to bear.  I think part of me knows that this deep feeling of longing, the well in the pit of my stomach, is not a sign of something wrong with me.

Rather it is an indication of inter-being in my life. Even my casting about for new friends and new romance, demonstrates a true desire to be connected

No Cure
I will not any particular cure or remedy for  loneliness but rather a question.

How can I use the longing of loneliness to serve the dharma and strengthen my own heart?
How can we use the depth of this feeling to deepen our own connection to others and out understanding of suffering?

Accept It
Feeling lonely is hard no matter how you look at it. It is my own hope and deep wish that by acknowledging it as part of my reality and practice that it may offer relief to others who experience it’s effects.

Deep in my heart I truly believe that we love each other more than we are willing to admit. And sometimes it is only through this subtle pain called loneliness that we can realize the truth and power of this deep and abiding inter-heart.

This post was originally published in Ink On The Cat
ans subsequently published on The Under35 Project