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.
- 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.
What tricks do you use when you are trying to connect?