I distinctly remember during my trip to Thailand having a conversation with my friends about what we wanted to do. To be honest, I wanted to check out the red light district. Maybe not necessarily partake… okay, I wanted to partake. But this statement kept me from bringing this up. It went as follows:
Friend: “It just seems so sad to me when people go to the red light district for women. I mean, come on, don’t you want to go to a club and meet a girl organically, flirt with her a little and take her home?”
When I heard that, man, I absolutely did not want to bring up the fact that I wanted to go. I thought he would judge me and think I was sad and pathetic. It was only until two days later that I said, “Okay guys, I really want to go to the red light district while we’re here. If you don’t want to go with me, that’s okay.”
After that, the mood shifted, he was able to address the topic directly. He wanted to know why I wanted to go. Well, can’t a person be curious? That was really my only reason. He wanted to know what the area looked like. He wanted to know what the process was like. He wanted to know if there were any really hot girls there. And I told him. And it was absolutely a bonding experience.
I say this to say, if you want to truly connect with someone, you have to demonstrate to them that you will not judge them for anything they do or think. Or else they will close up.
For example, imagine two people are exchanging details about their lives and one of them says, “Yeah, I did undergrad at Harvard.”
The response here is very important. If the second person says, “Wow, you must be really smart.” That person has just set an expectation on the first person. The first person now internally thinks, “Alright, well I can’t bring up the fact that I partied all the time and had a 2.3 GPA.” Wall constructed. (“Really? How was it?” is a much less defensive question.)
But the walls can also be broken. If the second person then asks, “Well, you had to have partied though. I mean, it is college, right?” Wall destroyed. The first person can now safely say yes, he was absolutely a party animal. Second person: “And no one’s perfect, what was your lowest grade?” Huge internal sigh of relief by the first person. He can now admit “Nope, I wasn’t really that great of a student, 2.3 GPA.” Almost immediately, you are back to two people talking and no one is putting up walls to the other.
The opposite is also true. If the Harvard grad said something like, “Man, college was so easy, I got straight As and honors. I don’t get why people thought it was so hard.” He just set an expectation that getting good grades is expected. The other person raises his guard because he dropped out of college.
Every time you pass judgment on something in your life, you set that expectation on those around you. If you tell someone, “Man, that bar stinks! It doesn’t have good martinis or beer or anything!” and he actually likes that bar? His response will be, “Yeah…” and he’ll secretly think you two won’t get along.
If you instead began by asking, “So what’d you think of the bar?”, he can safely say, “Oh, I thought it was great!” But maybe he’s just being nice, so you can ask, “Oh, what’d you like about it?” After his response, you can safely say you actually didn’t care for it and now everyone has been able to express their true feelings. No walls, just two souls on this earth.
Your values show in your interaction with the world. And your values reveal your expectations. For example, if someone values being smart and learning on your own, it will absolutely show in his actions. There are so many times, especially in the developer world, where I’ve observed the following situation:
A developer doesn’t know a certain technology and it comes up in conversation. A second developer speaks up and says, “Man, I learned that ten years ago. Any developer worth his salt should know that already.”
The second person has just set the expectation that people should already know things. Now, only the bravest of the first persons will be able to come to the second person for questions or help. And even then, the first person will feel the need to demonstrate how much he knows so the second person doesn’t judge as harshly.
If the second person instead responded, “Oh yeah, I remember running into that. It took me a while to learn.” or even just “Oh, that tech. Do you know what it is?” The second person would demonstrate to the first person that it’s okay to not know something. It’s cool that you learned. Wall fucking destroyed.
This has been a huge revelation to me ever since I started this journey of being honest with myself. The easiest person to talk to in the world is a person who demonstrates to you that you don’t have to impress him. Not one bit. He wants to know you, not the prettied-up, perfect facade you put up everywhere you go. And a huge part of being able to do that is not having to put up a prettied-up, perfect facade everywhere you go.
If I know I am socially awkward and I walk up to someone and can work through my pauses and strange behavior without getting angry at myself, I have demonstrated to the person that I think it’s okay to be socially awkward. The person I am talking to now feels at ease. Now he can do something awkward because he knows I don’t care. This applies to everything. Valuing yourself based on money, possessions, knowledge, experiences, what kind woman you can pull, who you married, the size of your house, how you talk, your accent, the size of your fucking nose, your height, your morals, your virtues, I don’t know. If you are not comfortable accepting something in your life, everyone around you will not feel comfortable opening up about it either.
That’s why becoming comfortable with yourself allows you to connect with others. And to become comfortable with yourself, you must expose your flaws in a fashion that forces you to admit they are your reality.
I know most people reading this instantly wanted to ask me all about my experiences at the red light district after hearing me bring it up. Go ahead, ask me. I’m all ears.
P.S. I didn’t know where to shoehorn this in, but there’s also the situations where people open to a stranger with bravado or a tease. This sets an expectation to deliver on the witty comeback. That’s fine, as long as you demonstrate that you are fine with any possible reaction they have, be it shyness, laughing, stuttering, a bad joke, or a good rib.
Again, email me at email@example.com.
No game development today. It’s 5 AM, I haven’t slept yet and I’m camping today. Next time! (Gasp, chain broken. But in the big picture, it’s just a day.)