There’s this awkward situation. You know the one I mean. We’ve all been there. You go to a restaurant or to a party. Almost everyone knows one another, but you’re the new kid.
You introduce yourself and everyone does the same with a vague, generic smile. And that’s often as far as it goes. They then turn to the person they already know sitting or standing next to them. Yes, it’s cold, but human. It’s safer ground. Maybe it’s hard to think of a polite opening question, so they retreat into the realm of emotional comfort.
Maybe someone does ask you a question. Do they ask another one after, or move on to the next person? Or do they do as one woman did, who asked me where I was from then exclaimed that she was from the same state, and have I heard of the little town where she’s from? She wove a tale for twenty minutes of her life in that little town and why she finally left. In the end, it was all about her.
Do we ever fall into doing this in social situations? How often do we do the following?
• Get more interested in our story than the person in front of us?
• Not listen beyond the first two or three words before we launch into our own account?
• Not ask anything in the first place? Or ask only one question then move onto the next person?
Maybe it seems too threatening, or we simply lack interest or curiosity.
To find out how good we are at initial conversations, we can listen to ourselves the next time we talk to someone we don’t know very well.
- Do we get out of our quiet corner and go toward another person?
- Can we think of a question or two to ask, to make them at ease and get to know them?
- Then, how well do we really listen? Do we ask more than one question?
Of course, we don’t want to be like a journalist doing a front-page article, but we do want to show interest (as well as share information about ourselves at appropriate times.) What is the best way to show genuine interest?
First, we can have a genuine interest. That’s the first step. That person might be utterly fascinating, or at the least, somewhat intriguing. Whether they are or not, however, treating them as though they are is, well, simply loving.
Next, we can create a challenge for ourselves: Find out at least two interesting things about that person.
Some people walk into a room and make an unspoken announcement: “Here I am!” and look for ways to feel secure. (We all do this from time to time!)
A more loving approach is to look for that person who is new, maybe seems uncomfortable or hanging on the sidelines. Or just seek out someone you haven’t met before.
Why not, instead, walk into a room and silently say, “There YOU are!” Seek out something about that other person that you don’t know. It may not take too long to realize that you have found a hidden treasure.
(This post is adapted from a previous 2014 reflection.)