It’s human nature to want to connect, yet many people struggle forming strong bonds. We put ourselves out there, break the ice, and start conversations, but then what? How can we take these conversations to the next level and build real connection?
Many people think that connection happens rapidly and you need to instantly form a bond with everyone. The idea comes as no surprise because it’s a common narrative in books and movies.
In reality, that idea is counterproductive. When we start projecting the need for instant connection, the neediness often pushes people away, so don’t jump ahead.
Think back for a second…. How many of your current friends did you form an instant connection with? What about the person your dating or married to? It takes time to grow a real connection.
Jeffrey Hall, Professor at the University of Kansas, published a report where he found that it took 50 hours of interaction to move from an acquaintance to a casual friend and about 90 hours of interaction to move from a casual friend to a friend. It took more than 200 hours to qualify as a best friend. Rapport is built gradually and real connection comes from time and investment in the other person.
The idea of different friendship levels is also helpful. If you try to force a connection, you can sometimes think the relationship is deeper and thus have more expectations. When the other person doesn’t meet your expectations remind yourself that you may have jumped ahead and assumed you were at a deeper level of friendship or connection than what’s true. Remember, you don’t have to force them into the level of best friend when they’re not ready.
Building relationships is a bit of a numbers game, so you have to give people more opportunities to connect with you.
This is where the concept of ‘third place’ comes into play. Coined by Ray Oldenburg in his book ‘The Great Good Plays’, the ‘third place’ refers to the social spaces where the main activity is socializing.
You spend most of your time at home or at work. Those are your primary two places. A ‘third place’ is where you find community on equal footing, and build connections with your peers. It can be anything from a bar, coffee place, your church, or anywhere else where you can feel comfortable being yourself.
Find your third place and put yourself out there.
How to talk to anyone
After meeting people and breaking the ice, it’s important to know how to have compelling conversations that build rapport and lead to connection.
Go beyond similarities & share emotions
When connecting with others, most people first look for similarities and common interests. While these have their role, commonalities can only take you so far.
In reality, focusing too much on finding similarities can be a hindrance to real connection, especially as they can be tricky to spot from someone you’ve just met. Relying on similarities such as a favorite sports team or music band can lead to a feeling of forced connection that is quite superficial.
Also, you might share similarities with someone, yet still struggle to form a stronger bond.
Go beyond sharing commonalities and instead focus on sharing emotional states with the other person.
Dr. John Gottman is a researcher whose focus is studying relationships that have longevity. When looking at what these couples are doing to strengthen and preserve their connection, he coined the term ‘emotional bid’.
The idea is that when we are trying to connect with one another, we are constantly putting up emotional bids, which can be bids for attention, celebration, extending the conversation, humor, affection, emotional support, etc. These bids are attempts to get people to see them, recognize them, and share the emotion with them.
It turns out, the more we share emotions, the easier we can form strong relationships. According to Dr. Gottman’s research, relationships that have longevity have partners that are sharing in their emotional bids together, recognizing and celebrating the emotional bid of the other person.
If you’re in a relationship, stop and think about your partner’s emotional bids. What are the things that they’re enthusiastic about?
Then ask yourself: ‘am I doing a good job listening and sharing the enthusiasm with my partner?’
There are times when we are too tired, stressed, or distracted to engage with other people’s emotional bids. However, if it happens too often, resentment can build and the relationship suffers, regardless of the nature of the relationship, romantic or otherwise.
Connecting through emotion
Start with yourself and share more emotion when trying to form a bond.
Send emotional bids, offering the other person the opportunity for connecting. While having a conversation with someone, you will be telling stories about yourself. Add more color to the emotions in those stories, do justice to the emotional side of the story, and you’ll soon have more compelling conversations.
In turn, start looking for emotional bids in other people. The cues can be both verbal and non-verbal, so pay attention to people’s body language and facial expressions.
Practice active listening, and be present in the moment. Pay attention to the emotions coming back to you, and try to feel them yourself, priming yourself for that connection. When you feel the emotion from the other person, they will feel more connected to you.
Remember, it can take up to 200 hours of connecting to become best friends with someone. Building relationships is usually a slow and gradual process, so give yourself enough time to foster those connections.