On Connecting To Strangers
The Sidewalk Talk Blog
We are all susceptible to blind spots. Happily, I am the kind of person who likes to share mine, so you can have a good laugh, feel like you aren’t alone, and be more willing to look at your own human foibles. I am told this is my secret sauce. Yay for imperfection. We are rockin’ it out together!
This week I was reflecting with Nevada Sidewalk Talk Chapter Leader, Michael Tedesco (thanks Michael). We were both challenging each other and empathizing with each other on different aspects of leadership we both struggle with so that we could support one another in growing. It is so nice when folks can just be bold with you. The leaders crew here are some of my favorite because there is an earnestness to keep on growing through self-reflection, self-responsibility, and dialogue.
Being an earnest human who wants to look at their flaws takes one large sense of humor.
Doing flaws well also takes the ability to take an inventory without shame. I like to make lists of my mistakes and then think through what I can change and what I am just going to have to say “Um that is me and probably will be a flaw I go to the dirt with” so people can feel empowered to choose if I am their cup of tea and I don’t spin my wheels trying to please everyone.
Here is my list of mess ups around connection from the last few weeks. Have a laugh and then make your own. It is really good practice.
1. Believing that people, life, and the world should be a certain way.
When someone uses a tone of voice we don’t like, doesn’t call us back, or is unfair we may want to “should” all over the situation. They should NOT have done x, y, and z. In the podcast with Dr. Christian Conte, he talked about cartoon world and real world.
The more we deny the hard truth of the real world the less likely we are to respond in any sort of connective fashion.
I am not saying not to set limits. Actually, the opposite. But, I notice I have no problem setting a limit when I don’t expect every person to just follow my own inner set of standards. If I get caught up in a “They should have x, y, z” I may be too damn righteous to bother dialoguing. You see how this works?
By assuming, I cut off dialogue. Not great for connection and intimacy.
2. Be clear and up front about what you need in the moment. You might wonder, “But Traci, isn’t that selfish? How does that have to do with connection?”
I will throw it back to you with a question. Have you ever not been clear with someone that they should ‘please take your shoes off before coming into my house’ only to later find mud tracks all over your white carpet?
How did you feel about that person when they didn’t notice they had left a trail of mud in your house? More connected? More intimate? I didn’t think so.
Ok, maybe it is a bad metaphor but usually, when we aren’t clear about what we need, we are not protecting our connections with others, we are jeopardizing them. See how that works?
I had a tech job that I liked but I got so pissed because I was in a new territory that wasn’t making any money. I tried to quit but in a lengthy dialogue with the CEO he confronted me. He said “Traci, you have a right to be paid what you are worth. Rather than getting mad, you could shared what you needed to be financially whole. I support you demanding a raise.”
I left his office with a massive life lesson and a 20% - YES TWENTY- percent raise.
3. Not setting limits and not receiving limits.
First, I must attribute my use of the word limits to Michael Tedesco. For ages, the word boundaries, for whatever reason, conjures images of walls – static, unchanging, rigid, and cold. Limits, however, feels flexible and contextual.
Here is the rub. After the person from above has walked on your carpet with muddy shoes, if you still do not ask them to take off their shoes, again you jeopardize intimacy and connection with them and, frankly, with yourself. Only bad feelings can emerge.
And I get it. We don’t set limits because some folks react to them and we want to avoid their reaction. But their reaction lets you know you have been heard, as Randi Buckley often says (she is the boundaries master and will be coming on the podcast soon).
Reacting to limits and even judging folks as unreasonable for setting limits is so disruptive to connection.
Magic wand wish? This whole “You are unreasonable for needing what you need and having the limits that you have” is the one thing I would swap for “We all get to have needs and limits and communicating them IS connection".
Am I good at setting limits in clear, kind ways?
Am I good at receiving limits in clear, kind ways?
What assumptions do I make about the other person in that whole giving and receiving limits process?
My hope is we can all do better at this connection stuff. That our hearts can stretch wide with love in these hard spaces and keep trying.
Sidewalk Talk has grown in leaps and bounds over the last year and a half. We’ve more than doubled our number of listeners and Chapter Leaders as well. We have 89 Chapters in 15 countries, with more than 7000 listeners holding events every day.
We are so grateful to our listeners and Chapter Leaders who organize events, haul out the chairs, hang up the signs and listen to those who have something to say. Their dedication and willingness to sit out in the cold is the absolute backbone of this organization, and it’s how the whole thing got started!
But what if you don’t have a chapter near you? What if you can’t lead a chapter due to time constraints or health conditions? We get Instagram and Facebook comments every day asking for other ways to support the organization.
Here’s the exciting news: We have room for you too.
Announcing, the Sidewalk Talk Ambassador Program!
You told us you wanted to help, and we’ve come up with a fun way for you to join the team!
Follow this link to sign up. Once you do, you’ll get an ambassadors badge graphic that you can share far and wide to show the world you’re behind us. From there, you will receive an email each week with a mini task that you can complete in minutes to help us grow.
Will you join us as an ambassador?
Most of us are on the hunt to feel better, feel more excited, and feel inspired in some small way every day. We pay big bucks or go to great lengths to find more excitement and good feeling.
I am with you. Life can hem us into boring routines or busyness that make us feel like we are robots on auto-pilot.
What if there were a way that was fast, free, and easy to pack more good feeling and excitement into your day to day life?
Monday I had to call AT&T to switch out my office internet. Ok, I am laughing. I am only imaging you are wondering where this is going. Stay with me.
For those of you outside the US, AT&T is a big company that offers phone and internet service. Calling any big company is a daunting task as you are sure to be on hold for a long time and often have someone disgruntled on the other end pick up your call.
I get through and a young woman answers, named Jolynn, to help me out. Because I am living in Germany now, none of my ways to confirm my identity were going to work for various reasons. Jolynn apologized and said, "I am sorry, Traci, but this is going to take awhile."
So here we were, hanging out on the phone, waiting for her to punch in all the things she had to punch in, a moment that often turns adversarial, but then Jolynn did something.
She asked me a question. And she was genuinely interested in my response.
"So why did you move to Germany?" she asked.
"I moved for love" I said.
"You did? How did you meet this person?" Jolynn said.
"He was the nerdy foreign exchange student in high school that I had a crush on. We lost track of each other for 12 years and then, out of the blue, he called my father and asked him for my phone number and came to California for a visit."
"You are kidding me?" she said.
"No, I swear." I laughed.
"Wow after twelve years. And how long have you been together?" she said and I could hear her grin, as she typed away.
"We have been married seventeen years."
Our conversation flowed. I asked her all sorts of questions about her life. She shared. She was young. Single. Not so sure there is a partner out there for her. We had little bond going on.
Jolynn kind of made my day and I think I made hers.
And all she had to do was ask a question and be genuinely interested.
I could feel her celebrating with me. Taking pleasure in my story. Being moved. And then I was equally moved to hear about her.
Her questions and genuine listening created a whole new world of possibility.
New York Times Journalist, Kate Murphy, has a new book called, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters that is making the rounds on talk shows and podcasts. You can check out her own article about her book here.
Murphy says learning to ask the right questions leads to the talker revealing way more than they normally would. And if you follow up with a lot of good listening and genuine interest, you are sure to get a more fulfilling story and, as research shows, a greater sense of connection.
I think Jolynn asked me some great questions that would have made Kate Murphy proud. And I obliged. I opened up and walked down memory lane with her and she got to be a passenger on that romantic joy ride with me.
So look - go to the spa. Spa's are nice. Go get that sweet treat or check out the latest rom com. But maybe, just maybe, if we all asked really good questions and were genuinely interested, there is a lot more joy and excitement to be served up with very little cost or effort.
On your way to get a sandwich? Ask the person making it something. Make it a good one. "What is the weirdest type of sandwich you have ever made?"
Give it a try. And come share in the comments how it goes.
I am a woman, therapist, wife, mom, friend, listener, and founder/leader of Sidewalk Talk. You can subscribe to my couples therapy list here.