Ever sat across someone who ranted for nine full minutes on how they are lazy to make a fresh cup of morning coffee every day, so they make some kind of stupid-sugary-instant-coffee-silky-mixture that can last them for one whole week and store it in the fridge. And then they realize they never told you how they beat this sugar, water, and instant coffee! So, they go off another long record of the most basic, boring, and uninteresting train of details. Oh, and then, they have to tell you how they just take this stale mixture they are so proud of and mix it with milk and drink it in the AM. As if that was not enough, the spouse chimes in and explains how the household cares about efficiency.
You are sitting there, thinking to yourself, “That’s not efficiency, that’s laziness. That’s mediocrity.”
Of course, you are the elegant one, so, you are trying your absolute best to hold your seat of grace, and be nice and nod your head — making sure, also, to not show too much enthusiasm — you with all your passion for coffee, the beans, the grounds, the origin of coffee, the story behind coffee making, the aroma of fresh grounds that wake your senses every morning.
You — with all your fascinations for subtlety, good taste, and finer mental states — just have to put up with blatant mediocrity sometimes.
We all have friends who bore us to death, don’t we?
Now Think about this: How can we not be that person?
How can we — with all our supposed awesomeness — be sensible, sensitive, interesting, original, and bustling with energy?
Despite the deliberate choice, if and when I get stuck amidst redundant conversations, the only one thought that runs through my mind—
What can I do such that my company does not become redundant to the most intellectually advanced person in the room?
And, as this person starts again and goes on and on about some discovery he has just made that is so-year-1800 to me(and the rest of the hustling world), I zone out and set off on a critical thinking journey to figure out the recipe for high-quality social interactions.
These are 4 essential things that I come up with that can help you be more nuanced in your social interactions.
Being sensitive means being open to the fact that the person across you might already know 10x about what you are going to say.
Check the pulse. Don’t be stupid, skip the basics. Get to the essence — assuming you have a story with an essence.
What did that cup of coffee inspire you to do? Why do you what you do? What’s the bigger picture? How did it influence you?
I might have spent the last number of years of my life learning about cacao, the origin, the culture behind coffee and chocolate, and whatnot. Please don’t go on and on about your newfound coffee myths.
Take a quick stock on who your audience is. This should tell you if you need to talk or listen, how much to talk, how authoritative should you come across, and when to shut up and just listen.
I check how much my audience knows by asking something like —
You might already know about X. (Pause and listen to what they say. Pay attention to their body language)
I am sure you know X (If it’s something popular)
Do you know X (with an unsure, inquisitive smile that gives the benefit of thought to them)
I then recalibrate what level of detail I need to start on.
Another simple way to practice sensitivity is to look at everyone in the group as you talk. Don’t be that person who talks to the entire group, but conveniently looks at only one person. And please don’t make social meetings about complaining about your spouse — no one needs to know how you both don’t agree on some dull domestic issue. Spare that talk for your spouse — inside your house, I don’t care. Excuse my time, please. Social meetings are not relays for your broken homefront communication. It’s irrelevant and too crude.
Be sensitive — of others’ time, of others’ experience, of others’ expectations from this interaction. It’s not your time to vent, boast, or go on one of your rants. It means to believe that there might be more interesting people in the room. It means not taking yourself too seriously.
Up your game. Know more. Learn.
The very meaning of knowing more is that you know there is much to learn. With this truth comes a sense of settledness. This settledness removes the unsettled energies of an amateur. It takes time, let yourself the time to cook your newfound thoughts.
Being sensible means vetting your ideas with yourself well enough before you talk about them with certainty and publicly. Battle test it mentally, cover the corner cases. This process requires you to be open and keep your ego aside. The insight is more important than your ego. Make sense. Do not identify with thoughts too early and jump into making them your opinions. Season it.
The more sensible you are, the higher the probability of having sensible people in your circle. If you want to attract successful, intellectual, and meaningful people, you need to up your game. Focus on doing, being ambitious, shifting your energies to the higher goals.
The experts that I talk to, never boast of the skills they have, never talk about the various projects they do, seldom mention the details about what they are doing. But when I bring up a certain topic, they know about it, they provide excellent perspectives, filled with the essential spirit. It is this that influences people. Focus on the essence, not the details.
The essence should imply the details. Set a high bar for yourself.
This is one skill that is common in most amazing people I know — the successful, the rich who worked their way up, the doers, the philosophers.
They are open-minded, curious about both why and how. I think this is because what got them to the top is knowing there is always something better. They listen to understand, not just listen to respond.
It’s about being self-empathetic, but also about self-awareness that the moment you think too highly of yourself, you make it one notch harder to break the barrier and learn something. The trick is to think of yourself exactly as you are — not higher or lower. Don’t under or oversell yourself.
The moment I stopped saying things for the sake of being accepted, I was able to become more curious. With curiosity came better perspectives which made me dig deeper and take action on the increased levels of passion.
Make better decisions
Whether or not you agree with it, we are all making judgments about everything, not only people, all the time.
What product should I buy?
With which colleague should I have lunch tomorrow?
With which couple should I go for a hike this weekend?
I find nothing wrong in judging the data presented to me. I observe and collect data when I meet people — the topics they choose to talk about, the details they focus on, the tone and usage of words, their actions, the levels of sensitivities, their priorities — I make note of these things. If judging is what you call it, I am okay with it. I make sure my judgments do not hurt people, I just use it for my future decisions.
I do this mindfully, use my slow thinking brain when necessary so that I can make better decisions next time — should I hang out with them, how much time can I afford for those meetings, what is the probability I can learn something new, the chances of influence — so that I can make sure we can have a good time together.
Either your experience will be hit or mine, if we want discrepant things from the meeting and we don’t take care to apportion the time wisely.
I start with a clean slate when I make a new connection. I try my best to be the best version of myself and let them be who they want to be. Everyone starts with positive credit, it’s up to them how they develop on it. I form my opinions and build my mental models around what data they give me. I use this appropriately for future meetings. What they show and tell me affects how much of the time I spend with them. This is my way of honoring my time and keeping things efficient.
The best part is this — people are doing this to me all the time, especially if they are ambitious. So, if I am not learning, iterating, getting better, and elevated in my disposition, too bad for me either way.
The point of all this is so that we can seek a great company, make good use of our time here, and make progress.
I wish I could adequately explain the power of great associations. I know we all want great friends and colleagues to hang out with. But the trick is that to be around such people, we need to show at least the potential. Otherwise, think about it, why would they want to give you their valuable time?
With better decision making, balancing curiosity with opinionatedness, being sensitive and sensible, we can strategically put ourselves back on the map. You then only need a few great associations to convince you that it was worth doing it. The value is many times fold the effort.
Don’t be stupid, don’t be insensitive, don’t rant about the non-essentials. Keep it superlative. Be someone the best want to keep company with.