By Christo Lute, Director of Advanced Analytics,
I have spent years searching for a way to have meaningful conversations in the digital space, and I know I’m not alone in this. At some point we have all participated in Facebook discussions that devolve into name-calling. We have all stalked old friends on social media that we think of often and fondly, but never speak to.
I am deeply curious about how to turn my experience on the internet from a vaguely anti-social one to one where I can actually connect with people.
Last December, Tim Ferriss interviewed Jamie Foxx on the Tim Ferriss Show and unlocked my understanding of what it means to make meaningful social connections in the digital space.
Foxx described how he wakes up in the morning and immediately begins texting, checking in with people that he cares about. He first listens, asks questions and checks in, and then shares the things he’s looking forward to about his day. When I heard about this habit, it was a lightning bolt of insight into where I’d gone wrong with social media.
The trick I’ve learned about sharing—just another word for storytelling—is that great sharers and storytellers possess a willingness to listen and connect before they share. This is wisdom for the digital world as well as the day-to-day: your board room, presentations, staff meetings, and more.
A good story requires you to first listen, and then share. Build trust with your audience by hearing them past small talk and cheap rhetoric; hear what really matters, what is actually happening in their lives.
One Monday morning in January, I decided to experiment, to explore what might happen if I created a discipline around asking people about their daily lives. I messaged a few close friends and a few friends I hadn’t spoken to in many months, wished them a happy Monday, asked them how they were and what they were looking forward to about their week, and also shared the things that I was looking forward to most about my week.
The result was amazing. Nearly everyone messaged me back and shared something that they had been working on in their own life. The old friends were surprised but happy to hear from me. It was as though we’d reached a point where it was too awkward to make contact, but my message had broken the silence.
Since then, every Monday, I have sent out a message to an ever-growing group of friends, and I’ve developed some rules for myself to make the most of the activity.
Rule 1: Every Monday, I will write a message to a group of Facebook friends. The messages will be individually sent, so the conversations will be private.
Rule 2: The note must include something real about what’s going on in my life, something I’m excited about, something I’m concerned about, and something I haven’t shared yet.
Rule 3: Every week, I need to reach out to a friend that I haven’t heard from recently and add them to the list of people I’m connecting with.
Rule 4: If someone writes back, I must respond to them.
After nearly 8 months of growing this weekly habit, an amazing thing has happened: almost all of my online interactions are meaningful ones. I now regularly hear about the successes and setbacks of high school and college friends, strategize about careers, make plans to travel with old friends, and hear and share real struggles over the web. All this because I decided to bite the bullet and start listening to their stories.
The digital world has the power to connect us to each other in a way that was unprecedented in previous generations. But it also has the power to isolate us, to make us feel like we have hundreds of Facebook friends but no real ones. It allows us to spy on each other’s lives, to see new babies, weddings, and career changes, but does not require us to engage with those momentous occasions, much less the everyday happenings of our friends’ lives. What’s more, the way conduct our digital lives affects how we conduct ourselves in the non-digital world: those feelings of isolation cause more, real isolation.
Instead of passively allowing friends to become entertainment for your newsfeed, actively engage them. Talk to them about what’s really going on in their lives. Listen, ask questions, hear their stories. It will transform your digital experience. It will also slowly transform your non-digital experience, giving you the confidence and presence to connect with audiences, engage friends and colleagues, and lead in your business.