A Simple Shift That Helped Me Talk to Anyone

Recently I’ve become aware that I have a bad habit of judging people when I meet them. Not in a “Westboro Baptist” kind of way, but in a “what will I gain from befriending you” kind of way.  After we start to talk, I start to subconsciously analyze and categorize the person. I make a snap judgement about what they can offer me, and if it’s not much I often start to disconnect with the conversation. 

This habit has become so natural that I have even found myself judging the value of existing friends. This has brought its own hurt and confusion because friendships often go through seasons. Friends move away, go through a hard time, or just need space. During these times, focusing on what they can do for me will risk damage to the relationship.

My bad habit was brought into the light last year when an acquaintance of mine – I’ll call him Tim – asked me to dinner. I had seen Tim at several parties, and I knew we had some mutual friends, but we never really talked much. I often avoided him because I had judged him as having little to offer me – he looked weird, he talked weird, and we had little in common. But I was in a good mood and didn’t want to be mean so I said yes. As the time got closer, however, I really started to dread it and even started to think about an excuse to get out of it. But then an idea hit me:

Instead of focusing on how much value Tim gave me, what if I focused on how much value I could offer Tim? 

Obviously Tim did have his own strengths. He – like everyone else – could teach me something about life. (After all, everyone can be a teacher if you decide to always be a student.) Nonetheless, even though I knew this to be true, it was still hard to want to spend time with Tim. Focusing on what I had to offer him finally gave me a practical way to enjoy our time together. It removed all expectations from me getting something and it turned the whole interaction into a game: let’s see how much I can support and encourage him!

Several days later I met with Tim. As we talked, I put my new focus into practice. This ended up making the interaction so interesting that I not only enjoyed our time together, I actually suggested that we get dinner again in the future!

I’ve continued to use this new perspective in other areas of my life and it’s really made a difference. Whether it’s slightly weird family members or awkward coworkers, I am now able to talk to anyone I come across – no matter how different they are from me. 

Have you ever avoided talking to someone because they didn’t seem very interesting? In what ways can you experiment and try shifting the focus to the other person?

“Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.” ― Marvin J. Ashton

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