Do We Really Know Those Closest To Us Or Are We Living With Strangers?
I bet you know your best friend’s favorite color, food, movie, and even their middle name. If asked, most of us would say we know those closest to us like the back of our hand but are we telling truth? Do we truley know those closest to us?
I argue, no.
For my blog, I interviewed various friends of mine some of which I met in college and some of which I have known for over a decade.
What I learned was that I didn’t really know the person on the other side of the conversation. It’s as if I was learning about a whole new person. Their thoughts, experiences and their story were much different than I anticipated.
Some of them came from different cultures, others spoke with wisdom, and some shared very personal experiences.
I realized I didn’t really know my friends. At most, the only thing I was certain of was their names.
During these interviews, they were strangers to me and I knew just as much about them as a pedestrian on the street.
But this isn’t just my experience. Friends of mine have told me after interviewing a family member that they experienced the same thing.
So how do we get to know those closest to us? How do we, per se, for the first time, meet the stranger living that’s been living with us for years?
Don’t assume you know them
Assume is to make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.
Don’t assume that you know the people closest to you because you may come to find out later that you really don’t (you’ll look like a complete ‘ass’).
We believe that by knowing simple things like their favorite movies, color, who their first crush was, or even who their family members are is evidence that validates our relationship with them.
But these don’t count.
You don’t fully understand a person by playing 21 questions.
To really know a person we have to know their psychology, their innermost thoughts and their perception of life.
Interviewing my friends showed me that each person has a different perspective. Though we may share common opinions, ultimately our perception of the world and our approach to the way we live is entirely unique.
And the only way to discover what these perspectives are is to ask questions.
Ask better questions
We all think we’re asking a great question until the person gives us a below-par answer.
If you want better answers, ask better questions.
You won’t be able to deep dive into the mind of someone if you ask simple, straightforward questions.
Avoid “yes” or “no” questions and questions that can be answered with a one-word response.
Instead of asking, “What was your childhood like growing up?” ask “How did your experiences growing up in the heart of Philadelphia help you develop into the person you are today?”
The first question will only scratch the surface. But the latter is going to get down to the bare bones. The second question allows you to get a better picture of life for them as an adolescent and how that shaped their thoughts and behaviors later in life.
That makes for a much more interesting conversation than a detailed description of what their neighborhood was like.
It’s one of the most effective ways to learn. You may not have thought about it but we are always learning.
When we listen to podcasts we are learning. When we are eavesdropping we are learning. When we talk to other people we are learning.
Learning is something we do constantly but whether we are doing it effectively is what counts.
In order to learn we have to listen. Would you pass your final exams had you talked in class the whole time instead of listening to what the teachers had to say? I doubt it (If you can do this, call me. I need your secret).
The same way we learn in school is the same way we learn about others; ask questions, shut up, and listen.
Be present. Give the other person your undivided attention. Clear your mind of any distracting thoughts and only focus on the person in front of you.
Try these tips the next time your with a family member, close friend, or even you significant other.
Approach them as if you were talking to a stranger for the first time. Disregard anything you know about them prior and delete any and all assumptions from your memory.
Think of a better question than the first one that pops into your head. If it helps, you can even interview the person with prepped questions ready to be fired at will.
It’s better to come prepared with questions than to stare blankly at one another or play round two of 21 questions.
Listen and let the conversation just flow. The best way, I believe, to have a conversation is to let the it take whatever direction it pleases.
Don’t try to force it in one direction by following a listen of questions.
If they tell you about an interesting story follow up with more questions about that story. And then listen and be present.
You won’t learn anything if you’re not paying attention.
I’ll leave you with this thought.
“Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing”