Thanks for sticking with us, I missed yesterday’s article as I was travelling from Indonesia to Singapore.
Something that is a huge source of anxiety for me is the approach to your social circle that success books advocate. The logic behind many of these books is the old adage “you are the average of your five closest friends”. Whilst I’m not here to argue the logic of that, many of the books also say let go of the people that don’t contribute to your success.
Logically, this idea of maximising the ROI of your social interactions is well founded and does heavily contribute to how quickly you’ll reach your goal. If you’re trying to get fit and the majority of people that you hang out with don’t eat healthily, reaching your desired fitness goals are going to be that much harder. In order to progress faster with your goal, you should stop hanging out with those people and make new friends whose values coincide with yours. At least, that’s what the books tell us.
The problem with this approach is that you then create a new mental box to sort people into and assign people a kind of value score. Suddenly those that you’ve got loads of good memories with cease to be as valuable as they once were. This then begs the moral question: Are people only worth the value they can bring to me? Slippery meet slope.
With that said, there are a huge number of people in our lives that emotionally drain us, or constrict our self-belief to the point that we stop believing that we can (and should) change the world.
What I’m going to talk to you guys about today is how to improve your social development, build huge amounts of relationship capital, and do it all without being a colossal dickhead.
1. Actually listen
The number one rule in improving your social circle is: make the majority of the interactions that you have with people a positive experience. Now, I’m not talking about ensuring that every conversation is about sunshine and rainbows.
In order to make each interaction a positive experience, make sure that you listen to what the other person is saying. Engage your brain and seek to understand what it is that they’re actually trying to communicate to you. Once you perfect this skill, it becomes that much easier to determine what the other person wants from the relationship.
To give you an understanding of what I mean, here’s one of my biggest weaknesses: I constantly tell people what to do. Roughly 75 per cent of my sentences are explaining to someone how to do something, why they should do something, or what they should be doing. When someone’s telling me about a problem they’ve been having, I immediately begin thinking of ways to help them solve their problem. Then I tell them how to fix whatever problem they’ve got… this can be really annoying.
Through using active listening techniques, you can determine exactly what it is someone is trying to tell you and respond in the most positive way. This boils down to three phrases:
- “What do you mean by…?”: If you don’t understand something, it’s important to clarify so that you remain on the same page as the speaker
- “So what you’re telling me is…”: By repeating back to the person what you’ve understood you show that you’re listening and trying to understand what they’re trying to tell you
- “Could you tell me more about…?”: Ask questions about things that you’re interested in hearing more detail about or things you think the speaker would like to talk about
These three phrases have been invaluable to me, and not just in my social life. My work life, my personal relationships, and my sales technique have all been improved through using those three little phrases.
You can also use the three phrases to determine if the person you’re talking to is actually looking to better your life, or is just talking at you. Which leads us to our second point.
2. It’s not impolite to walk away
A few weeks ago my girlfriend was stepping toward her dream of being a burlesque performer. After the show, I went outside to get a taxi and struck up a conversation with a couple of guys. We were talking about the state of written media and the direction it was moving in. One of the guys was particularly vocal about news media (and I should’ve predicted where this was going), and began speaking about Zionist movements, new world order, and other tin-foil hat theories.
I love a good conspiracy theory, but this guy would shut down any attempts to get the conversation back on track, clarify what he meant, and refuse to go into any more depth about some of the complex topics he had bought up. If any of these three things happen in your conversations with people, they are not interested in having a dialogue.
You can walk away from this conversation because you’ve already provided the most positive outcome for the speaker, you listened. You’d be surprised at how satisfied people can be with a conversation that simply allowed them to share what was going on in their brains.
If you’re worried about how to leave conversations, a simple “excuse me” does the trick nine times out of ten. If you’re in a group of five or more, you can just walk away.
I used to get suckered in to conversations like the one above and argue with the speaker, this is a trap. Unless you’re close with the person you’re debating with, there is no point in arguing with anyone. No one is going to leave the conversation thinking “Wow, I’d never thought about it like that before,” the most likely thought is “That guy was a dick”.
When improving the group of people who you hang out with, you’re looking for people that are open to exploring ideas. People that insist on arguing with you or who need to dominate a conversation will not improve the quality of your social circle. Using the three phrases I mentioned earlier and look for people that:
- Will explain terms and ideas that they talk about
- Want to explore the topics that they talk about
- Look for ways to include everyone in the conversation
If they don’t fulfil these three criteria then they’re satisfied with people just listening to them, and you’ve made a positive impact on their lives by simply being around to hear what they have to say.
However, sometimes you can’t simply walk away from a person like this. So here’s a solid technique for dealing with this type of person.
3. Four words that shutdown and help a Negative Nancy
When I was a teacher, I had one colleague that loved to complain. It was odd to hear him not grumble, moan, or talk about how stupid/ridiculous/pointless something was. It was demoralising for the entire office having this colleague go off on one at the slightest perceived grievance.
After months of trying to placate him, I gave up hope. There was nothing that could be done to fix this guy’s eternal deluge of problems… until I asked him this; “What solutions are there?” It was like I’d uncovered a magical spell that either made the conversation constructive or stopped him from talking.
These four words turn the conversation into a way of fixing problems, or subtly let the negative nancy know that people are not interested in hearing about all their problems. After asking the question “What solutions are there?” The conversation will go one of two ways. Either the person will:
- Say “nothing can be done”
- Reveal exactly what it is that can be done
If the person chooses option A, feel free to offer some of your potential solutions. However, it is most likely that this person is complaining simply to talk and is uninterested in fixing the problem. In which case you can say something like “I’ll be at my desk if you’d like to discuss ways we can solve your problem”. They’ll get the message.
Option B is rarer but shows you that they are willing to consider ways to solve their problem. Encourage them to find their own solutions to the problem, by building on things they’ve said. For example, “It seems like x is your biggest bugbear, is it because of y or z?” This will help you get down to the real route of the problem.
Another technique is to invent (or use a real-life) example about a similar problem that you’ve experienced and how it was solved. By showing them the situation from a perspective they aren’t personally involved in they can be more objective about finding the solution.
The four words again are, “What solutions are there?” Asking this question will quickly uncover if someone actually wants a solution or are just complaining for the sake of complaining. If this technique doesn’t work, you can also try the next one.
4. Don’t be afraid of challenging someone and being challenged
Before we go into this, it’s vital that you make sure the person you’re talking to meets the criteria mentioned at the end of number three. If they don’t, they’ll see the contrasting opinion as a threat and attack it. This limits the conversation’s usefulness and it will devolve into an unmoderated debate.
Challenging the way someone thinks is a great way for everyone to understand their position better. When you are forced to think in a new way, or look at something from a different perspective you become more empathetic, gain a new way of thinking, and make yourself more relatable.
When you go against what someone believes it shows your social circle that you’re an independent thinker and are willing to go against the grain to share your thoughts. This builds trust, shows off your reasoning skill, and solidifies in people’s minds that you will always tell the truth.
Always seek to understand someone’s position before offering a counter-argument. The number of times my Dad and I have had long debates, only to realise that we were arguing the same thing but using different language is embarrassingly high. This is why the first technique was using active listening, it’s paramount to having useful conversations.
If you feel like someone is challenging your view, don’t look for reasons why it’s wrong. Look for reasons why it’s right, and internally come to your own conclusion. Explore why the other person thinks the way that they do, and how they use the information in their lives in a positive way. Similarly, when your opinion differs from someone else’s don’t try to “win”. When you challenge someone’s beliefs, the end goal is simply to show that there is another logical conclusion to the situation or idea presented.
When sharing your ideas that go against someone else’s, use “I” language; “I think…,” “I feel…,” “In my opinion…”. This stops the other person from feeling attacked and demonstrates that what you’re saying is just one of the many possible perspectives.
If you’re not used to challenging people, practice with your close friends about things that have little consequence. Talk about things like; the best Harry Potter book, why Rambo 4 is superior to First Blood, or why Lil’ Wayne deserves a place in the rap hall of fame. As you get better, you’ll find the techniques that work best for you, and when to change the topic because it got too heated. Work your way up to things like; budgeting, career progression, or ways to improve something.
The key thing to remember when challenging someone or being challenged are the immortal words of The Dude from The Big Lebowski “Yeah, well, that’s just, like… your opinion, man”. You can’t change someone that doesn’t want to be changed, and your opinion is equally as valid as theirs. With that said here are my three techniques to effectively communicate your perspective:
- Use a context the speaker understands: Some of my friends are huge gamers, putting things into the idea of levelling up, or going on a quest, can help them see what it is that I’m trying to communicate
- Fully understand where they’re at: Without knowing the other person’s perspective you are unable to offer a counter-example or suggest a solution
- Focus on the why and how, not the what: By looking at why you think something, and how you used that knowledge, it’s easy for others to understand the reasoning behind your opinion and maintains an open dialogue
Please don’t think that you need to always share your thoughts if you have a differing opinion. If you feel that you can help someone accomplish something and that you sharing your opinion on something will be useful, then go for it.
Closing thoughts on social development
I’ve actually had this post ready to go for a few weeks, and I just read it again to make sure everything was what I had wanted to say. After looking through this post I’ve realised that there is a golden rule to figuring out who you should be spending your time with.
It’s actually amazingly similar to the moral question we asked at the beginning of the post. The golden rule for figuring out who you should be spending time with is: How much value can I give this person? If you can give them a lot of value, that’s perfect! If you can’t help them with their problems, then it’s fine to allow yourself to drift away from them.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that it’s fine to drift. As long as you leave any relationship on a positive note and are ready to greet the person with warmth the next time you see them, your social circle will be forever great.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to stop hanging out with someone just because they aren’t wealthy/successful/or in the field of business that you want to pursue. You should stop hanging out with people that aren’t:
Allying yourself with people that have been successful in the goal that you’ve set will help you achieve that goal faster. But make sure that you leave time for the people in your life that embody the traits I just mentioned. Like attracts like, learn to personify the traits that Ben talked about in his PANDAS article, and you’ll find yourself with a wealth of friends all looking to help you achieve whatever it is that you’ve set your heart on.
If you have any questions about the article, head over to our Facebook group where we’d love to help you with any wealth, investment, success questions. For more great articles check these out:
- 6 essential questions to ask before you start property investing
- 5 key lessons to balance your business and your life
- How to balance financial development and financial anxiety