Stop Being Afraid

Man, that dude is weird.

I met a verbal exhibitionist the other day. He told me more about himself than I ever cared to know in the first five minutes of our conversation. I contributed one question and forty-six head nods in that span. By minute three I was rolling my internal eyes and looking for a way out of hearing any more about his promiscuous past.

Why was he sharing this with me? What gave him the right to start conversations I didn’t want to have? How do I make my phone ring?

And then it happened. He shifted to the story that changed the whole conversation. He began to tell me about the loss of his sister a few years ago. The man with no filter continued to tell his story, and suddenly I began to care more about his words and less about finding a way to telepathically summon a friend to call me.

To some, his story of loss and heartbreak would have been a continuation of the first five minutes of uninteresting monologue. Those people never lost a sibling.

The annoying stranger in front of me joined MY club in the time it takes to complete one sentence. We were no longer different.

Each day we put on the face we need to tackle work projects and meet with co-workers, clients, and employees. These people see us every day and know us very little. It’s how life goes. We need to look certain ways in certain places, and we act accordingly.

I don’t believe that’s bad. Or unhealthy. Or fake. It’s relational preservation in the environments we depend on for our work to function. If everyone sat around talking about personal things all day nothing would ever get done.

But, what I learned from my friend that day changed the way I view “casual conversation.” It reminded me, the introvert, to search for connection rather than operate from my perceived differences.

My initial reaction to him was more about how clueless he was than it was a curiousness about the human who may have a story. I let the history of those who took my time with boring and self-centered stories steal a chance to find a friend who lived a shared story very few understand. I let my struggle stay quiet thinking I shouldn’t put that weight on anyone else. I let my defense overshadow my desire for connection.

To be fair, I heard “defense wins championships” while playing sports as a youngster. Thankfully, he pushed past the awkward, man-to-man introduction and searched for connection. It’s clear I won’t be winning any championships soon.

I found out later he was a master sales guru and built a career in cold calls. He used those same skills to connect face to face, and he learned to read his audience. He was trained to ignore the fear.

We will all be better in life and business when we push past our differences and actively search for connection.

We’ll almost always find the dude is not that weird at all.