To be closer to people, you'll need to become a good listener. To listen well, the main requirement is to be sincerely interested in the other person. So the question is, "How can you become sincerely interested in someone?" As strange as that might sound, it's not that hard.
Put yourself in the other's place. Imagine you were her. What would it be like to be her? What would you feel? What might you be thinking? Do this first, and questions start coming easily.
Normally, I wouldn't care about the plants in someone's yard. But I was talking to a man yesterday who told me he had taken three truck loads of organic matter out of his back yard. He said he needed to do that before he could start planning how to plant his yard. He just bought his house a little while ago.
I imagined what that would be like. "That must be fun to have created a kind of blank canvas. Do you know what you're going to plant? Do you have it all planned out?" As I imagined what it was like for him, I found I was more interested, more curious — sincerely — than I thought.
The way to connect, to cultivate closeness, is to be curious about the person — open and curious and interested. People open up when you like them and are interested in finding out about them. And the way to be curious is to imagine what that person may be feeling. Keep in mind your purpose for talking.
Be interested, curious, and pay special attention to feelings. When someone utters an expression of feelings, do not bypass it. Give it attention. An expression of feelings is the ore you are mining for. Explore those feelings the same way. What did he feel? Why did he feel that way?
Imagine what it's like to be the person. When he tells you about something that happened to him, imagine it happened to you. How would you feel? And then express that. "That must have hurt your feelings." Or, "I think I would have been very relieved." Don't tell him what he felt, but open it up, invite him to talk about it. This is another way to bring out feelings and pay special attention to them. Make it clear you want to hear him talk.
CONVERSATION ABOUT ATTENTION
"Okay, cultivate affection," Jim said, "and how do you do that? I mean, what do you do to cultivate affection?"
"I love that question," said Ellen, "and the answer is: Give people your attention."
"All right," Jim said, not looking at all satisfied, "give them my attention. Then what?"
"You really wouldn't have to go much further than that," said Ellen. "If you gave people your attention, you'd have about eighty percent of it. But I don't mean looking like you're giving your attention. I mean actually paying attention to the person you're talking with. Your attention is your most valuable possession and it is a great gift to give to someone."
Jim still didn't look satisfied. "That doesn't sound very concrete. It's not much of an action."
"Okay, okay. More concrete." Ellen thinks for a minute, then says, "Here's what to do: When you see someone, notice them and say hello. If you have a chance to exchange a few words, express an interest in them — not merely appearing to be interested, but think of something you'd really like to know about them that they would enjoy telling you about and really listen, without looking at your watch or looking anywhere but at the person, and without being distracted by other things you need to do."
"So it isn't so simple."
"It really is simple. All you're doing is making it easy to give your attention to someone. If you ask them about their bunions and you care nothing about bunions, it is difficult to pay attention to them while they're talking."
"Yeah, too boring."
"Exactly. So the question to ask yourself is, 'What interests me about this person?'"
Jim is only looking at what's wrong here, and not using his imagination at all, so he says, "What if I don't know the person very well? How would I know what would interest me about them?"
Ellen looked genuinely pleased by the question. "Then you'd need to find out, right? So you're already off and running. You have an interest right away — you want to find out what is interesting to you about this person. Your curiosity pulls your attention. Curiosity and interest naturally and effortlessly capture your attention."
"Let me get this straight," said Jim. "If I want to cultivate affection with you, for example, I need to give you my attention."
"All right, I've got that. And then to give you my attention, I have to find out what I think is interesting about you."
"Well, no. You don't have to be interested. That's just the easiest way. You can force yourself to pay attention to something you're not interested in, but it isn't much fun and it takes a lot of effort."
"So that's the easy way," Jim repeats. "Okay, so I simply try to discover what is interesting about you. What if there isn't anything?"
"Then you keep seeking. That itself is curiosity. So keep looking. I haven't yet found anyone without several interesting thoughts and points of view or experiences or knowledge or dreams or whatever. People are interesting, but sometimes you have to dig. They don't put it right out there. A lot of people are interested in stuff they don't think others would be interested in, so they keep it to themselves. But when they find someone who draws it out of them, they'll pour their heart out and feel privileged to have found someone who gave their attention. And what do you know? You've cultivated some affection."
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.