Conversational risk

It was freezing out today. Which was pretty unusual, because it’s been really hot out lately in the middle of December. We thought it might be global warming before but now it’s so cold. But at least it’s not raining.

Sound mundane? I hope so. But it’s very real. So many conversations walk a well-trodden path: the exchange of biographic details, the search for points of commonality, exhaustion of those points, the discussion of mutual acquaintances, further exhaustion, and the soft fizzle-out on an inane topic like the weather.

Now, think fast – pick a first meeting that left a lasting impression.  What was different?

You dug deeper. You jumped around and landed on a topic that you both actually care about. You weren’t too politically correct, and didn’t act like everything you said was being recorded. By the time you walked away, you felt like you learned something new, ended up closer to each other, and laid the foundation for a continuing friendship.

Backtrack. What led you into that memorable conversation?

One of you let your guard down, made yourself vulnerable. Asked a question that might have been offensive or gotten you laughed at. Offered up a personal detail that was a little ‘unsafe’. Someone took a conversational risk.

I bet every one of your closest friendships has started with just that kind of uncertain moment. One of you volunteered to take the dive. And then magic happened.

You found the joke funny, or connected with a shared childhood experience. Or maybe you had the same opinions on those highly personal no-no topics. Politics, sex, drugs, religion, the military, your boss, relationships, education, race. It was polarizing and you ended up on the same pole, or you had a heated debate but liked each others’ style.

I’ve found some of the best conversations evolve around important decision points in our lives. Pick a tough one: leaving a job, ending a relationship, choosing a school, starting a company. Always ask ‘why.’  When you dig into how someone makes decisions, and the lessons they carry from past mistakes, you learn what really makes them tick.

But don’t get me wrong, it’s always a jump. Like hopping on the top of a seesaw and hoping this person you don’t know will get on too before you hit the ground. I’ve hit the ground a lot, but I keep jumping.

Why? I think real new friends are worth the risks. You put your social capital on the line, and nine times out of ten, you’ll fail miserably. You have to get comfortable knowing that most aren’t going to like you or agree with you. You remind yourself that the nine don’t last, but the one does. I’d take that bet any day.

So next time you find yourself with someone new, remember that you’re starting at a point on a terrain like this, but you can’t see the peaks and valleys.  All you can do is jump. The possibility of an abyss is worth it, because the upside is a summit that you’ll both carry with you forever.

If we just met, don’t be off-put by my pointed questions and deviations from comfortable topics. I’m betting we’ll find a mountain worth climbing.