How to connect faster with others (Interview with W. Atterberry)

How come some are SO GOOD at connecting quickly with people?

I remember in school when I saw others make friends and meet up after class just a few days into the semester. It always puzzled me how they could connect so fast.

My buddy Andreas Sjöstrand here at SocialPro just had an interesting conversation with Wendy Atterberry of dearwendy.com. (A great relationship advice blog. I recommend you to check it out.)

I just listened to the recording and thought it was so interesting.

Wendy Atterberry touched upon something critical for connecting with anyone:

The reciprocity principle and the importance of opening up.

Here’s how she explained it:

“Here’s the key to gaining trust with someone: You want to match them in terms of revealing personal information or come close within the level.

If someone is revealing they used to be married, that’s a cue to share something personal about yourself. “I wasn’t married before, but I was engaged, and my engagement ended.”

Those are topics that are a little personal.

And you want to reveal it, especially if the other person has revealed that kind of personal information.

You should never feel you need to reveal super personal information if it feels uncomfortable, but if someone is revealing their personal information, that’s your invitation.

Think about what feels comfortable enough to reveal, and that’s how you get to know people.

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That’s how you find common ground, and that’s how you build trust and intimacy.”

I can’t overstate how important this is for connecting with someone.

Sometimes I come across people and I feel like I don’t know ANYTHING about that person. They are like a walking black box and they never turn into friends.

If I’ve opened up to them but they don’t open up to me, I even feel uncomfortable.

This “balance” between two people who feel that they both get to know each other is called “reciprocity”.

I try to balance like this whenever I get to know someone.

As Wendy mentioned, don’t force similarities. And DEFINITELY don’t cut off someone talking about their thing so that you can start talking about yourself.

Instead, share something after you’ve asked a few sincere questions about what they just shared.

I’m excited to hear what you think in the comments at the bottom.

Here’s the full interview with Wendy Atterberry:

When we made the interview, the connection was a bit shaky, so here’s the transcribed interview (Shortened for readability)

You spent your childhood in many different places around the world. How do you think growing up in such vastly different cultures has influenced you and the way you think about relationships and relating to people?

I really had to learn how to make new friends and start over and blend into a new group of friends almost every year.

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It was made important by our parents to represent the American culture and our country and also to respect the culture of the country that we were in.

So I grew up with that respect of other cultures and learning pretty strong social skills, so I could constantly make new friends and also maintain bonds with the friends I had.

Do you think that growing up like that was the key that made you interested in pursuing more and more knowledge about relationships, and eventually turning it into to your business?

I think growing up the way I did helped foster my interest in human actions and relationships. But there were lots of factors in my interest in human relationships.

To be honest, I love just going to bars talking and listening to people!

I did that a lot in my twenties, and that’s when I thought “how can I take the kinds of conversations that I’m having here about relationships and the challenges people are facing and make money out of this”, because I felt and people told me a lot that I gave so good advice.

So I started experimenting with that, and that was shortly before blogs kind of blew up on the Internet. I’m almost 42 years old now, so when I was in my twenties that was just kind of beginning, and so I got in on that early rush of blogs.

I started a personal blog and I built a community around that, and a few years later I moved to New York and I got a job writing for a women’s website.

I started a relationship advice column on that site and that did really well, it gained a pretty big following.

After a couple of years, I wanted to go back to doing it on my own site – working for myself and not having a boss – so that’s when I made the jump and started Dearwendy.com

You made it almost into a hobby of yours to sit in bars listening and talking to people, is that something that came easy for you or was it a bit of a hurdle to start talking to new people like that?

No, talking to people is not that hard for me, probably because of my background, when I grew up I was always meeting new people and practicing that all the time.

Also, I’m really interested in other people, I’m interested in hearing people’s stories and hearing about their relationships.

I’m particularly interested in what challenges people are facing and how I might be able to use my insight and my personal experiences and wisdom to help them come to a conclusion or to help them see the problem from a different angle.

Especially if I’m talking about relationships with people I like to try to play devil’s advocate and say “well this may be how the other person might be feeling or seeing the situation”.

I think sometimes it helps to have an outsider who’s not familiar with you to advise you and share some insight. I’m happy to do that and it comes naturally to me.

I think that we all have specific gifts, and I think that’s one of mine and I like that I’m able to use that to help people.

Would you have any advice from your experience how to manage situations in social settings? I guess you have been thinking about how communication between people works, even though it has never been a big issue of yours.

Well, of course it depends on specific examples, but I think in general, when you’re feeling stuck in a social situation – whether it’s at a party where you’re meeting strangers or whether it’s maybe on a vacation with your family or with your friends – I think the general rule of thumb socially is to talk less, listen more and to ask questions about people.

So if you’re at a party and meeting new people and you’re feeling shy, or you don’t know what to say, I think asking other people questions about themselves is the best thing that you can do.

It takes the pressure off you because you don’t have to be the one talking, and most people enjoy talking about themselves. And then you can learn about the potential common ground that you have, and you can also think about the next questions that you can ask.

Or you can think about how you can respond in a way that illustrates the common ground that you share.

Same thing when you are with people that you know very well, and maybe you’re having some kind of argument, or there’s an awkward moment, I think turning things so that you are asking the other person how he or she is feeling and what he or she needs is a great way to move forward.

For example; “What do you need right now?” “I can see that you’re upset, what are you upset about?” “What can I do to help you?”

Those are questions that help move things forward and take some of the responsibility off you because now the responsibility is on is on the other person to answer. So those are my general tips for feeling stuck in social situations.

I think another key to gaining trust is that you want to match them in terms of revealing personal information.

If someone is revealing that they used to be married before, that’s your invitation to share something personal about yourself, like for example “oh I wasn’t married before, but I was engaged, and my engagement ended”.

You should never feel that you need to reveal super personal information if it feels uncomfortable, but if someone is revealing their personal information that’s your invitation.

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Think about what feels comfortable enough to reveal, and that’s how you get to know people. That’s how you find common ground, and that’s how you build trust and intimacy.

Many of our readers have the tendency oftentimes to dislike small talk. How do you get past boring small talk and build a connection with people?

I don’t think anyone really does like small talk, it’s draining and boring! I think a way around that is to ask questions that are genuinely interesting to you, questions about the other person that you really want to know the answer to – whether it’s about them personally or whether it’s about their opinions about topics that interest you.

You don’t want to push things too much and make things uncomfortable by asking super personal questions, but you can take baby steps. For example, you can ask things like: “Are you in a relationship right now?”, “Do you have children?”

These are still kind of small talk questions, but you can drive them in the direction that is more interesting to you.

And I think that you also can reveal interesting information or talking about topics that you’re passionate about or interested in.

If you don’t want to take any risk of offending anyone or making yourself or anyone else uncomfortable in public, you are going to have to engage in a lot of small talk. That’s the trade off, so you just have to decide what’s more important to you.

Most things that move you forward in life require you to step outside your comfort zone and to take some risks, and that goes for engaging in conversations too. Meaningful talk might require a little bit of risk taking.

We’ve been talking mostly about the initial steps of meeting new people, now I am curious about your thoughts on building lasting friendships?

I think that not every friendship is meant to be in our lives forever and we do a disservice to a friendship when we put that kind of pressure on it.

It’s okay for someone to just be in our lives for a few years or even a few months. It doesn’t negate the importance of that friendship or the meaning that that friendship had while it was part of our lives.

Then there are other friendships that are meant to be in our lives for a longer period – friends who we’re meant to know and interact with for a long time.

I think the key to maintaining those kinds of friendships is obviously to keep putting effort into it, because our lifestyles and our life situations are always changing and the common bonds that we may have shared with a particular friend may not be so common anymore.

Maybe we met some in college when we were both young and single and without children and then over the course of years, that situation changes.

One of us get married and have kids while the other one might not…

A lot of my friends from college don’t have kids while I have two small kids now.

I’ve also moved a couple of times, and now I live in New York and I still have many friends who live in the Midwest.

The way that I am able to maintain those friendships is making an effort first and foremost to go visit them, and also to respect where they are in their lives.

I think it’s important not to be self-important, not to feel like you’re not friends anymore because your situation and your lifestyle is different.

I don’t think parents are any more important than non parents, for example, and I also try to respect the challenges that my friends are going through and to listen to them and to not make it all about me all the time.

As we all get older and have more responsibilities, we have less and less time to devote to our friends, so I think another key in maintaining very long term relationships and friendships is to only hold on to the ones that are most important to you.

It’s better to have quality friendships over quantity.

Do you have any gut feeling on what’s the most common topic discussed in your community? Is there something in particular that the people in your community struggle with?

Well there are so many topics, but I would say 80 to 85% of my readers are women, and a lot of women find my site through asking questions on Google that bring them to my site.

A lot of those questions tend to be along the lines of “how do I date”, or “how do I find someone who will commit to me”.

One common theme is dating someone who isn’t ready for commitment when you are. So “how can you get the other person to commit” – that’s a common struggle.

Another topic is dealing with dating through apps like Tinder. People kind of struggle with the etiquette and the culture around that, and they’re really eager to connect with other people who are sharing the same struggles and can advise them and just sort of sharing the experience.

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I also share a lot of my experiences as a parent, so there is a sort of a micro-community within the Dear Wendy community of parents who share similar concerns and struggles, so that would be another common theme on my blog.

When I come to sites like yours, and I see that “okay I’m not the only one struggling with this”, that’s really powerful and comforting.

Yes, I think that’s a really powerful feeling, that you’re not alone.

Actually, a lot of times it’s easier for people to share their struggles with strangers online than with people who know them best in real life.

Sometimes they feel like they can be a little more revealing and that creates another level of intimacy online versus in real life.

I don’t think one is necessarily better over the other, but I think they’re both important and they both have benefits.

What have been your biggest struggles when it comes to relationships?

Both with friends and in my marriage the main struggle is the same, and that’s finding the time and energy to invest in the relationships.

It’s getting a little bit easier because my kids are getting older, but you know when I was really in the thick of parenting babies and young toddlers I had little energy and so little time. I am finding I have a little bit more of both of those, but I still struggle with it.

With my husband, the key has been scheduling time for just the two of us. Getting a babysitter, going out and having time where we are away from our kids so that we can reconnect. That’s the way we deal with that struggle.

And with my friendships, I just had to have fewer friends, you know – smaller quantity and more quality. I just find the energy to maintain the friendships that are most important to me.

My husband’s grandmother gave him a piece of advice before she died, she said that one of the keys to staying youthful is to make two new friends every year.

I thought that was so powerful and I try to do that myself, even despite my restraints and my limitations on time and energy.

And I have found that it does keep me youthful and enrich my life!

So how do find those two friends in your life every year? Does that come naturally from the community you live in or from the contacts where you work?

I happen to live in a community that’s really friendly and tight-knit here in Brooklyn. There are a lot of families with kids similar in age, so I meet a lot of people through my kids, through the families at school, through the activities they’re involved in. And then I also meet new friends through friends that I already have.

When I first moved to New York, I did not have children, I was just active with different hobbies and interests and made friends that way.

There were a good amount of people who read my blog who lived in New York who reached out to me when I moved to New York and said “I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of years, I would love to meet you for coffee” and so that’s how I made my first group of friends when I moved to New York!

What’s your top three advice you would give to someone who wants to get better at connecting with people?

I think I would go back to some of the things I said earlier. Asking questions about people, and being willing to reveal some personal information about yourself.

I think having a good memory also helps connecting with people. People are always really impressed when you remember details that they’ve shared with you, whether it’s when their birthday is, what their last name is, what their partner’s name is, or where they grew up.

If you can remember one or two details about someone and repeat those details the next time you meet, it really impresses them and it shows them that you are listening to them.

It’s amazing how well that particular skill works in helping to build relationships.

If you were talking to the SocialPro readers, what value would they be able to get from following your site?

First of all, anyone who enjoys reading advice columns would enjoy my site!

And anyone who has their own questions about relationship struggles in their own lives should come to my site or send me a question and maybe I’ll answer it.

You can also come to my forums and post a question there. The community at Dear Wendy is really emotionally intelligent and willing and eager to help.

I think people should come check it out!

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David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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