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How to connect in an isolated world

Posted in the following categories: Life Lessons, Problem Solving

I’ve got a secret that I’ve kept for most of my life.

To understand it, let’s travel back to 2012.

At the time, I was a baby law professor attending a conference where I was supposed to network with other professors. Networking is as important in academia as in any other field: That’s how you meet mentors and collaborators.

But here’s the problem: I hated networking. This modern shoulder-rubbing ritual seemed more like a medieval torture technique to me. Small talk chatter filled with cliches and overworn sound bites has the same effect on my ears as nails down a chalk board.

During the conference, I would periodically run up to my hotel room to recharge in solitude and read sections from a book I had picked up at the airport. The book was called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

As I read sections from the book, I remember thinking. Oh my God, am I an introvert? I was. And I still am (despite the fact that I spend most of my life giving talks to large audiences).

The book made me realize I wasn’t missing some “socialization” chip that came pre-installed in other humans. It was acceptable—even valuable—to prefer listening to speaking, and deep conversations to small talk.

But here was the problem: Although I complained about it, I was complicit in creating small talk. I wasn’t making an effort to engage people on a deeper level by prodding them to move beyond the weather into meaningful territory.

A few months ago, my wife Kathy and I decided to do something about the problem (with help from Baya Voce). We hosted a dinner at our home that we called “You’re better than small talk.” We invited six fascinating individuals from different backgrounds who didn’t know each other. Some people we had met before, others we emailed cold. We created a set of rules to guide the conversation and drafted a list of carefully curated questions to skip small talk and immediately dive into deep conversation.

Here’s one example of a question we asked: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to your 19, 25, or 30 year old self? Pick the age you prefer.

It was a beautiful experience—one that exceeded our expectations. People exposed their vulnerability. They shared their failures and mistakes. They revealed the most important pieces of wisdom they had gathered in their lifetimes.

We are all starving for deep conversations. It turns out that if you’re purposeful about creating the right setting and asking the right questions, deep conversation and deep connection follows.

“You’re better than small talk” gatherings can be held virtually. In a time of social distancing, this is a great way to create and maintain deep connections from your home.

To that end, I’ve created a special “you’re better than small talk” bonus for anyone who purchases 2+ copies of Think Like a Rocket Scientist (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound).

If you order two books by next Thursday, April 2nd, you’ll get:

  • A playbook with everything you need to host your own “you’re better than small talk” gathering. I’ll share with you the emails we send to invite people, the instructions we use, and the full list of questions we carefully drafted to prompt deep conversation.
  • An invitation to a virtual “you’re better than small talk” gathering that I will host within the next two weeks—so you can see for yourself how this works.

If you already purchased 2+ copies of the book and you’re interested in getting this bonus, please forward your receipt to [email protected] and mention “No small talk” in the email.

If you purchased only 1 copy (or none), you can grab another one (or two) by heading to one of these links (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound) and forwarding your receipt to [email protected]. To get the bonus, mention “No small talk” in your email.

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