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How to Relate to Others, Conversing beyond Social Classes

I apologize ahead of time if this post comes off the wrong way, but in my experience, this is a legitimate question for those in high functioning careers.  Have you ever had difficulty relating to others?  In a world where the default discussion is what do you do? How do you relate to others and hold a conversation?

Have Friends from All Walks of Life

So let me start out by saying I don’t hold much water to the adage that you should limit your friends to people who are successful.  I make it a point to have friends and associate with people of all walks of life and situations depending on whether we get along.    It is a lot of fun to talk and interact with people, and your station in life does not necessarily define how interesting a conversation will be.

I am also an extrovert, which means I have no concerns walking up to Joe Random and striking up a conversation.  In fact, in many ways, it’s what I need, at least when I’m not immersed in people for work all day long.  But, If I am entirely honest it’s not always easy to relate to and converse with others.

As I noted in the opening the majority of people default to conversations about their careers.    This can present a problem.

It Can Be Hard to Relate to Others Across Jobs

For example, my wife is an Engineer working on high technology niche products.  Even myself who works for her biggest customer in a non-engineering capacity and went to school for computer science at an engineering school cannot follow most of what she does for a living.   These days when she’s not working on her Engineer Consulting Business she does a lot with other stay-at-home moms. 

Specialized and High Income Jobs Tend to be Outside Most Peoples Understanding

Let’s be honest, the odds of those stay-at-home moms understanding what she does for a living, let alone holding a conversation on it, is about 1 in a million.  My own career is a bit more mainstream but even then most people can’t relate.  So the default work conversation really does not work for either of us.  Lest you think I am an outlier or snobbish, sit down a minute and think of how many people can truly understand your profession.  I know if someone were a specialized doctor, lawyer, or engineer and started talking to me about their work my eyes would glaze over.  That’s true of many people in high paying careers.

Hobbies Tend to Be The Default Conversation

So that leaves hobbies or family as topics of default discussion.  Honestly, most people don’t want to sit there and listen to you wax and wane about your family all day long.  As such hobbies really are the go to here.  Now we all have hobbies we can talk about, but honestly even this can be a landmine.

Hobby Land Mines, Conversation Across Social Classes

For example, one of my biggest hobbies is to travel.  I love to travel the world and see new places.  We do so via travel hacking fairly regularly.    The problem is, not everyone you meet can afford to travel.    We have a set of friends who definitely fall under the unbanked category whom we know from high school.  Any conversation we have about travel just ends up feeling like rubbing their noses in it or bragging.    So that conversation has become a no go with them.  The reality is you do need to attune your conversation to your audience if you want to relate to others.  

Tuning the Conversation to Your Audience To Relate

Conversely, I like to smoke meat and play old video games.  My entire setup for either hobby is in reach of almost anyone.    Also, I know these friends all have video game systems.  As such with those of the less well to do situation I often found these are the best topics for a point of connection with others.

A Less Financial Class More Interest Example

Want one more example? I like to write about finances on this blog.  My wife hates to talk about finances.   My wife thus doesn’t need to listen to me pontificate about the latest tax law changes or investment vehicle.    So it’s not something I talk to her about except with what she needs to know about our personal situation.  Hence, I have this blog to talk to an audience about finances. Tune your conversation to your audience for best results.

Taking Up a Hobby to Relate to Others

In fact, some times it might be advantageous to take up a hobby simply to relate to a group of people you interact with regularly.  My father in law was big into the local professional football team when I met him.   To listen to him tell the story of why he started watching football, it was not because he had a major interest in the sport.  He did it to relate to others around the water cooler.  Basically, his coworkers were all into football and thus adding this hobby helped him to make connections.  I have noted others who do this for TV shows or even playing large lottery pools.    Sometimes you need to do things to relate.  

Relating to those in Higher Economic Classes

While I focused on down the social-economic spectrum for most of this post the same caveats go for those with more means than yourself.    The classic example is the person who took up golf to further their career.  While I haven’t taken up golf, I certainly leverage those things that I would consider applicable to those in higher economic classes in conversation as well.   Cars and travel seem to be my best common ground for this scenario, but again it depends on feeling out the other person’s interest.

Listen More than Talk

Whatever you decide to utilize to make that connection and converse with a new individual, there is one more important tip I have learned over the years.  No one enjoys talking to someone who only talks about themselves.   If you truly want to relate to others and get along well you need to remember that listening is more important than talking.    So bringing the topic to one of your hobbies may help you to start the conversation, but remember to ask questions and let the other person lead the conversation somewhat from there.

How do you relate to others outside of your economic or work circle?

10 Comments

  1. Chris
    Chris June 17, 2019

    When I found out / understood the ins and outs of travel hacking I wanted to tell everyone I knew. What I didn’t know is how many people have CC debt they don’t pay off every month and how many people have bad credit that couldn’t really take on the strategy. So I agree what could be a real fun conversation ended up coming coming off entirely different than I expected which is just a bummer.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance June 17, 2019

      I can definitely relate. I’ve had discussions about credit card churning with a number of friends in real life. Some can’t do it because of bad credit. Still others know they lack the fiscal discipline. It’s definitely not for everyone even if it is a powerful tool.

  2. Xrayvsn
    Xrayvsn June 17, 2019

    One of the great things about blogging is you naturally develop interactions with people on the same wavelength regardless of occupation, social status, etc.

    I am also very fortunate that my radiologist partner is on the same page as me and we use each other as sounding boards for whatever thing we are considering. It’s nice to have interaction in the real world versus the virtual world every now and then.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance June 17, 2019

      Speaking of which I’m looking to cross that blogging divide by attending Fincon this year. You going to be there?

  3. Loux
    Loux June 17, 2019

    Wow, this is a good comment. Money really does in some ways define our social class/status… at least how others perceive it. I grew up middle class but for some reason throughout my life I’ve had a lot of friends who grew up poor, in the foster system, etc. Of course it doesn’t affect my view of them but I learned very early on that I had to be mindful of what I talked about. For example, around the friends without reliable parents, it was not super great to talk about the stuff my parents bought me that weekend.

    Also, in a lot of ways, my background kind of springboarded me into success, whereas a lot of my friends still struggle. At 22 I have a degree and a career-track job but many of my friends around my age are still struggling to finish school or haven’t even started yet. I have a license and a car but most of them don’t have a license, let alone a car.

    One of the struggles for me is that because I earn more money, somehow the perception is that I should have a lot of disposable income. But unlike a lot of my friends, I don’t live with my parents/with a significant other/with roommates, I have a car and pay for all my own expenses, etc., so that higher income also somehow comes with a lot higher expenses. 🙂 People don’t understand how expensive it is to live alone and run a vehicle! Add that to the fact I was not extremely financially responsible in the past, and somehow I’m not overflowing in money like they imagine (I mean, I am getting there now, but that doesn’t erase the bad decisions that got me into some credit card debt and whatnot). It also means I’m often driving people around for free because they assume I don’t need gas money or I’m footing the bill when I invite people somewhere. It’s not terrible, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

  4. I find that it’s easiest just to get people talking about what interests them and ask questions as they go. Maybe it’s because I was raised by journalists? But of course asking what people do for a living is a minefield, so you have to think of other questions like, “How do you know the host?” or stuff like that.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance June 17, 2019

      I could see that, kind of in the same vein as to listen first and talk second. Thanks for the insight.

  5. Matt
    Matt June 18, 2019

    In retrospect, I think I got a lot of practice with this talking to my extended family, even from the time I was a kid. We are fairly spread out, and when we get together there are dozens of us (talking about the breadth of a parent’s cousins). While there are clear family traits, and many of us are driven, type-A people, the experience is very broad: farmers, executives, law enforcement and military, educators, artists, volunteers, engineers. Our driven nature both gives us the drive to speak up, and sets the expectation that everyone will: in the crucible of family conversations, we have come to accept a variety of opinions. While they may be vociferously argued in the moment, all is put aside when it’s time to sit down for dinner. Of course, the family connection gave a base for stories/relationships/ice breakers of all kinds–even just attending past family events. As time goes by, I am very grateful for these opportunities, in more and more ways.

    I also appreciate the time I spent at a large state University. While that naturally narrows some avenues of life experience, it was amazing to sit down with people from around the world, all studying different things for different reasons. (first common thread: Trekkies on Saturday evening. This was toward the end of ST:TNG) At the time I was also a rabid comic book collector and role player; that was a pretty accessible hobby, and I met a wide variety of people there, far beyond the college crowd.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance June 20, 2019

      I could see family helping. Similarly, I don’t have much in common with my family except for that they are family. College was actually the point in my history where I had the most in common with my peers.

  6. Xrayvsn
    Xrayvsn June 18, 2019

    I am attending FinCon 19 in DC this year (my first) 🙂 Looking forward to it. Definitely need to cross paths and hang out 🙂

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