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?