It’s true. I mean, they might admire it, or find it useful in certain circumstances. Kind of like you admire someone’s pretty eyes or someone’s ability to dunk a basketball. But when it comes to actually connecting with people, how smart you are isn’t what they’re looking for. They want to know how much you care. About them.
Lemme give you an example. Back in 2002, I was in New York City for my sister’s bridal shower/bachelorette weekend. We had an amazing time shopping, going to great restaurants, and seeing plays. On our last night there, we went to see “The Full Monty” on Broadway. It was fantastic, but the main memory of that night was the guy who was sitting in front of us.
Whenever I go to New York City I make sure to wear my celebrity goggles. You know, the ones that make you scan every face you see and determine whether or not they’re someone famous? (That same weekend I thought I saw Paul Reiser and Jackie Mason until my mother pointed out that every other guy in New York looks like Paul Reiser or Jackie Mason.) Sitting in front of us for this showing of The Full Monty was a very distinguished-looking older gentleman. He had a fabulous head of white hair, and wore a smart navy-blue blazer.
I nudged my sister sitting next to me: “Who is that guy?”
She checked him out while trying to play it cool. “He does look like somebody, but I don’t think so.”
“Newscaster?” I asked. “CNN?”
It bugged me the whole first act of the show. This is a thing I do a lot. I pride myself on having a good memory for faces, and am always diving on to the IMDB to see “what else that guy was in” when I’m watching a TV show. Finally, at intermission (after walking to the front of the theater and then walking back so I could get a full-on look at his face) I realized who he was. It was Nick Clooney. (George’s dad, Rosemary’s brother, and a respected journalist/TV host in his own right) At the end of the show I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself.
Here’s why I’m telling you this story: I will tell anyone who asks (and many who don’t) that Nick Clooney is a wonderful person. I will tell you how charming and smart and gracious he is. You know why? Because after I tapped him on the shoulder and told him I was a fan of his newspaper column, he then proceeded to chat me and my family up, asking us all sorts of questions about ourselves and what we were doing in town. We were absolutely giddy from the attention. He displayed an interest and a caring attitude in our group and our story.
Now, the reality is this: I don’t know Nick Clooney. He may be difficult. He may be stubborn. He may be mean or he may be a grouch. I have no idea. But because he displayed such warmth and such an interest in our group I feel like he’s a friend. (Our family joked for the remainder of the week that we were going to The Clooneys’ house for Christmas.)
Would we have had the same impression if he’d started showing off how clever he was? Of course not. We’d probably have been somewhat amused and then perhaps a bit put-off by seeming desperation. But the man has lived with fame for most of his life and he’s a journalist so he probably is interested in peoples’ stories. He knows how to roll with strangers tapping him on the shoulder and he knows how to give the people what they want. He was so good at it we didn’t even see him doing it. It wasn’t until much later that I looked back on it and realized all he did was ask us about ourselves.
I’ve recently come to accept that my number one criteria for friendship is that I like people who like me. I wrestled with this for a while, thinking it seemed overly-simplistic or needy. I should choose friends who are smart, or talented, or highly-skilled or something, right? (Frankly, I don’t know why I wrestled with this. I over-think stuff.)
Think about the people you gravitate to in your life: Do you like them because they’re smart, or did that come later? Are there people whom you know who are smart but you aren’t particularly close to them? Why or why not?
Now flip this around: when you meet someone new, do you feel compelled to talk about yourself? Do you work to be clever, or wait for them to stop talking so you can say something else? Do you ask them about themselves, expressing a genuine interest in their story and what’s going on in their lives? How about the people you already know? Do you ask how they’re doing? Or is it all about you?
I’m quite sure I need to work on being better at this. I may not be the most limber chick on the block but as an introvert my head can climb up my own ass pretty easily. I think it’s time to channel my inner Clooney and reach out more to my friends.
Charm offensive activates in 3 … 2 … 1 …
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