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Engaging Behavior: In search of a more genuine connection

posted by Dora

A couple of weeks ago, a friend pseudo-accused me of flirting with him. He was partly right. And yet, when I got home and thought about it more, I realized that my viewpoint on flirting has changed drastically

Let me state that I am not a flirtatious person. I tend to be introverted and quiet around those I’m new to, especially when I’m physically attracted to said new person. And flirting has always felt alien. A college buddy once defined flirting as saying something you mean, in an opposing tone; and vice versa. Then again, he was also the one who offered to send us Valentine’s Day cards on February 15th, and stated that the inconvenience of breaking up with a girlfriend before winter break was outweighed by not having to buy her a Christmas present.

Anyway. Flirting has always felt strange and restrictive, like an obtrusively colored second skin that restricted me socially. My experience with flirting is that it seems a very shallow and silly way of interacting, based on sexual tension. And while I don’t want to downplay the excitement of sexual tension, I was hungry for a way to engage others on a more human basis.

So, it was with delight that I read Atul Gawande’s essay, “How to be a positive deviant,” which outlines his plan for how people (specifically physicians, but the essay is pretty broad) can find meaning and substance in what can sometimes feel like a mundane existence. His first suggestion, which he takes from a Paul Auster essay, is to “Ask an unscripted question.” Gawande writes that expanding his interaction level with others helps him not only be a better physician, but also to develop relationships with his coworkers and support staff. In my case, it’s more a question of talking with someone I would normally slide by, and really listening to their answers.

But it was only after reading Gawande’s essay that I’ve decided to branch out and make myself more accessible to people I’ve tended to be … brusque? curtailed? ahh, minimalist! … toward: non-friends from work, families of patients, strangers, etc.

So far, my experiences have been enlightening, engaging and genuine. I’ve talked with an El Salvadorean woman at a bus stop about the ridiculous state of Los Angeles metro transportation, several great men and women at the Mid-Singles’ conference in San Francisco, familiar faces around the Los Angeles WCS and lindy community, and many families at hospital I work at.

How do you engage the people that populate your world? Does it come naturally, or is it something you work at? If it comes easily, do you have any tips to share? If you have to work at forming connections, how have your experiences changed you? Share your positive experiences.


Dora is a pediatric critical care nurse. Therapy to alleviate the stress in her professional life include traveling around the world, reading, partner dancing and hosting dinner parties.

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No Responses

  1. MoJo says:

    I have a bit of a different problem but no less discomfiting.

    People are drawn to me for reasons I don’t understand. They talk to me. I don’t want them to.

    I live in my head and if I’m deep in thought, I don’t want to be bothered, but I do because I feel I need to respond to them. They don’t know I’m in my head; they don’t know they’re bothering me.

    Maybe they’re lonely. Maybe I’m their only friendly conversation that day. Maybe they just need to talk to strangers; I don’t know, but I don’t want to take the chance that I’m the person that kills their day.

    Just because I don’t need that kind of connection doesn’t mean they don’t.

  2. MJK says:

    This is interesting because I (still) work customer service even though I could be doing something else because 1)I’m actually really good at it, and I take it as a game to be nice to people even when they don’t seem to deserve it and 2) I really like people, (most days, haha.)

    I have realized that while on the phone with customers, I do a fair amount of what would be termed flirting, as described by you above. I laugh at their jokes, I ask about themselves, I make witty comments to connect with them and share choice bits about my own life that are relavent to the conversation.

    And since it’s in a job-related context and I’ll never meet these people in person, no one is offended by my flirting and very few take it as more than it is intended. (Woe to those few deluded customers.)

  3. AnaCA says:

    Having a baby or young child (or, I’ve heard, a dog) with you makes it easy. Today I talked quite a long time with an older woman in the checkout line at the store. I told her I have four children – thus my choice to bargain hunt for groceries at the dollar store. She told me she wished she’d had more children when she was young (she had 2). I thought that was a pretty personal thing to share in the checkout line … but heartfelt, not inappropriate.

  4. Caroline says:

    Dora,thanks for sharing this. I too would love to make more genuine connections with people I don’t know well. I’m pretty bad at it and tend to stick with my friends I’m already intimate with. I would love to be that warm, open person people love to talk to, but it usually doesn’t happen. Your post is a great reminder to be conscious of this and work on it.

    You mention flirting… that was interesting since that’s one of the things that holds me back. As a married person, I don’t want any interaction with the opposite sex to come accross that way. But I still want to be nice. It can be hard to find the right level of friendliness.

  5. gladtobeamom says:

    I would like to know how to make connections because it is very difficult for me. For many years I was shy and unsure of myself. I have for the most part gotten over that. I know who I am and I am not to worried about how others view me anymore. For the most part I like or can get along with most people. I did have a stint with people pleasing but I have overcome that. Still I don’t connect with others. I watch as people around me just connect. I just come and go. I can talk to people etc no problem but people are just not drawn to me. I have always wondered why. I have thought it would be helpful if someone told me why or maybe they don’t know either.

  6. G says:

    oh dora… thanks for posting this.
    I have an extraordinarily difficult time forming anything more than a cursory, surface relationship with people. Making real connections is something that rarely happens.
    strangly, blogging has helped. via emails and chats etc… I have made some strong relationships that may have been more difficult for me in a face to face situation.
    I do hope to transition this to real world experience as well. I think it has broken down enough barriors that I can.

  7. Angie says:

    I crave human connection – it is the source of my greatest happiness. Some people love animals, some love nature, I love people. I’m sure that’s why I became a counselor. And the larger the group of people, the more energy I feel from the interaction.

    I’ve actually been thinking a lot about “connection” lately, specifically at church. That’s the one place I have trouble feeling true connection to people. My thoughts have centered on the topic of “unity.” I don’t have it all figured out, but I really drank in President Eyring’s recent Ensign article on unity. I agree with him that thinking and speaking well of each other, and then acting out those positive thoughts and feelings are the foundation of unity.

    Something that I think stands in the way of connection is insecurity. We/I can be afraid of whether we/I will be accepted or loved. What if I open myself to a connection with another person, and he/she rejects me? That is a painful scenario that can discourage us from trying to connect with others.

  8. Dora says:

    Thank you everyone for the comments.

    MoJo: sounds like you are one of those people who are just magnetic. Thanks for being gentle with the masses.

    AnaCa: I think it’s definitely easier to make connections with people who have a prop. Baby, dog, political sign, engagement ring … anything that signals a big event in their life. In regards to your grocery line conversation, I wonder how much your lady generally edits. I tend to be a huge mental editor when it comes to conversations with strangers, and wonder what prompts people to give indepth personal details at a first, casual meeting.

    Caroline: funnily enough, I met a guy who is in your ward, who had no idea who you were. His reasoning is that he has a filter for married women! When it comes to engaging new people, I think it tends to come down to patience …

    gladtobeamom: Sounds like you and I have been in the same place: shy and a little insecure. I’m glad that we’re both out of that place. However, I think that engaging other people is helpful when we project an attitude of acceptance and interest, and exercise a lot of patience. When feeling insecure, it’s so easy to imagine others rejecting and being bored by us. However, it’s so much more easy to approach, or be approached by, someone who looks like they are genuinely interested in meeting and getting to know us.

    G: You bring up a very valid point. It can be much more easy to meet people on-line than in real life. In person, sometimes I have trouble getting past my edit button, or stringing the words together in a cohesive fashion. Typing can sometimes be much easier than talking. And yet, being so much on-line was one of the things that prompted me to want to make more real-life connections. Being on-line was an okay substitute for a while, but nothing could really compensate for real-life interactions.

    Angie: I understand completely how hard it can be to connect with other ward members. Although I have a few good friends who I attend church with, I actually feel very alienated from my ward. It could be for any number of reasons … I’m single in a family ward, I’ve been going through my own spiritual struggles for the last ten years, we’re all wrapped up in our own little lives, etc etc. And while I can’t say that I’ve been actively trying to get to know the more established families in my ward, I can say I’ve gone out of my way to make new members in my ward feel welcomed and accepted. Maybe the rest can be a project for the new year.

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