What You Can Learn About Human Connection From (Kinda Trashy) Reality TV
I’m going to admit something that not many people know about me.
I’m an occasional watcher (and casual fan) of Bachelor in Paradise.
I know, I know…..it’s cheesy, and fake, and kind of trashy.
And I do get embarrassed on behalf of many of the people (who probably don’t even feel embarrassed themselves).
Here’s the draw for me: It’s fascinating to watch how these people approach building new relationships. In such a short amount of time, they need to navigate 1) different levels of self-awareness; 2) differences in communication and conflict resolution styles; and 3) varying experience in previous relationships that inform their approach to forming new bonds.
Even without the copious amounts of alcohol and meddling from producers, forming meaningful new relationships is hard!
And once you start seeing the why of how the participants do what they do — the trip and boost wires of interpersonal dynamics — you’re hooked. You spot them everywhere, and they form opportunities for teachable moments.
For example, in a recent episode, a woman was torn between her feelings for two different men. She was trying to have a real conversation with one of the men about her life goals and what she was looking for in a partner. She was being open, mature, and honest (which is not always the case with this show). I was rooting for her (also not always the case with this show).
The man didn’t respond well. He was so hung up on the fact that she had questions about their connection that he couldn’t even hear the substance of what she was saying. It was painful to watch (although the fact that I was shouting at the TV means that it made for compelling television). They were having two very different conversations, operating on totally different wavelengths, with each person growing more and more upset and frustrated as the conversation went on.
This happens all the time in real life. It happens with romantic partners, with family members and friends, and certainly with colleagues. We end up having the wrong conversations, because we can’t listen beyond our emotional reactions to hear what the other person is REALLY saying, or what they need from the conversation.
Connecting with people, forming real bonds, is a skill (there’s a reason they call it “interpersonal skills”). And as with any tough skill, practice is so important. Thankfully, there are all kinds of ways to practice your interpersonal and relational skills and get better at both the speaking and listening aspects of communication.
The good news is that practicing communication and connection with people is easy: you just have to spend time with them…. with a small twist! As you are spending time with them, put on your observation and reflection goggles and notice little things like:
- Who prefers small talk, versus diving into deeper conversations? Which do you prefer?
- Do some people ask more questions than others? Does anyone drop hints that they want to be asked a specific question?
- Are some people better at listening than others?
- Who uses more emotional language, and who sticks to more objective language?
- Are some people looking for agreement and validation more than others?
Each of these is a tiny clue as to the wavelengths people are operating on, and whether your wavelength rhymes or clashes with theirs.
So whether you are out to dinner with friends, chatting about the weekend to colleagues, or having a family game night, pay attention to how you and the people around you communicate, and see if you can practice responding to their clues to have a better interaction.
If you’re curious to learn how to be more deliberate in practicing these skills, check out how we at Barometer XP use games for this very purpose!