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Don't Ask/Don't Tell: 7-Steps to Creating Genuine Relationships

September 19th, 2015 7:25am

Don't Ask/Don't Tell: 7-Steps to Creating Genuine Relationships

An audience member recently asked Malcolm Gladwell, the prolific author of books as Blink and The Tipping Point, if he had any ideas for a kinder and gentler society. His idea seemed to stun everyone. He proposed a “don't ask/don't tell” for all. Most will reflexively assume that this applies to asking and telling of one’s sexual orientation. But not so quick. Mr. Gladwell was not talking about that at all. Rather, he suggested that one should not ask what college you attended and should not tell what college they attended. Why? He feels that people will choose schools less for prestige and “bragging rights” and more for the best fit.

               You see, though, Mr. Gladwell may be onto something very big. His “don’t ask/don’t tell” college attendance policy may stop some adults from reminiscing at cocktail parties about their glory days at Yale, but as far as bettering society, I doubt it will have a great effect.

               However, what if we applied a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy to all human interaction? Many times, conversations end up as little boxing matches—trying to win tiny victories, interacting for the sole purpose of gathering information to know exactly where we stand. And then using that information to know whether we are inferior or superior to our “opponent”.  In fact, rarely people listen because they genuinely care, but rather do so, while waiting for an opportunity to chime in about themselves.

               Here is the point: I am calling for us to connect with one another in the spirit of compassion and collaboration rather than competition. It is our base instinct to compete—to assess who is above us and who is inferior to us. But that instinct is a primitive one. In order to allow our divine soul to shine, we must establish a true connection—one which is at the center of togetherness and the core of a kinder and gentler society—the kind Mr. Gladwell had in mind. It all starts with the quality of our interpersonal relationships.

Do you want stronger relationships? Then you might want to adopt these 7 approaches whether meeting someone for the first time or fellowshipping with friends and family.

1. Question your motives

Would you have chosen a particular school, vacation, leisure activity, partner, place to live, or job (for examples) if you could never share the fact with anyone; if it were forever a secret with you? Or, was a significant part of your motivation, so that others could know about it? You must be brutally honest here, before even thinking about bringing something up in conversations. Because if you are truly excited about something, then by all means share it so that someone else might benefit from your experience. But if there is even an inkling that by bringing it up you present yourself as more popular, richer, smarter, more confident than someone else, then don’t ask/don’t tell.

2. Master small talk

Small talk gets a bad name. But in fact, small talk avoids the tit-for-tat conversation that is at the heart of competition between people. With small talk, there is no pressure to come back with a vacation story to surpass the one you just heard. It often breaks the ice and allows people to connect on common ground. So discuss the weather, sports, what's your favorite recipe. 

3. Ask and tell about emotions

Make it common practice to ask how someone feels about certain current events or events in their life. Tell them how you feel about the same. Be careful not to start a debate as that will quickly deteriorate into a competition. Share for the sole purpose of connection and not in an attempt to win an argument.

4. Discuss politics and religion

Commonly these are taboo topics; however, they can be rich for discussion and connection. Granted, not everyone with whom you connect will have read this blog, so there may be much judgment (on their part). As long as you don’t judge, you can change the subject if the discussion starts developing into an argument. Agreeing to disagree is healthy and in the spirit of true collaboration.

5. Be silly and vulnerable

Nothing makes people more comfortable with you than allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Joke around, be light, and occasionally even self-deprecating (but not at the expense of self-respect).

6. Be a person

Often people feel uncomfortable in social situations, even parties. Why that is has to do with our primitive brain detecting a gathering of people as potential competitors, or even hostiles. Therefore, that brain may cause us to present ourselves in a powerful light. That is when we may feel the need to blurt out that we are a doctor, master carpenter, president of the PTA, or rich Wall Street exec. Remember to be a person, not your job. Instead marvel at the wonders of nature or the last inspiring book, movie, or television show you saw. 

7. Be real

All of us have experienced challenges, disappointments, stresses, and pain. Additionally, in our quietest moments, we have many questions about the meaning of life, the world, our very purpose. Authentic relationships are built upon our experiences and these questions. Don’t pretend that you are any different; in other words, be real. One way to start being real is by adopting a don’t ask/don’t tell policy toward many of the material aspects of life. By doing so, not only will you establish newer, stronger, and genuine relationships, but you will play a vital role in creating a kinder and gentler society.

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Don’t ask/Don’t tell can go a long way on a smaller scale, from enhancing simple conversations to strengthening the foundation of our interpersonal relationships. But, as this ripple effect spreads, I can only imagine the wonderfully powerful influence it would have on creating a kinder and gentler society. 

 
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