Are You Open And Deep?

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Something went down at South By Southwest last week that you probably didn’t hear about.

And, it involved well-known bloggers, Chris Brogan and Naomi Dunford…

It was the first Friday of the conference and, like most other days, 6pm rolled around and everyone gathered around a local bar. The crowd, on this occasion, poured out onto the street, along with me and a bunch of newly met friends. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed uber-blogger and social media dude (don’t call him an expert), Chris Brogan. I turned to say a quick hi and we chatted for a minute.

Then, Chris looked over my shoulder at one of the people I’d been talking with…

A man in his twenties wearing Doc Martins, knee socks, an orange kilt, t-shirt and vintage aviator goggles on his head. I thought it was a pretty cool get-up, but, hey, I’m a New Yorker. Chris, garbed in a navy-blue suit, then waved his hand up and down as if to scan the man’s outfit, looked him in the eye and said,

The whole thing, I just love it.”

It was wasn’t for effect, he wasn’t being patronizing. He genuinely enjoyed the ensemble.

No doubt, Chris is a fount of social media information. He’s smart, innovative, a true thought leader and he creates ridiculous amount of high-value content and experiences. But, I’m betting that’s not what makes him so endearing to so many. It’s that Chris is Chris that makes people want to buzz around him.

It’s an openness to meeting people and just taking them at face value, without judgment…

It’s a willingness to look at someone who’s choices, style and approach may be radically different than his and find the similarity, humanity and value in it. And, that’s a lesson we can all use.

That’s where my Chris story ends, but it’s not the end of this post…

Because two days later, I found myself hanging out in a rented house with a group of amazing people, including Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz fame. We’ve been virtual friends for a while, but this was our first face to face. We all sat around a table exchanging stories (aka barbs), then I got up to grab something to drink in the kitchen. Naomi wandered over to me and said,

So, I really don’t give a damn about your business…tell me about your daughter.

Naomi’s gotten quite a reputation online as someone who’s blunt, honest, tells some of the funniest stories on the planet and slings enough swear words to make a sailor blush. She also delivers phenomenal small business and online marketing information. But, again, that’s not what draws people, at least me, to her.

It’s that she’s genuinely interested in others and what matters most to them…

She knows how important my daughter is in my life and, while we could’ve ranted all night about marketing (and we still did a lot)…she wanted to know about my little girl. It wasn’t contrived or manipulated. She really wanted to know about what I cared about. And, that made me feel amazing. Honestly, it left me a bit choked up (I’m just sooo macho).

So, where am I leading with all of this?

To a challenge to explore two things:

  • Suspend judgment – Look past what appears to be immediate differences in style and approach and engage in a deliberate quest to find and connect with the essence, the value in others, regardless of how different they appear to be. If you live in NYC long enough, this becomes pretty necessary for survival. But, I’ve discovered it’s not nearly a universal trait.
  • Dig Deeper – Spend a bit less time in fluffy, “so, what do you do?” conversations and more time talking about what matters most to you and others. Create opportunities not just to “network” (a word I increasingly dislike), but to connect with people on a more meaningful, impactful level. Fluff and cordiality make for easy conversation, but easy conversation doesn’t make life richer, “real” conversation does.

So, what do you think?

Would people get too freaked if you walked up to them and instead of asking, “what do you do,” you asked, “what do you care about?”

Give it a try and see what unfolds. You may be amazed…

Curious whether you’ve ever had similar experiences or tried something like this?

Or, maybe been on the receiving end…

Let’s discuss…

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22 responses

22 responses to “Are You Open And Deep?”

  1. Jarkko says:

    Oh boy, I need to learn to do this. Not because it would make me a more effective networker, but because of the emotional, life quality benefits it brings.

    It’s funny how easy it is to fall in the “what do you do” trap — even with friends. Talking about your job when both of you would really want to be talking about deeper ideas and life lessons…

  2. Joely Black says:

    So refreshing and very true! I love it when it becomes possible to find people who want to open up beyond the “Oh, this is is what I do” conversations. After all, they’re so boring!

    J xx

  3. Shawn says:

    Great article Jonathan. I’ve always been more interested in getting beyond the superficial and understanding what makes people tick. It makes for a way more interesting experience, and I find it is easier to remember what makes someones eyes light with excitement than it is to recall where they work or what they are working on…

  4. Rudolf says:

    With some people it works almost automatically for me. That “I have known this person all my life” feeling we get sometimes with complete stranger and we are totally open and honest, talking about very personal stuff. This is time well spent and I almost never forget these connections. One interesting thing about it. It is contagious! When two or more people connect like this and somebody else joins the discussion he also tends to open quite quickly. 🙂

  5. Mike Levy says:

    Jonathan, I have been trying to remember to ask people, “What do you like to spend your time on?”, rather than ask, “What do you do?”. This is a twist on an idea I read in Leil Lowndes’ book, “How to Talk to Anyone”. I’ve only been asking this for a short time. It gets past the discussion about a person’s job to the heart of what they are passionate about or what is consuming them.

  6. Now I’m all crying and shit. I’m supposed to be giving an interview and I’m reading your stupid blog and getting all misty instead.

    Damn you, Fields.

  7. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Jarkko – Yeah, I still default to the “what do you do?” pattern, takes conscious effort to do it differently

    @ Joely – gotta agree, life’s just too short to spend it in boring convo

    @ Shawn – “I find it is easier to remember what makes someones eyes light with excitement” – love those words, thanks for sharing

    @ Rudolf – great point about it being contagious, it’s it’s almost like you’re setting an example for newcomers to the convo to follow

    @ Mike – I haven’t read Leil Lowndes’ book, will definitely have to check that out

    @ Naomi – lol! Sorry, I messed with your interview! 🙂

  8. yes I often enjoy your practical and emotionally attuned posts yet this is a capper.

    My eyes welled up reading how well you captured something that is fundamental to who I want to do business with or befriend- they think and feel on both levels – openly and positively – about the work AND the rest of one’s life… the see the totality and realize that one part of life experience affects all other parts… even especially in the lives of those who think they can compartmentalize so don’t fully realized how one part is leaking into another.

    A variatn of “open and deep”: One of my favorite Baptist hymns growing up is an upbeat “Deep and Wide” – referring to God’s love….

    A BIG FAN NOTE on this one – thank you. Now come visit the S.F. Bay area…..

  9. Megan M. says:

    Holy cow, you’re talking about Marty! What a riot! He does make an impression, that’s for sure.

    This post — everything you’ve said here — is the reason I’ve stopped looking at business as “business” and started using my time just to make friends in my own normal, REAL, genuine way. It’s why I don’t consider work and personal life separate things, because not only am I happier when all my clients are good friends, but my work and income and network of people ALL improves. It’s a better way to deal with the world. Caring about it.

    Gives me warm fuzzies just thinking about it, too. :}

  10. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Megan – Yeah, that’s him! Thanks so much for the link, I lost his card and forgot Marty’s name by the time I got back, so I couldn’t put it into the post. Plus, he does some seriously crazy illustration! 🙂

  11. Tisha Morris says:

    In: Connecting

    Out: Networking

  12. I’ve been asking people what they are passionate about when I meet them.

    Mostly I get grins, giggles, and some version of shock/surprise.

    Next comes the most interesting conversations I have had EVER.

    Great post J-


  13. Thanks Jonathan for the post. I had the opportunity to meet both you and Chris Brogan at SXSW. Both of you are real class guys-genuine and down to earth…I am so glad that we had the opportunity to meet and talk.

  14. Over 70 years ago a fellow name Dale wrote a book about this… How to Win Friends and Influence People. Be interested in them first (the business comes later)

    Good reminder, Jonathan!

    Sherrie Rose
    The Love Linguist

  15. Richard says:

    Hmm. What do you do if, when you ask “what do you care about?,” you get an answer that is not in line with your values? How do you steer away from that, or disengage yourself politely?

  16. Jonathan
    fyi I wrote on FB about how moved i was by your post and it sparked a thread of conversation

  17. Shama Hyder says:

    Hey Jonathan-

    That night was loads of fun! I have to admit-I am guilt too. I love marketing and biz- and so getting carried away with that is natural for me.

    That being said, I loved hearing about how you and your wife met…and almost didn’t. That spooky voice mail you never left was something! ; )

  18. Gina says:

    Honestly? If somebody asked me what I cared about?

    I’d have a difficult time not freaking out. My brain would lock up, and I’d be stunned and feel a little bit…threatened?

    Insecure much?

    The thing is, at the jobs I’ve had (not my own business owner yet), it’s been way uncool to get into the personal. It’s just not encouraged. And even when I’ve done it, I’ve regretted it. Layoffs, etc. just seem to make it risky to connect on that level.

    Which is the flip side of why networking feels so yucky too.

    It occurs to me that I need a better life.

  19. Joe Jacobi says:

    Thanks for another great post, Jonathan. We’re fortunate that we have these mediums that enable us to share our priorities before many face-to-face meetings. Ultimately, they lead to better and more interesting face-to-face meetings that help us to skip out on “what do you do” and more towards “what do you love doing?” As a dad of a little girl just a little older than yours, part of what makes this blog so interesting isn’t just the content but where your priorities are before you post.

  20. LisaNewton says:

    Thank you for sparking a thought process. I’m been pretty sheltered from the face-to-face world, but I’m in the process of getting out there more, and this was a very timely post.

  21. Holy crap, you get a lot of comments around here, mister published author. Whoa.

    What might not be known by evaluating my sports coat and the like is that I would dress like Marty in a heartbeat, given a different line of work. When I’m sitting across from CMOs and the like, it’d be a harder sell with awesome goggles on my head, but the thing is, I’m very spiritually close to what Marty reprsented through his choice of attire.

    That said, I work hard to not be judgmental. I can be just as catty as the rest of them, but you’d find that I’m usually catty about the fancy people, not the underdogs. I love the folks like Marty who rock it. They’re real, and real outsells pretty much anything in the world.

    Thanks for including me in your post. : )

  22. Cathy says:

    I love the idea of deep conversations, getting to the soul of the other person fairly quickly. Like Rudolf, I’ve had the experience of meeting with people I’ve seemingly known all my life, and it’s great. Strong bond, memorable, etc. etc.

    That said, I can totally relate to Gina’s comment. While I enjoy being asked such a question and happily give an answer, when I myself have asked “what do you care about” or questions of that ilk, I’ve generally encountered a similar reaction to Gina’s. Braver folks have even come out and told me I’m “too intense”, “too deep”, “too inappropriate”.

    As I see it, it’s a hit or miss (mostly miss) proposition to bypass the social niceties (talking about the weather, etc) and jump right into something (hopefully) more meaningful.

    I don’t know the extent to which regional customs, workplace mores, or even the physical appearance of the questioner plays a part.