The Stories We Tell

I’ve written plenty recently about Click: The Magic of Instant Connections, a new book about those euphoric moments when we hit it off with someone and know the relationship will stick. So I was thrilled to get to talk to Rom Brafman, one of the book’s authors, yesterday.

I know from reading the Brafman brothers’ research that there are certain factors that make clicking more likely. The click accelerators that they write about are proximity, vulnerability, resonance, similarity and a safe place.  If I sit next to someone every day, or if we have the same birthday and share an adoration for mashed potatoes, we’re more likely to hit it off. But what if there’s someone who I really want to become friends with? Are there steps I can take to manufacture a connection?

Brafman says this is where the power of the narrative comes in.

“My guess is that if I recorded a conversation between you and your friends in New York, most of that conversation would be each of you relating stories of things that happened to you. Whether it be funny things or gossip or newsy stories. ‘You’ll never guess what happened…’ type stuff,” he says. “When we introduce ourselves to new people, we get in that element of ‘Oh, this person needs to know about me, so let me tell her how long ago I graduated from high school or why I moved here.’ It’s very factual, but it’s not very interesting.”

I never actually noticed this distinction, but he’s exactly right. When Callie returned from her honeymoon last week, we spent 51 minutes on the phone swapping stories of the last two weeks. But when I arrive at a girl-date with someone who could be my Chitown Callie, it’s more like an interview.

“Where are you from?”

“What do you do?”

“When did you move here?”

It’s very factual, but it’s not very interesting.

There are ways of obtaining said knowledge without grilling your dinner date, Brafman says. If you share stories of your life, those details will emerge.

When I meet someone new, questions are my immediate go-to. But for my upcoming dates—and I’ve got some on the schedule—I’m going to avoid the usual inquisition and defer to stories instead.

Maybe the one about how I locked myself out of the house for 45 minutes on Sunday. Or how I recently did interviews for the release of The Social Network and just before the last one, an actor told me that both my bra straps were hanging out of my sleeves. They had fallen to my elbows. Who does that happen to? Me, obviously. And maybe Mary Tyler Moore.

If those tales of my brilliance don’t win over a new friend, I don’t know what will.

Have you ever noticed this difference in conversation between old friends and new ones? Do you think this one tweak in girl-date behavior can speed up a click?


Filed under The Search

16 responses to “The Stories We Tell

  1. JenD

    I always find it endearing when a new person tells a somewhat embarrassing story about themselves. I think it establishes an immediate empathetic connection. I mean, who couldn’t relate to being locked out or wandering bra straps (aw, I’ve been there, too!)?

    I’d rather hear stories like that before a rundown of their entire past history because I think it says more about who they really are.

  2. You got to interview for The Social Network? That is awesome! Which actor had the guts to tell you about your bra straps? I love this story, and yes, it’s much more interesting than where you grew up!

    • It was Armie Hammer, who plays the Winkelvoss twins. He was such a gentlemen about it, and I was all “oh wow, that’s embarrassing. I hope it wasn’t like that for Aaron Sorkin.” Yikes.

      But other than that, it was lots of fun. I loved the movie… definitely worth a post!

  3. Christina

    The Brafmans are right: factual is not always fun. It’s just like being in school; as an educator I knew from experience that my students were engaged when I shared information in a storytelling format versus spewing facts and figures. They laughed more, remembered easily, and liked learning. I think this also applies to friendships: I couldn’t agree more with JenD’s post. I love a good story, and when someone shares something embarrassing, it shows humility, a sense of humor, and certainly a sense of vulnerability.

    I recently had the opportunity to test this theory on a girl-date. I did pepper the conversation with a few q’s, but I shared a story (akin to your bra strap mishap), and from there the conversation took off! She even offered comforting words and support (equivalent to: don’t worry, your interview questions were probably so fantastic that he didn’t even notice your straps until it was time to go). She shared some fun stories as well. It felt a little like a Lucy and Ethel moment.

  4. The interview technique when meeting people is so cumbersome. I love learning about people through different vignettes about their life. Of course, it depends on the person – some people aren’t willing to reveal so much of themselves at the first meeting, so sometimes you don’t have a choice and must ask those questions.

    I will definitely try the story sharing more and see what happens.

  5. Those tales of your brilliance win me over for sure – actually they just humanize the brilliance that is so vividly apparent here, which is endearing. 🙂

  6. Betty

    Another great post. I just had a ‘girl-date’ yesterday myself. We had coffee at a coffee house, and because we ‘re sitting across from each other looking at each other, it does sometimes seem to create a more formal interview-like environment. I think we did all of the standard questions – are you a transplant, where are you originally from, how long have you lived here, what part of town do you live in, what type of work do you do, do you have kids, how old are they, is your family close by, what are some of the things you do in your free time? You’re right. It can get very factual, and the trick is to work in the questions so that it sounds natural and not coming off like an interrogation. I think both of us tried to mix in some short, casual stories about our lives. I think our first meeting went off well, and I think we’ll get together again.

    Over the years, I’ve noticed something interesting too. If I’m clicking with someone, the actual content of our conversations is not important. We could be talking about the stupidest, silliest, and most boring and insubstantial things, but with someone you click with, the conversations still strangely end up being fun! Now, this is something that I try to be more observant about in my conversations with potential new friends. Is my conversation with them making me smile? Does it feel effortless or does it feel like a chore? Do I feel positive energy after finishing up talking with them or do I feel drained? Things like that.

  7. Hey Rachel, you know what’s funny? I’ve just recently started reading your blog — so, in a way I’m like a new “friend” (though it’s a little bit of a one-sided friendship at this point)… However, those two anecdotes just made me feel like I know you a gazillion times better than I did five minutes ago. I think that’s at least a little proof that stories work!

  8. Kittie Flyn

    As someone who is painfully shy, I struggle when meeting new people. I never know what to say so the rote questions of ‘what do you do?’ and ‘are you originally from here?’ tumble from my mouth all the time.

    I’m not a good conversationalist and never have been, despite reading countless books on the topic.

    It’s difficult knowing that people find those questions off putting and uninteresting. The basic ebb and flow of getting to know someone, starting off by sharing a little ditty like an embarrassing moment or random fun fact about myself has backfired on many occasions. I become ‘that person’ in social settings where others suddenly find themselves coming up with excuses to escape. I’ve overheard people say, ‘she’s very difficult to talk to’ or ‘she’s boring’ about me when they thought I couldn’t hear them.

    I admire anyone who can easily strike up a conversation with someone they just met and breeze through conversations. I’m in awe when people breeze through the initial getting to know you part of the friendship and easily move to the part where it feels like you’ve been friends forever.

    I read your blog everyday hoping to pick up more pointers on how to find and make friends.

    Thank you for your posts.

  9. Megan

    I recently attended a training on how to ‘companion’ homeless people – that is, how to be WITH another human being who doesn’t have all the trappings, credentials, personal achievements or stories we pride ourselves on in this culture. Surprisingly, the training mostly focused on getting rid of the frames we carry around for ourselves and for others. For example, we were told to go find a partner (someone we didn’t know) and introduce ourselves – ‘form a pair’, as the trainer said. The conditions were that we couldn’t use what we do for a living/our profession, where we went to school or when we graduated, if we were married or not, had kids or not, etc. It was fascinatingly difficult, but, as the trainer said, if we share 70% of our DNA with flatworms, there has to be more in common between two human beings than our culture has allowed us to see. I say all that to point out that most of the conversations we have with one another might be ‘boring’, but sometimes, that’s all another human being has – what’s going on with them right now in the moment, as one human being to another. Sometimes, that is the best – if the only – thing you can offer anyone, homeless or not.

  10. Allison

    That is absolutely brilliant. I hate that awkward silence after the “Where are you from? What do you do/What’s your major (if you’re in college)?” questions.

    And the funny thing is, the first couple times I met my boyfriend, our conversations were mostly swapping stories…and we started going out less than two weeks later.

  11. Never thought about it but it makes complete sense. Now to come up with stories…

  12. I tend to be a story-teller when meeting new people, but sometimes get the feeling that those on the receiving end might think I’m being TOO intimate. Like last week when I went to a networking event and told the story of being accosted by a cosmetic sales rep on Belmont, I got a couple looks that clearly asked, “Do I know you?”

    So I guess it depends on the situation.

    Perhaps a couple “interview” questions are the best way to start to help you find some common ground, then move into stories.

  13. Virginia

    When I was reading this post, I wondered how you distinguish between telling stories to “click” faster and over-sharing. Without knowing someone yet, it’s hard to judge how they’ll react to a particular story.

    I agree with Kelley, the situation is probably one of the most important cues, but topic is also important, on one hand you don’t want to be inappropriate and on the other you want it to be something more memorable than, “I drank coffee this morning.” I think Rachel’s stories work well, because every woman can relate. It’s just a funny, light story that shows she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

    Last night I heard a story: My friend, Frank, is at work and a client, Joe, comes in and gets into detail about how it’s the anniversary of his wife leaving and he’s lonely. Joe was definitely over-sharing! Frank was only expecting a work encounter (situation) and understandably didn’t want to get involved in discussing Joe’s divorce (topic).

    I guess it’s important to pick your stories wisely.

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