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How to Build Better Personal Connections

Take inspiration from the new book 'How to Know a Person'.

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Want to live a long and healthy life? Devote your time and energy to nurturing friendship and community. Longevity researchers are discovering that strong relationships are essential to happy, healthy aging.

Most of us acknowledge the importance of relationships, of course. But we may fall short when it comes to moving beyond superficial interactions. Now, in his new book, How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen, bestselling author David Brooks offers practical suggestions on just how to cultivate life-enriching connections.

About the book
Brooks is driven by a profound sense of curiosity and determination to grow as a person. He draws from the fields of psychology and neuroscience and the worlds of theater, philosophy, history, and education to present a heartfelt meditation on the power of connection and a guide to seeing others more fully.

Here are just three of many suggestions from Brooks on strengthening our relationships and fostering richer connections.

1. Engage in in deeper, more meaningful conversations
“A good conversation is an act of joint exploration. A good conversation sparks you to have thoughts you never had before. A good conversation starts in one place and ends up in another.”

Brooks offers helpful tips on becoming a better conversationist. For starters, devote your full attention to the conversation. Try the SLANT Method: Sit up, Lean forward, Ask questions, Nod your head, and Track the speaker. Next, become what Brooks calls a “loud listener.” This means being expressive with your eyes and your smiles and offering small signs of encouragement, surprise, and understanding. It’s your version of oohs and aahs.

2. Learn the art of empathy
“If you hope to know someone well, you have to know something about the struggles and blessings of their childhoods and the defensive architecture they carry through life.”

Empathy — the ability to recognize and open up your heart to the feelings of others — is an essential skill to forge a close relationship. You can develop your empathy by striving to become better at recognizing different emotional states. Learn to distinguish, for example, between similar emotions like anger, frustration, stress, anxiety, and irritation.

Another skill you can work to develop is “projective empathy.” This is when you sense what someone is feeling by projecting your memories of what you went through when you experienced similar emotions. For instance, if a new colleague seems both excited and timid, you might recall your emotions during your own first days on the job.

3. Improve your understanding of personality traits
“Understanding a person’s personality traits is one key to knowing how to treat them appropriately.”  

Psychologists divide personality into what they call the Big Five personality traits: extroversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, and openness. Once you understand the essence of each trait, Brooks says, you’ll be able to look at people with more educated eyes.

People who score high in conscientiousness, for example, are disciplined, persevering, well-organized, and self-regulating, with the ability to focus on long-term goals and not get distracted. Though this trait has a strong upside, it also has a downside. Your highly conscientious friend may tend toward workaholism and obsessiveness. She may be better suited to predictable environments rather than those that require seat-of-the-pants adaptation.

Brooks offers many thoughtful insights and recommendations throughout How to Know a Person. You’ll find guidance on how to have hard conversations, how to best serve a friend in despair, and how to ask the right questions to create stronger bonds.

More about David Brooks
David Brooks is one of the nation’s leading writers and commentators. He is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, a writer for The Atlantic, and appears regularly on PBS NewsHour. He is the bestselling author of The Second Mountain, The Road to Character, The Social Animal, Bobos in Paradise, and On Paradise Drive.

How to Know a Person will help you develop the skill set to deepen your existing relationships and form new, satisfying ones. You’ll want to read it cover to cover and then dip into it again and again.

Click here to purchase your own copy of How to Know a Person

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