“How to Make Connections That Matter”

When I was a young lad trying to make it in this World, I got my first real job, at a golf course. Working at a golf course is an incredible summer job. There are incredible benefits like free golf, vivid tan lines, and you get a new, non-waterproof wind-breaker every year. Though all of these things are great (honestly, it looked like I was wearing a white shirt at the beach) my favourite part of the job was all of the quirky activities, conversations and challenges that went on amongst staff throughout the year. 

One such game we would play was a classic called the Banter Game. In order to understand the Banter Game, one must first understand what banter is.

Banter is that thing when 2 people greet each other but don’t give 2 rips about what is being said by the other person. 

You’ve probably seen banter before if you’ve witnessed an interaction where:

  • ”People are always being treated by someone or something. “How’s Marty treatin’ ya?” “How’s the new place treatin’ ya?”  (never you, always ya).

  • This question is often met with some form of “hanging in there” or “It’s going”. 

  • One of the banterers engages the banter with a teasing insult such as,  “So they’re just letting anyone in here now I guess?”

  • An impossible appeal is made to the other. “Hey, can you turn down that wind?” or “Can you do something about those bugs?”

  • The term “This guy” gets used

These are all telling signs of classic banter, however, the key characteristic to look for in banter is when both parties have already decided to laugh when the other person has finished a statement, before they actually finish that statement… regardless of what was said. As they make their impossible appeal, or teasing insult, the recipient smiles throughout and begins to laugh as they finish the statement.


^ Marty starts his laugh around here

Marty (while laughing): “ONLY IF YOU QUIT BRINGING THIS GUY AROUND” (Marty gestures to a mutual friend who is with Paul with a sly nod and a smile)

Both Paul and Marty, and even “This Guy” continue to laugh for a brief moment and then move on with their days.

The as is key here, because, remember that when bantering, neither party actually cares what the other says, but it’s expected to be a lighthearted return and then we move on with our days, so one begins to laugh as the other finishes what they are saying. As a staff watching the same interaction a hundred times a day, we noticed the early laugh.

And so began the Banter Game. The Banter Game is played by trying to slip in odd, non-small talk, almost shocking phrases into conversation and then have the other person simply laugh it off and continue about their day, without realizing what was just said. I know, it seems crazy to think that you could say something ridiculous in a one-on-one conversation that would go completely unnoticed, and yet people pulled it off all the time. 

I once heard a staff member respond to the classic, “How’s life treatin ya?” with “Great! My Uncle died this morning so just hanging in there” while chuckling. The golfer returned the laughter and then asked for their clubs, with zero clue what was just said to them, assuming it was a lighthearted comment back. 

Other phrases that may or may not have been inserted in to banter:

  • “The Mayan calendar’s really got me down”

  • “I still don’t understand Lost”

And once, literally just the word, “banter” repeated 3 times. Like, “Great! Banter banter banter, how’s life treatin ya?”

If you really don’t want to make a connection with someone, banter is a great way to do it. Laugh, don’t listen, move on. However, the title of this blog post is “How TO Make Connections That Matter”.

To make meaningful connection, we must LISTEN.

  1. Listen to what they are saying

Celeste Headlee is a radio host with an amazing Tedtalk about listening. I have used her tips with my students in the past and it is remarkable how different their conversations with each other sound at the end of the year than they did at the beginning. Conversations go from a simplistic exchange of information to people seeking and finding connections with their peers. Rather than me try to capture what she is saying, watch it for yourself. I like to revisit this every couple months as a reminder.

If you can pick up even one of the tips Celeste gives, that’s great. Connections that matter begin with listening, and lead to understanding.

2.) Listen for who they are.

Most conversations get to the inevitable, “What do you do?” before they are a minute old. Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to know what someone does for work, but try to view that as just a small part of them. Instead ask, “How do you spend your time?” “What is your thing?” “What sorts of things do people seek your advice on?” These questions often lead to much more passionate responses and can help you connect to who the person is and not simply what they do.

Also, as you go through the conversation, take note of the details that someone goes out of their way to mention. This is often a great indicator that it is something is meaningful to them. When someone says, “I was late because my I got talking to my neighbour about bonsai trees”, they are providing an unnecessary detail for you to run with, so run with it! Ask them about their neighbour! (Just kidding, ask about the decorative trees)

3.) Listen to understand them

This type of listening is key to creating a depth that goes beyond an initial connection. We can connect with anyone through a common interest or current topic, however meaningful connection comes when we begin to understand someone. Right now, picture some of your closest friends. Think about how you met them. Perhaps you had common interests initially, but common interest is hardly ever the reason for a lasting friendship. I’d be willing to wager that you are quite different than your closest friends (I know I am), yet you understand them. Perhaps your initial interactions with these friends weren’t particularly meaningful, however, over time, we can deepen our connections.

When listening to understand someone, avoid assumptions, appreciate differences and see their perspective. 

Don’t assume you know their feelings or assume their story is very similar to someone else’s you may know. Appreciate differences. 

This feels so tough with today’s political climate, but appreciating differences is necessary to making a meaningful connection. You are unique and have your own thoughts, opinions and experiences, just like the person next to you does. If you are waiting to make meaningful connections with only people who share your views exactly, you will be waiting a long time.

See their perspective. As someone is talking, don’t ask yourself, “What would I do in their situation?” Instead, ask, “What would they do in their situation?” and then better yet, actually ask them!

The greatest gift you can give somebody, is the feeling that they have been understood. 

It may take time, but listening creates a space where someone feels safe to be who they are and leads to meaningful connection. A meaningful connection where both people are putting forth their true selves, differences and all. Picture a community so uniquely diverse, yet so connected to, and understanding of each other. My hope for City Collective is that we are a diverse community bound by meaningful connection. 

How do we get there?

banter banter banter

We listen.