Here's a story with some relationship advice for you. I took my Dad out to dinner last week as his 79th Birthday gift. He is actively downsizing in preparation for moving into a retirement village with my mother, so I appreciate that the last thing he wants is a physical gift from me. He'd much rather have some quality time together.

Unfortunately we have slightly different definitions of "quality time". As my father droned on and on over dinner telling me story after boring story, I felt myself shutting down and becoming increasingly frustrated and angry with him. He lives in his own little world, oblivious of the effect his words have on other people. I used to wonder why it was that as an adult, I found myself pushed away by his stories all the time and began feeling resentful every time he launched into one. Now I know, and the simple answer has the power to totally transform relationships:

My Dad's stories have no emotional content.

Over the past few years, I've been studying the broad spectrum of human communication. Here are some of the things I've learned from the various different fields I've studied:

  • To be a powerful public speaker, you must tell stories that engage your audience's emotions.

  • To be a great actor, you must be emotionally authentic and create an emotional connection with the other actors, and with the audience.

  • To be a great writer, you must create pictures using words that move your reader's emotions.

  • To be a popular musician, you must express your emotions through your music.

  • To be a great comedian, you must use your most personal pain as the basis of your humor.

There is a common thread here, and it's that human beings connect on the basis of emotion. Our brains are literally wired with neural circuitry for empathy: the sharing of emotion with another person. It feels good to feel empathy, which is why it is the basis of all deep, meaningful connections between people.

Women are particularly fond of emotional connection, because they haven't been shamed into believing that being emotional is somehow wrong, like us guys generally have. Emotion is profoundly central to human experience, which is why other people will generally react favorably towards you when you express how you feel: chances are they've felt the same way at some point... possibly even right now. Empathy creates a strong bond between people, which is why it deepens relationships so powerfully.

Every now and then you might come across someone who reacts negatively when you express how you feel, because they don't want to be reminded of their own pain. Avoid these people. For the most part, whether you want to become more popular generally, you'd like to deepen your existing relationships, or you'd like to attract more female attention, the secret is to start expressing how you feel.

My father argued with me for some time about this. "I have no need to talk about how I feel", he said.

"Really? Well, that sounds pretty selfish to me Dad. What about the other people you talk to? What do you think it's like for them having to listen to boring stories with no emotional content?"

"It seems like you want me to be something I'm not.", he replied.

Fair call, in a way; I get that he's had 79 years of relating like an engineer, so it's hard for him to even consider the prospect of changing now. "How often do you tell mum that you love her? Or is that just another feeling that doesn't warrant being expressed?", I inquired.

He paused thoughtfully, knowing I had him.

"Look Dad, humans connect on the basis of emotions. Everything I've studied lately says so, and it's totally transformed my relationships with women, so I know it's true. The reason you and mum fight so much is that you never tell each other directly how you feel. Talking about how you feel creates a deep connection between people, and is the basis of all meaningful relationships."

"I think you're talking a fantasy.", he replied.

To our parent's generation, perhaps the notion of meaningful relationships is a fantasy. Dad knows his wife of 50 years isn't about to leave him now, no matter how much he frustrates her. But increasingly I find that women I talk to aren't prepared to put up with men who are emotionally shut down; they are walking away in droves because the emotional cost of being with men who won't share their deeper selves is just too high. Women want men who they can connect with emotionally.

Fortunately the solution is simple: learn to express how you feel, directly, constructively, and without blame. If you're not used to doing this, and chances are as a guy you probably aren't, it may take some practice. There are books you can read and courses you can take that will help. Acting and Public Speaking classes will also help, if the teacher knows what they're doing. There's a whole section on emotions in Confident Man.

My Dad is a smart guy, but he's wrong on this one. It's no fantasy; sharing your feelings invites other people into your reality. That's why it's the basis of all deep human connection, and after the conversation with my Dad, I thought I just had to tell you. Thanks for reading, I feel much better now. 🙂

Graham Stoney

Graham Stoney

I struggled for years with low self-esteem, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence before finding a solution that really worked. I created The Confident Man Program to help other men live the life of their dreams. I also offer 1-on-1 coaching via Skype so if you related to this article contact me about coaching.


Matt · March 12, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Without emotions - be it in a story or in general day to day interactions - things get very boring, very quickly. We're all a little selfish in that way; we need to be connected and engaged by someone else's words, otherwise we see no point in spending OUR time listening to THEIR 'adventures.'

I've been a freelance journalist for 5+ years now and entirely concur with your point on painting pictures with your words as, without emotion and a 'hook', you'll find more and more people staring blankly at you as time marches on.

kandiamo · January 4, 2012 at 10:45 am

I think this is a self centered point of view. That being said, I identify with you completely.

Resenting 'boring' or 'negative' conversation stems from the POV conversation must ultimately be about us or entertain us, when in fact some conversations will be all about someone else and should be. There were times something irritating happened to you that you just had to share with someone else - even if that person was in a good mood before you got there. But you don't see yourself as an energy vampire. Why? Because YOUR complaining is informative and entertaining ... or so you think. YOU don't overdo it. YOU make it funny or enlightening. People listened. They perhaps laughed. Maybe they gave you a sympathetic look that said, "Man, I hear you!" You went away feeling better about the whole conversation even though it was all about you and they got nothing but your aggravating story in return.

So here's the thing. Boring is a function of your own self perception of being well rounded and interesting. Negative is a function of whether you're in the mood to hear it. Frustration with other people's conversation is entirely dependent on how you perceive communication in general. Is it about getting a chance to tell this person how to properly entertain you, inform you or at least stop boring you? That being with them isn't improving the quality of your life in the time they wasted telling you things that only interested them?

Or is it about encouraging the other person to feel what they feel in the way they feel it? Asking questions to let them talk more about the things that give them self worth? Taking the time to discipline ourselves in the art of being interested?

Most guys say no. Life is about quality of my life. Just me, right now. Life is too short to think too hard about other people. We girls, well we listen to an awful lot of your ranting, tedious descriptions of a project you're working on, details of sports we'd rather see you play than watch you parked on a sofa. So, once in a while you can listen to us talk about the perfect boots we bought and discipline yourself to share our happiness with us just because we're HAPPY. Stories are virtual realities - actually a re-Living - in the eyes of another person. Same for your dad.

Same for your vampire. They don't know why they can't work life out like you do. You don't know where they've been or the trouble they've seen to get that way. But it's a courtesy of adulthood to accept s/he's not there to entertain you. You can afford to listen. And there are nice ways to redirect the conversation when they start to repeat themselves. Nice ways to engage them in something that makes them feel worthwhile and less sad. If you feel negative around them, that's your problem. They don't make you feel anything. Get some spine.

Conversation is exchange of information. But the really good conversations are ones where we feel valuable and entertaining even when we aren't. You like that. We do, too.

    Graham Stoney

    Graham Stoney · January 4, 2012 at 11:23 am

    I half agree with some of this; in other parts I think you may have missed what I was getting at. Superficial conversation is an exchange of information; deep connection requires an exchange of feelings. Stories with emotional content hook us in; stories without emotion turn us off as listeners. The flip side that I didn't mention in the article is acknowledging the other person's feelings when we listen to them. If you've experienced guys who didn't do this and told information-only stories, I can see why they would appear as self-centered energy vampires. I try to steer people like that towards better ways of relating, and if they can't or won't do it I steer clear. I persist with my father because... he's my father. Thanks for your comment!

      kandiamo · January 4, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      In fact, that's exactly what happened, Graham. I dated an information-only guy. He was only interested in his information, cutting others short when he tired of them. When asked to let others speak their mind, boring or no, he refused. He couldn't understand how wasting his time could improve the situation. We stopped dating.

      But I do hear what you're saying though I feel even exchange of feelings is exchange of information about that person. Yet, I wonder if any of it is superficial. My father was an engineer and unlikely to express his feelings about anything. But he could go on and on about some mathematical solution at the dinner table. When he was through, he had that look of frustration, like he was talking to a round table of squirrels. He was not a particularly lively storyteller. His day was superficial to us, but not so to him. The fact these stories poured out of him at all meant he was driven by an inner need to share them with someone else. Because he was a reticent man driven to talk meant we probably should have been paying attention to what his stories MEANT to him - and asked him to elaborate on those aspects important to him. Was he reliving success in the solution? Was he thinking aloud? Looking back, I think we dropped the ball as listeners by letting his story end where it did, with no encouragement or curiosity. We wanted to be entertained and we weren't. So we let his delight or frustration or curiosity or passion fall to the floor as soon as he stopped speaking.

      He knew what we meant by doing that. Telling him how to tell a better story would have been a final slap. You're right, it IS about feelings. Just maybe not our own.

      Frankly, I don't know either. I'm just trying to figure it out, too. Suggestions welcome. 🙂

        Graham Stoney

        Graham Stoney · January 6, 2012 at 10:54 am

        I can relate to what you say about your Engineer father. Like all people he wanted to connect, and felt the frustration that it wasn't happening; but probably didn't know why. My father does the same thing and it's just out of ignorance and a lack of connection with his own feelings. It's hard to share how you feel when you don't even know yourself! Good on you for taking the time to try and figure it out for yourself.

          kandiamo · January 6, 2012 at 7:52 pm

          Kudos to you as well. We both want the most of our father relationships while we still have them. I think we're talking two sides of a coin: sharing emotion in speaking and offering emotion in listening. Let's hope they both know we just want them to be happy. Thanks, Graham, for all your help. 🙂

Anthony · May 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Telling someone to feel there feeelings is different from demonstrating. I must say I do like people who share what they are interested in, passionate about unless it is continual complaining. How do people stop dropping their misery guts on others? It doesn't make me want to be connected unless I'm in my misery and I think I'll get a turn to discharge. I suspect there are rules of engagement so we need to be discerning as to who and when we share our opinions, emotions and behaviours. Thanks for listening.

    Graham Stoney

    Graham Stoney · May 14, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    You certainly want to avoid emotional vampires who dump misery around. I think their real problem is they aren't dealing with the real underlying feeling, so they dump something else instead; like getting angry when in fact deep down they're upset or disappointed, but are ashamed of saying so. Setting limits on that kind of thing is important. I've often found women responding very positively to me when I told them I felt anxious... and this helped me to relax more. Double bonus.

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