I've been thinking some more about our often-discussed topic of audiences, or quasi-friendships, or whatever name we might give to relationships that seem to involve some level of intimacy and personal revelation, but are uneven in the direction of that information flow.
Why have I been thinking about this? Well, for one thing, my days are chock-a-block full of advising sessions with students who come in and talk about big topics in their lives. We talk about what they hope for and why, what they've done and what it meant for them, who's offering advice and input about what they "should" do and how to make sense of that. Sometimes my role is to build up their confidence, and sometimes it is to suggest that there are more obstacles in their path than they seem to realize. It's a pretty personal conversation.
Some days I have four of these in a row, back-to-back in half hour slices, then a small break, and three more in a row. Without looking down at my schedule or checking my notes, I don't always remember the name of the student in front of me. I remember their hopes or their summer job last year, I remember their personality. But names, wow, I'm only retaining about 40% of those. It feels unacceptable, but I don't yet know how to parse and master such a barrage of new relationships in these highly compressed time slots.
So I've been thinking about rapport and trust, and where it comes from. I've noticed that students come in with a question -- they want to learn about law school, or ask about getting an internship in DC, or have me look over their cover letter. We talk about that, and get into some of their motivations, what are they looking for out of this experience, blah blah. And a surprising number of times, they start telling me what they *really* want to do, or what they'd *really* like to talk about, about twenty-five minutes into our session. Aha. We're almost out of time, but next time let's talk more about this. In the meantime, I'll give you some homework so our next conversation will have more depth. Maybe someday as I get better at doing this I can get us there quicker. I'm grateful we get there at all. I don't think college is the time to start compromising your dreams, so it's nice when we get away from their pretexts and into the realm of passions.
Anyway. It's kind of the opposite of blogging, right? Here we tell the world about our hopes and disappointments, and strangers can come to feel like they know us. But until and unless they write us, we don't even know they're out there. It's not the same as friendship, although it sometimes creates the possibility for friendship. At work I listen and reflect, ask and push, but it's not friendship, either. Again, the groundwork can be laid in an advising session -- it doesn't require the psychic distance of a psychiatrist, for example, and there are some students I hope I will know for years after they graduate. But students aren't getting to know me, or worrying much about who I am. All they need to ascertain is whether they can trust me or not.
I haven't tied this all up neatly yet. Somehow I am also thinking about Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook -- other examples of presentation and intimacy and personal revelation that aren't symmetrical. It's possible to build rapport and trust in all of these ways, I think. That's new -- we haven't had the means of making such connections before, and folks are experimenting with how to do it. The unifying theme, and the elusive property that seems crucial to me in connecting with other people, is authenticity. I guess that's what I'm thinking about -- the cues that signal authenticity, in person and electronically.