08 Apr Your Graphic T-Shirt is Begging for Connection
My brother and I were visiting a relative in the hospital. When it was time for me to go home, my brother offered to walk me to my car. As we walked down the shiny corridors, we passed a room that had the door open. We noticed a younger man straight up staring at us while we walked by.
“That was weird…”
Next thing we knew, the man came running out and said “Go Miskatonic!”
He was pointing to my brother’s “Miskatonic University” t-shirt – a reference to H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional school. The two shook hands, chatted a little about the author, and then we all parted ways.
If you’re like me, the reference my brother was wearing would have been lost on you if you saw his shirt. He chose to broadcast an inside joke, knowing that only those in the know would get it. It is therefore the perfect opportunity to create a connection with a stranger — to form a veritable “club” with others who share your interests.
Why do we wear graphic tees?
If you wanted to go completely unnoticed, you wouldn’t choose to wear a shirt that had writing or an interesting graphic on it. Images beg to be inspected, and words beg to be read. As humans, we just can’t help reading words in front of us. Ever noticed how a little kid who just learned to read starts reading literally anything they see?
While sales of actual music are decreasing with the advent of streaming platforms, sales of music merch (aka swag) equaled $3.1 billion in 2016, which was a 10% increase from 2015.(Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association)
We wear shirts and hats and buttons for self expression. Whether they are funny, make a political statement, or tout a subtle reference, we are daring other people to say something about it. We are hoping that someone in the know points it out, or someone not privy to it asks a question. If we are wearing it, we want to share it. Otherwise the message would be on our underwear. We are looking for our people, whether we realize it or not.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”– C.S. Lewis
In Dance Floor Theory, we say that the best way to create a connection between two people is to find a shared interest. A band we both listen to is a much better “ice breaker” than, How ’bout that rain today….?” While an extrovert like me might truly enjoy small talk, an introvert needs a topic of substance to help them open up. A shared interest makes two people feel safe with each other because it is common ground.
I polled our Dance Floor Theory Facebook group about this phenomenon. Almost 63% of those who responded said they had made a friend because of a shirt or other item that sparked a conversation. A couple people shared some cool stories, too. Check it out here. (If you aren’t part of our group, make sure you request to join!)
Armed with this information, we can create moments of connection with very little effort in our communities. Here are a few ways to capitalize on self-expression in order to make people feel more welcome, connected, and engaged.
Don’t be afraid to wear your t-shirts and other swag out and about. Give someone a chance to see you and feel a sense of kinship.
Look for the cues of others.
When you notice someone wearing an expressive article of clothing, say something. Ask them what it means, or say something to show you “get it.” As Dale Carnegie says, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
If your friend, John, loves Metallica, and you notice another acquaintance wearing a Metallica t-shirt, bring John over and introduce them. They might then end up going to a concert together or forming a lasting bond.
Creating moments of connection in your community doesn’t have to be hard. People are already giving you everything you need. It matters because the more connected everyone is, the more productive and happy those people are. We aren’t meant to be alone, and your Vote For Pedro t-shirt proves it.