The Power of Deep Conversations

Friendship IRL Podcast - Episode 56 - The Power of Deep Conversations: What Chris Burnett Learned While Interviewing 70 of His Friends and Family

Podcast Description

The holidays are here, which means many of us will be spending time with family and friends over the next couple months. It’s the perfect time to talk about deep conversations with people we care about.

Today’s episode features Chris Burnett, who, in 2020, started a personal project to reconnect with people in his life. It started with weekly calls to catch up. Then, he began asking if he could interview them about their lives.

To date, Chris has recorded more than 70 conversations. After seeing the impact this project had on himself and his people, he decided to share the idea with a broader audience. His book, Conversations: Connecting with People in Our Lives, was released in November.

When Chris reached out to join us on Friendship IRL, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Having these deep conversations with people we care about is so important. It strengthens our relationships and allows us a better perspective of our people and ourselves.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • Chris’s project: how it began (catching up with one person a week) and how that grew into him reaching out for recorded interviews, and then, a book
  • Interview format – the wording Chris used during his initial contact, and how he structures the phone conversations
  • How these deep conversations can help the person “interviewed” feel special, and how the interviews rekindled lots of relationships for Chris
  • My personal story about sitting with friends and talking about why we admire each other, and the impact this had on us
  • How the experience helped Chris learn about his friends and family and reflect on his own life and childhood

Reflection Question:

Are there people in your life you’re close with but don’t know that much about? Grandparents, perhaps, or parents? Friends? Aunts and uncles? What were their childhoods like? What did they want to be when they grew up? 

How could you do something similar to Chris and have these deep conversations with loved ones?

Notable quotes:

“For me, it’s like, I just want to know more about you. And I want to know you on a deeper level. That is the core of all of this. For me, connection is the be-all end-all. Nothing matters more. So, that’s kind of why I’m doing this. And it’s why I’ve asked so many of my family and friends questions about their life, because I actually just want to know the full them and know their story.” 

“Everyone has a narrative worth sharing. And we all have that opportunity to allow people a space to tell it. And who better to ask you, and to kind of get to your story, than someone in your life. A loved one. So I just want to encourage more of that. I’ve benefited so much, mental health-wise, being able to open up and be vulnerable. And I just want other people to experience that.”

Resources & Links

A reminder – I have a two-part episode about men’s friendships, Episode 31 and 32

Be sure to check out Conversations: Connecting with People in Our Lives by Chris Burnett, which is now available on Amazon.

Want to take this conversation a step further? Send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting and use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out!

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Until next time…

Take the conversation beyond the new podcast on friendship! Follow Alex on Instagram (@itsalexalexander) or Tiktok (@itsalexalexander), or send her a voice message directly with all your friendship thoughts, problems, and triumphs by heading to AlexAlex.chat and hitting record. 

Episode Transcript

Podcast Intro/Outro  00:02

Alrighty, gang. Here’s to nights that turn into mornings and friends that turn in family. Cheers!

Podcast Intro/Outro   00:18

Hello, Hello, and welcome to the Friendship IRL podcast. I’m your host, Alex Alexander. My friends… They would tell you; I like to ask the hard questions. You know who I am in the group? I’m the person that’s saying, “Okay, I’m going to ask this question, but don’t feel like you have to answer it.” And now, I can be that friend for you, too. 

Alex Alexander [Narration] 0:50
Today’s episode is a fun episode. And I am so thrilled to be bringing you this conversation. Now I’m releasing this episode, if you’re listening to it on the date of release, I’m releasing it on Thanksgiving Day in the US. Now I know that for all of our other listeners worldwide, that that date may not matter to you, but I specifically decided to release it because, one, for anybody listening to this in the US, this is like a fun simple conversation to be listening to on a holiday weekend. But for everybody, US and worldwide, it’s the holiday season. So I think that this is the perfect time to release this episode. Because this time of year is the time of year that we spend a lot of time with our family and our friends and our community, with the people who matter to us. And that’s what today’s episode is about. Today’s episode is about leaning in and having deep conversations with the people that matter to you. Because those deep conversations will deepen your relationship. With today’s guest, Chris Burnett, reached out to me and told me about his personal project, I couldn’t say yes, fast enough. I actually think that I maybe responded to him within 30 minutes. And we were recording just days later. You see, during the lockdowns of 2020, Chris started this personal project to reconnect with the people in his life. It started out as weekly calls to catch up with someone. And then it progressed to asking his family and friends if he could interview them about their lives. To date, he’s recorded over 70 conversations with his loved ones. And after seeing the impact that this project had on himself, he decided that he wanted to share this to a broader audience. So Chris did something that honestly, I commend anyone for doing, he decided to write a book about the project to talk about how beneficial it was to him and to his loved ones, but also to encourage others, us, anyone listening here to initiate similar conversations. He believes that we all have a narrative worth telling. And it’s time we gave each other the opportunity to share it. This was such a fun episode, because Chris has really leaned in and created space to connect deeply with the people in his life that he cares about. Now, before we get to today’s episode, I want to tell you that we are releasing this episode just days after Chris’s book has launched. You can go find it right now. You go to alexalex.link/conversations that will take you directly to the sales page for the book. But if you want to go look it up yourself, the book is titled ‘Conversations” connecting with people in our lives’ by Chris Burnett. With that, let’s hear a little bit more from Chris about his project.

Alex Alexander 3:53
Chris, I’m so excited that you’re here today. Question: Have you been on a podcast before?

Chris Burnett 4:02
I have been on a couple, actually hosted one for a little while I was running a little Not for Profit Initiative over in Melbourne. And we decided to launch a podcast. And the very first episode we did, we had one mic in the middle of the kitchen table and literally 10 of us sitting around the table. And as you can imagine, it was absolute chaos. But in the best way, in the most fun way. It was a really fun conversation. But it was difficult to try and actually get one person talking and then everyone kind of waiting. And then yeah, I’ve been on a couple of friends podcasts, but very, very low key stuff. But yeah, really excited to have a chat. Thanks again for having me on.

Alex Alexander 4:42
Yeah. I mean, I was just wondering if this was your first podcast. It’s definitely not it sounds like you’re very comfortable behind the mic. And you’re actually very comfortable behind the mic, even if you’re not releasing what you’re recording because the entire reason that you’re here today is because you’ve been doing this personal project for a while, that when you told me about it, I just thought was so inspiring for people to hear, because they might want to do this in their own life. Do you want to tell us a little bit about the project you’ve been doing? Like, we’re going to talk more in depth. So just go with an overview.

Chris Burnett 5:21
Okay, so the last, I guess, it started from a point of disconnection, the lock downs of 2020. I rediscovered reading as a hobby. I read Tuesdays with Morrie, which is a beautiful little book about what’s important in life, the message of connection with people, just shot out to me. And as I say, I was feeling disconnected and homesick. I’m from Scotland, I was living in Australia at the time. Basically, I wanted to do something with the feeling that I had from reading that book. So I started the personal project, the first year of which I wanted to have a call a week to catch up with someone that I hadn’t spoken to in a while. So over the course of a year, I did 50 calls, caught up with over 50 people, some that hadn’t spoken to maybe six months, some it had been up to six years. And I’d kind of been journaling along the way, just knowing what we’d been speaking about. Got to the end of that year and I decided that I want to do something a little bit more in depth with the people I’ve been speaking to. So I kind of came up with this format, the structure to host these longer form deeper dive conversations, which as you’ve mentioned, are recorded as like a podcast. But the crucial thing is that the recording is not public facing. So it’s just between me and the person I record with. But essentially, for the last two years, I’ve been interviewing my family and friends about their life. I’ve recorded 75 of these two dates. And I’m in the process of… of writing about it, because I want to share what I’ve been up to in the hope of, as you’ve kind of alluded to, encourage other people to do something similar. So yeah, that gives you a bit of an overview of the project, I guess. And yeah, happy to go in whichever direction you want from here.

Alex Alexander 7:06
Well, I love this, because now that I’ve started a podcast, yes, starting a podcast that is released weekly, and, you know, managing guests that I’ve never met before, like you, and there’s a lot of work to an official podcast. But at its core, a podcast is as simple as I could record even an episode of this podcast if I wanted do by opening my phone and turning on the voice recorder. It doesn’t need to be something super complicated. You don’t need fancy microphones and production software, you don’t need any of it. You can just hit record. And so many of us are listening to this podcast episode right now on a device that is capable of doing this. So a lot of people can do this, exactly what you’re doing. It doesn’t need to be some big production, you just set up in a time. And you hit record. It’s really that accessible.

Chris Burnett 8:20
Yeah, and I think in terms of the time, I mean, we hang out with our friends all the time anyway. So it’s just a different way of… of hanging out. That’s kind of how I look at it. It’s, you know, instead of going down the pub and having a few beers and having a chat, we’ll just do it at home and stick a mic in the middle and yeah, hit record. And it started off as a project. It has become my favorite hobby. And I’ve been so blessed and so grateful for everyone that shared their stories with me up till now. I’ve still got more people that I want to, I want to chat with. I’ve taken a little bit of a break at the minute to write the book about it. But yeah, as you said, it’s one of those that is actually kind of at our fingertips in terms of being able to do this. And what I’m hoping to do , in terms of writing about it, is actually give over my… kind of here’s my structure, here’s how I’ve done it, here’s the questions I ask, feel free to go in your own way and change that up in whatever way you want. But I think giving people a tangible thing that they can just read from will actually make that even easier hopefully to just get started because they can just literally read from “the script”, quote unquote.

Alex Alexander 9:31
Yeah. So when you ask people, first of all, what was it like asking people to do this? You were saying like some of them, it had been six years since you talked to them. Were you worried about asking those people like it’s coming out of the blue like, “Hey…” I mean, you probably have to say something similar to, “I really enjoy our friendship. I’ve missed connecting with you. I’m doing this project I want to record with you”? Like you kind of, I think, have to tell them that this matters to you.



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Chris Burnett 10:00
Yes, I think what helped was that the first sort of iteration of what I’m doing was literally just a call to catch up. And that wasn’t recorded. And so, that message, I tried to keep as short and sweet as I could. And it was like, hey, it’s been a minute. How are you? And do you fancy a call some time to catch up? Literally, that was what I sent. Then in terms of the recorded conversation, it’s similar-ish message, but you know, it’s, yeah, a bit more of like, I’m doing this thing. I’d love to chat to you. I’d love to interview you. I think interview is probably the word that people can kind of latch on to and understand. And, yeah, so there are three parts to the conversation that I have with people. So yeah. So part one is questions about their life. And that usually is the longest part. And it literally just goes through the chronology of child to school to career to what they’re up to at the minute. And then throw in questions about people that they know, relationships that are in, maybe a lived experience that they have that I don’t, that’s been a huge part of the conversations, and included in that has been a lot of vulnerability and hardship, which is just an incredibly special thing that my friends and family have kind of opened up to me with. And you know, then there’s also just the random tales of their life, experiences abroad, traveling, that kind of thing. So, that’s part one. And as I say, that is usually the biggest part. Part two, we swap three words we use to describe one another. So while part one is really me, asking them about their story, in parts two, and three, it’s actually us talking about our relationship. And you’re actually getting to the… into the deep dive of what it means for you to the two of you to be connected. Yeah, so part two is swapping affirmations, essentially. I set the bit of homework beforehand, I tell them that this is what’s going to happen. So they need to write down three words they use to describe me, I do the same for them. And then we just go back and forth and swap them and give a little explanation. And that’s just a beautiful little thing to do with, a loved one. And it’s, you know, it’s not something I’d really done before. I’d been involved in a few guests, compliment circles at friends’ birthdays, and that kind of thing. But I’ve never really sat intentionally, and thought about three words I’d use to describe one another. And then part three, we took a trip down memory lane. So again, it’s a little bit of homework beforehand, I asked them to write down a few shared experiences, memories that come to mind when they think of us, when they think of the relationship. And I write down a few as well. And then we just kind of see what comes up. And it is really funny. What comes up in terms of, you know, something… so what I deem is so insignificant was really significant for a friend in terms of our relationship. So part three, I cannot stress enough is really entertaining and funny just to get into those stories. And it’s those conversations you tend to have in the pub or at dinner where you’re like, “Oh, you remember that time when we did that?” But having those back to back to back is just hilarious. And so yeah, as I say, part two and three, it’s about the relationship. And it’s about the friendship and it’s about who you are as a… as a collective, I suppose, and your collective narrative. And yeah, but through the parts one, parts two, parts three, it’s just been a special experience to go through with family and friends. And as I say, I’m really excited because I’ve still got more to do.

Alex Alexander [Narration] 13:32
Now, I’m about to ask Chris to go deeper into each of those sections. Don’t worry, we’re gonna do that. We’re gonna talk about each one. But there was actually a story I wanted to share while we were recording, but I didn’t want to go derail Chris’s thought process about his project. So hi, Chris, if you’re listening. Hi, everyone else. I’m going to share the story now because I… it really stood out to me when we recorded the podcast, specifically part two about the affirmations. About a year ago now, we were with some friends, our friends, Mike and Sarah, and they don’t live nearby. So we have to travel, we’re staying with them. We’re at their house, and we’re just sitting around one night hanging out. And Mike looks around the room and out of nowhere, he just kind of goes, “You know, I think we should all share why our friendships matter to each other.” And we’re like, okay, what did you have in mind? And he goes, “I think we should go around. And we should each say three things that are you know, meaningful or that we’re proud of our friends for or we admire about each other. And we’ll… we’ll go around the circle. We’ll… we’ll do it for each person.” So I am doing this for Mike. I’m doing this for Sarah and I’m doing this for my husband, Michael. Mike does the same for everybody. Sarah does the same for everybody. Michael does the same for everybody. And to alleviate some of the attention being on each of us, we took turns. So it wasn’t like everybody said something about you, kind of did one after the other. And I have to say that like we were in tears at certain points, we were laughing at certain points. And it was just really beautiful to hear why each of our connections matter, what we appreciate about the other person, how they inspire us. You know, I told my friend Sarah, she brought this up just a couple weeks ago. She said, she’s made a big life transition. And she said to me, “You know, remember, when we sat around and said nice things to each other? You said, that you’re always really inspired by how I envision what I want my life to be. And I will ruthlessly curate that I will take risks, I will set boundaries, I will be brave and go after things. And about a year later, she just brought up how in making that big life transition, she just kept reminding herself, that that was something I admired about her. And it gave her the final bit of courage she needed to make the jump. And I think that things like that really matter. Taking the time for that kind of stuff really matters, as we never know how hearing how others perceive us is going to give us the courage, or how my words impacted her a year later. A year later. All right, let’s get back to Chris’s project.

Alex Alexander 16:37
I mean, if we go through part by part, I would imagine part one, because you are… you’re talking about childhood and secondary school and uni and like all the way up that you haven’t known all of them, since they were kids. So do you feel like you’re learning a lot about people like friends, family, people that matter to you from before you met them, like things they’ve never maybe shared before?

Chris Burnett 17:06
100%. So I mentioned that… I had been living in Australia for a bit. And I’ve done this with a lot of my friends that I made out there who I only had known for a maximum of four years. And so there were maybe a little bits that I knew about in terms of I maybe knew where they grew up, but there’s so much that I don’t know, because I didn’t know them before I’d met them in adult life, I suppose so. So I asked them, “What were you like, as a kid? Where did you grow up?” Just those really basic questions reveal so much because I didn’t know any of it. At the same time, talking to friends that I have known since primary school is slightly different. But it’s also a really interesting conversation, because there’s still so much that I actually don’t know, or maybe thought I knew, but they didn’t know quite the reality of it.

Alex Alexander 17:53
Yeah, your memories didn’t quite match up maybe.

Chris Burnett 17:56
Yeah, then when we talk about, say, primary school, or even secondary school, the teachers or the subjects that stand out, for us are different. And it’s interesting to kind of get into that and think why that… isn’t it… along the way, it helps me or it has helped me to reflect on my own perception and my own life story, I suppose, because some friends are quite adamant of turning the questions on to me when we talk.

Alex Alexander 18:20
Well, that’s what I was going to ask is like, this is very one sided. And I’m sure that because you’ve created this experience, they want to tap into it too, like they want to get to know you. So, you’re saying that’s quite common?

Chris Burnett 18:35
It’s not that common, because I’m quite good at just getting in with the next question. But I have a few friends who literally will be like, “No, no, no, hold on. What were you like as a kid before we move on?” I had that quite a few times. And then two of my old housemates, every Tuesday we used to do like housemate night and we would do something. So we’d go watch a movie or go for dinner or something. And one Tuesday, they sat me in the hot seat and kind of turned the tables on to me and asked. It was just about… a recording just about me. And as I say, I think that kind of gives you an example of… we just treated that as an activity to do like instead of going to the pub or something. I think that’s a good way to think about this as you can just treat it as something different, something new to experience with your friend. But yeah, some friends are really good at asking.

Alex Alexander 19:28
I’m happy they did that. Because I was gonna say if you have not done that yet, I’m really good at asking questions. Let me know I’ll do it. Or you need some friends who do it, like you need a part one of yourself in this collective. So, I’m happy somebody forced you to do that.

Chris Burnett 19:44
Yeah. Well, so my old housemate Chris, lived with another Chris. There’s two Chris is in the house. So, he is a journalist. And so he’s used to doing kind of longer-form interviews, I guess. And then Charlie, I would just describe her as a kind of a bit of a rogue. So it didn’t really follow the kind of strict timeline as such, because Charlie kind of just came in with random questions here and there that kind of took me off guard and stuff along the way. And we have such a great relationship in terms of the three of us. So, you know, we’ve had a few beers and stuff. So it was just a… it’s a really funny thing to listen back to. But I can tell such a difference as well, because I did that relatively recently. And that was probably 18 months into me doing these recorded conversations with people. And I can tell that I’ve changed the way I articulate, you know, stories about my childhood, or I’m just so much more reflective. I’m so much more articulate when it comes to talking about me. And it’s because along the way, people have asked, turned the questions on to me.

Alex Alexander 20:40
I mean, pardon me for getting all emotional or like deep about this. But in doing this, your people are telling you that you matter. Like, you matter to them as well. And they probably want you to know that because after you’ve made them feel like they matter by asking them to do this interview, they want you to know the same. So…

Chris Burnett 21:04
yeah, for sure. Yeah, I can’t stress that enough. That’s a big part of me.

Alex Alexander 21:08
You can’t really push it down anymore. You can’t anymore be like, “Oh, no, it’s fine. It’s fine. Like, let’s just move on to the next thing.” Because they’re trying to let you know the same thing you’re letting them know. I love that.

Chris Burnett 21:18
Yeah. I know. I mean, for me, like, I don’t want that to be happening every conversation because I feel like I’m almost like repeating myself, but I fully get it. And I’m fully like, present in that moment of why they’re asking me and I do really want to give it back to them as well. Because, yeah, ultimately, like asking my family and friends, for me, it’s like, I just want to know more about you. And I want to know you on a deeper level. That is the core of all of this. And yeah, I mean, for me, like connection is, you know, it’s the be all and end all really, like nothing matters more. So, you know, that’s kind of why I’m doing this. And it’s why I’ve asked so many of my family and friends and questions about their life, because I actually just want to know the full them and know their story. And, yeah, the fact that then, yeah, as you say, they asked me things, I do really appreciate that as well.

Alex Alexander 22:06
I want to know, that middle section, when you are asking about the three words. And I would imagine that a lot of people, this is the first time they’ve really been asked to do an activity like that that is not with somebody that has maybe their like romantic partner. How does that go? How is it like impacting your friendships? Is it awkward at first? Like, tell me a little bit more about what you’ve seen come of the middle section that asking each other for three parts.

Chris Burnett 22:38
It is a little awkward at first, especially with guys. So I mean, guys, I guess we just don’t really take the time to sit and actually say what we appreciate about one another. We were more so just like, ragging on each other all the time, which is a show of endearment, I must say. But yeah, I think it’s been, as I say, a little bit awkward. I have a few friends who upfront were like, “I’m really bad at taking compliments. So I’m not going to like this part.” But afterwards, they have been like, “You know what? That was great.” It’s just a really nice thing to do. At the end of the day, this is someone you care about sitting across from you, and you’re just sharing what you like about them. It’s also just a little interesting exercise to do the homework because so many different words come up, right? And then you try and get the Thesaurus out and you try and work out what’s that magic key word that I want to use. You know, it’s quite subjective as well, if you do on a different day, in three other words would come about. But I think that the real point of it is, it’s just a way for me to tell them what I… what I like about them. And also for us to kind of reflect on what we like about each other and why we’re friends. And it’s an interesting one for me as well, having done it with so many people and people using similar words or different words and people knowing me from different times of my life and different experiences of my life that maybe use the same word or a different word and that, you know, if enough people are telling me that I’m X, then I must be. It’s funny as well. Some friends kind of forget to do the homework, and they’re just kind of off the cuff. And one of my friends just used the word Scottish, which was a little bit of a cop out, but he took it really literally. Like oh yeah, but if I was describing you to someone, I would say that you’re Scottish. I was like, “Okay, actually kind of appreciate you talked about the fact that most of our shared memories together have involved alcohol and I’ve got a really dry sarcastic sense of humor. And therefore I kind of was like okay, that’s that’s fair actually. Scottish is okay.”

Chris Burnett 24:44
If somebody was like, “What do you mean Scottish?” He would actually have an answer is what you’re saying, he could expand a little bit.

Chris Burnett 24:49
That’s a key part of this, right? It’s not just give me the three words. It’s say the word and then give a little, why did that come to mind. And, you know, some people are a little bit, “Oh, I didn’t realize I had to explain it.” But the explanation part is really where the sort of the magic happens. Because then they go, “Well, actually, it’s more so. It’s not that word I use. It’s actually more like this, because…” And then they give a bit of an explanation. And yeah, I’ve learned a lot about myself, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection through this exercise and through the words people have used to describe me. But it’s also just been really special to hear, as I say, especially like guy mate who afterwards are like, “Oh, that was… that part too. I really, really enjoyed that. I really liked the fact that you said I was loyal”, or whatever word it was that I used. And that’s always there. Well, yes, because it’s a… it’s a really lovely thing to do. But it’s just not something that we’re kind of used to.

Alex Alexander [Narration] 25:48
Just to remind you that I have a two part episode about men’s friendships. Episode 31, and 32 are kind of an overview of men’s friendships, what is maybe keeping them more surface level, like societal messaging, things like that, how hard it is for men to break out of this box and do things, like exactly what Chris is talking about. To be vulnerable, to tell each other how much you mean to each other. There’s like… as much as I would love to say to every guy out there like go do that, I get that there feels like there’s pressure to not do that. And if you want to hear more about why that pressure, because you have to push yourself outside the box and do things differently. Go listen to episode 31, 32.

Alex Alexander 26:42
I mean, I love part two. I love all the parts of this. But part two, especially because you are a guy, I love this, because what you’re doing is setting this precedent that it’s okay to say things like this to each other, and I get that you’re not going to sit around at the pub every weekend and throw this around. But if some big life milestone happens, you’ve now opened the door, where you could look at a friend and be like, you know, you did that because you are so consistent. Like remember when I told you you were consistent? This is the outcome of that. And I’m so happy for you that you’ve achieved whatever this thing is they were going for. Like you’ve… you’ve literally cracked open a door that I don’t know, but I would guess will follow through your friendships for a really long time.

Chris Burnett 27:38
I hope so, I think just that showing appreciation for one another, and kind of opening the door to a little bit of vulnerability, a little bit of awkwardness, a little bit of discomfort, that again deepens the connection. And yeah, I love your point about, you know, milestones down the line, being able to reflect on the word that I’ve used.

Alex Alexander 28:03
Yeah. Or just, you know, it could be 15 years down the line, being able to say, my expectation for guys isn’t that they’re just going to walk around throwing this around like confetti all the time. But the ability to do it when it feels right instead of feeling like it’s awkward matters, like it matters that you feel like you’ve cracked the door open and you could say it. It could even be something like 15 years down the line saying, you know, you were really, like one of the words was goofy. And you really were goofy when you were a younger guy. But now you’ve really become the most consistent person I know. And like showing that they’ve changed. There’s so many ways that this could show up in just like a couple sentences that actually would really matter. And I love that. And I hope that that’s how it plays out for you.

Chris Burnett 28:55
Yeah, I hope so too. It’s also really interesting to do it with, like my parents and aunties and uncles, for example. Because they’ve known me my whole life, right? And they’re more likely to use words that… or they have used words that describe me as a kid. I kind of have been able to track that. And, you know, they’ve reflected that I was a really sensitive kid. And I think that still plays out now just in different ways. But then they’re also, you know, they’ve used words like adventurous for example, because I’ve lived abroad in a few different spots. And people who knew me as a kid would not have seen that coming at all. Because as a kid, I was always… like, I wouldn’t do anything myself. I was always like, oh, who’s going to be there? And you know, if a friend was going to join me doing something, I wouldn’t do it. And so, one of my family friends, like, that’s kind of her perception of me. So when she hears that I’ve been here, there and everywhere, it’s a real surprise. So yeah, you get that kind of reflection on what you were like as a kid. And so what you’re like now just through kind of three words. And so that’s really interesting part two as well.

Alex Alexander 30:07
Yeah. So part three, where you share the memories. I’m assuming this is where things really pick up. People love to tell a story, go down memory lane, talk about their perspective. Do you think this is one of the easy, I mean, you’re also at the end. So people are kind of more used to this conversation. But do you feel like this is maybe one of the easiest parts for people?

Chris Burnett 30:31
Oh, yeah. It is definitely the easiest part. Partly as well, because at that stage, it’s completely a two way thing. So we’re both in these stories, it’s stories that we share. So it is literally one of us will bring something up. And then the other one will be like, “Oh, I knew you were going to mention that. I had that done too.” And then we just dive in. And what do you remember about that, and it’s really entertaining to reflect on how you remember things slightly differently, or the specific parts of a memory that that come to the surface for you. And yeah, it definitely is the easiest part. It’s also the funniest part, it’s the most entertaining part, because while through this project, there’s been… there’s a lot of vulnerability, and I’ve built a lot of empathy and, you know, talked about some really serious things. And it’s also equally been an incredible amount of fun. And part three is that. And I think it’s the best way to wrap up as well, because you just kind of sore… your cheeks are sore from laughing. And it just kind of ends things on a real, a real high. And I’ve done it with friends that haven’t actually spent that much time with really. So part three is relatively small. But then when I, when I do it with mates that I’ve known for so long, part three could go on for an hour, an hour and a half, two hours easily. And we’ve already been speaking for a couple hours.

Alex Alexander 31:54
Because you lived so much life together. You have lots of memories, because at one point, you’re probably doing your day-to-day life together in some sense.

Chris Burnett 32:02
Yeah, absolutely. And I love telling stories, I love sharing stories, I love hearing stories. And when you get like, you have those friends that you know, are great storytellers. And you just let them run wild with sharing their version of events. It’s incredible. And I think the key thing is, you know, having this on record, I can then go back and listen and have this like, incredibly fun podcast that I can just dip into whenever I want to know that there’s a good laugh come in here. Because so and so is going to bring up that time in Amsterdam, or whatever it is, you know?

Alex Alexander 32:38
I just love your project. I don’t know the answer to this, but I’m just curious. When you go back and retell all these stories, and I know you’re talking with a lot of people, right? 75 plus people, so this isn’t gonna happen with everybody. But have there been any moments where you’re talking to someone and you realize that I don’t know, you used to love listening to a certain type of music together? And then you are like, “Why don’t we listen to that music anymore?” Like, does it rekindle anything ever?

Chris Burnett 33:08
That’s a great question. When you said that, first thing that came to mind was actually the complete opposite of that, where me and my friend, like my best mate, we reflected on the fact that we used to have the exact same music tastes, go to gigs all the time together. And then at some point in time, we just kind of diverged. And I think the real key of it is that he listens to maybe not a lot of music, but in a lot of depth. Whereas I listen to a lot of music, but not a lot of depth. Shallow listening in terms of, I am there for the melodies, he’s there for the meaning behind the song and the lyrics and really wants to sink into that. So we’ve ended up just kind of diverging in terms of our tastes, in terms of whether it’s rekindled anything, I mean, it’s probably been a case of, you know, we’re remembering trips that we’ve been on and we’re like, oh, we need to do something like that again. And why aren’t we, you know, why aren’t we thinking about that, and why don’t we plan to do that? And so that actually did come to fruition. In lockdown me and my housemates, we recreated our own… our own version of, of my favorite TV show, which is called Taskmaster. And it’s basically this set of comedians get set. They go to this house, and they pre-record themselves doing ridiculous tasks. So for example, the first task is you’re going to walk into the next room, there’s going to be a watermelon and you have one minute to eat as much watermelon as you can. So some of them like go grab a knife from the kitchen and start carving the watermelon. Some of them just throw it on the floor and just shovel it in there. Like it’s just funny people doing the same thing in a slightly different way. And we recreated not that specific task, but we recreated the doing the show in lockdown. And from one of those conversations where we recounted a few memories from… from doing that, we then were like, we need to do that again. Because we can, we know how to do it. And then we ended up doing it again in like a couple of months down the line. So yeah, that’s probably the most tangible one I can… I can think of in terms of something that’s come about because we’ve shared a story or two.

Alex Alexander 34:57
I was just curious because I would think that when you talk about this stuff with people, right, connections have waned or there’s been distance or that thing that you used to love doing together, you don’t really do any more. But some of the simpler stuff, you could be like, why don’t we like? I know, we maybe don’t have time to meet up for concerts all the time, there’s no reason we couldn’t be like trading back and forth what we’re listening to. And, again, there’s no right or wrong. I didn’t know the answer for anybody listening when I asked you that question, but because I think there will be people who are inspired to do this project, if you do it, I’d listen for those. Because I think it might help people kind of like find something new to tap into in that friendship and whatever, this new stages. That’s also just my friendship brain.

Chris Burnett 35:48
Yeah, I love it. I love it. Because that’s another key part of this, right? I’ve talked a lot about deepening the connection, but also just sustaining it. And I think, yeah, bringing up the memories, and then going, oh, why don’t we do that anymore? Like, we could.

Alex Alexander 36:01
Like a new version of that, that fits our current season of life. Like, you know, maybe we can’t do it the way we did it when we were in secondary school. But we both still like that thing. There’s no reason we couldn’t figure out a new way to like, incorporate that into our lives so that it’s a reason we stay in contact.

Alex Alexander [Narration] 36:23
I want to explain a little bit further why I asked that question to Chris. Because I really do hope that people do this project on whatever scale. It’s just a couple interviews. And I think that doing this, like, let me give you this thought so you can maximize it. You are going to do these interviews with people that you care about. You have some sort of belief about this connection, they matter to me, we had fun times together, we care about each other, whatever these beliefs are. And you have these beliefs, which I call story roots, because at one point, you were experiencing life together, you were present, you are making memories and going out and doing things and going to school together, like whatever. You were doing things together. And when you do things, you learn about each other, you make memories, you act in ways that show that you know each other and care about each other. Whatever it is that that belief is, and that’s the evidence that supports your belief. That’s an overview of something called my roots of connection framework, which you can find at alexalex.link/roots. So, you’re doing this interview. And sitting here and talking, I’ve already mentioned that like, to your friend, your family member, there’s some sense of like, hey, you matter to me. And I want to take this time to really reflect on our connection and learn more about you. That’s a piece of it. But that is really putting focus on that belief. And while you’re in here talking about this, you might be able to find new ways to stay connected, new things that you text each other about, new shared experiences. They are called our shared experience, roots. They are the experiences in the interest that you have, that you reach out to each other about. They are like the reason you would text someone like, hey, we used to love running together, is what you would realize in this conversation. So now maybe you suggest that you start running again together. Or maybe you realize that… I don’t know, you used to love to cook together. And although you live on opposite sides of the country and maybe you can’t cook together all the time, one you could plan some trips to meet up and cook together. But two, you gonna be sharing recipes and sharing recipes would be reasons to text each other. Which would be reasons to stay in contact, which might lead to like, “Hey, how’s life going? How are you doing?” You can kind of rekindle some of these shared experiences and shared interests in new formats. Because the old format of cooking dinner together every night may not be feasible. That’s why I’m asking this question. I think that in doing this interview, you have a really, really unique opportunity to deep dive and reflect on what is connecting these friendships. And maybe what used to connect these friendships that you can reignite to keep you connected now.

Alex Alexander 39:41
Okay, so we’ve done all this. I have a couple questions about the aftermath of your project. First of all, I mean, this kind of relates to the question I was asked, but do you think it has changed your friendships and your relationships with the people you love?

Chris Burnett 39:56
Yeah, so with people that I’d maybe lost a bit have touch with, doing the deeper dive recorded chat has brought us close together again. And what I’ve loved is that quite a few friends have since returned to the, hey, it’s been a minute message to reach out or have just sent a voice note without any context. And it’s just an update of their life. And I absolutely love that. And I think I’ve just kind of put myself on people’s radar again, in a really… by taking the time to show interest in their story. And I’ve got so many amazing friendships that I won’t, you know, see them for a number of years, but then when we do reconnect, we just drop straight back into it. And I think having done these recorded chats, and these longer form conversations, it makes it even easier just to drop straight back in. And it’s as if no time has passed, because I really do know these people on a different level now. And you’ve crossed paths with so many people in your adult life, especially if you move around. And now like I’ve just recently moved to Toronto, and I’ve already made a couple of friends here that I’m like, well, can’t wait to sit and ask them about their life. But I’m giving it a bit of time because I want there to be some shared experiences memory. So, that part for that part three. But I’m already like, yeah, this is going to be good, because I know that it’s going to bring us closer together as well. So some of my relationships, as well, you know, with family, for example. I think there is so much about my cousins and my aunties and uncles lives that I kind of almost took for granted. Because I sort of knew, but did I really know? No. And it took asking the questions and, you know, had some really vulnerable chats with them that we’d never had before because we’re used to getting together in a group setting. And this was like… especially my aunties and uncles, the first time we really sat down one on one and properly, like had a chat. And that was super cool. And I remember my auntie beforehand, she was super nervous, because, you know, there’s a microphone there. And afterwards, she was like, “That was amazing. I absolutely loved that.” And that reaction just always sticks out just because of how nervous she was, and, and then how much you enjoyed it. And the conversation… there were ups and downs in the conversation. But ultimately, you really enjoy that. And I think as well, we kind of take for granted gratitude in our relationships. And I think just reaching out, and asking someone to do this is a real good way of, of kind of showing that gratitude.

Alex Alexander 42:49
What I was thinking is, so I have this whole, I’m not going to tell you this whole thing, because you don’t need to hear it all right now, but basically, I have this whole framework for the things that are holding our friendships, and I think all relationships together. And one of them is our beliefs about those relationships. And what happens is, you know, when you’re doing life together all the time, of course, your friend cares about you, because like you saw them yesterday, and you know what their favorite ice cream flavor is, and you’re gonna see them at the pub tomorrow. You don’t doubt that. The more time goes on, we start to doubt whether our friends care, will they show up for us? Do they want to be our friends? Like we question our own beliefs, rightfully so because you haven’t had any evidence to support it in a while. And what you’re doing and asking people to do this is making a very direct piece of evidence that says, hey, I care about you. And I want to know you better. So now, they can’t question anymore that you care. So I’m not surprised that they’re reaching out back to you and things like that, because it’s removed… like your action has removed their uncertainty. And I think that that is really beautiful. And I also think that it’s one thing to just reach out to somebody after six years and say, “Hey, I’ve thought about you.” Like, okay, it is another thing to say, “Hey, I’ve thought about you. I appreciate our friendship, even though it’s been a long time so much that I want to sit down and relive all the great things about our friendship, and record it so I can listen back to it.” That is a pretty big piece of evidence. So I really commend you for making that move.

Chris Burnett 44:45
Thank you.

Alex Alexander 44:46
I know I’m just laying compliments on you, but…

Chris Burnett 44:48
I’m here for it. There’s a couple of things as well that kind of anyone listening to this, I kind of want to get across to them. So one is that there’s a lot of talk and a lot of books out there about human connection. But for me, they always talk about it in kind of the more abstract of like connecting with randoms, with other people. And I’m like, kind of look at that and think you already got people in your life. And, you know, I want to kind of stress that because I’ve had a few friends asked me, “Oh, is this something you’re doing with just people you just meet? You would you just go and do it with someone you meet on the street or whatever have a random interaction with?” And I say that that’s actually the opposite of the point of what I’m trying to do here which is like, I’ve got people in my life. And you know, the book is deepening connection with people in our lives. So like, as you say, it’s people that maybe I haven’t spoken to in a good few years, and some of them as well, we only spent a summer together. And so it’s kind of like in terms of actual physical time together, there’s, there’s not that much of it, but they’re just maybe like a really interesting person or just someone I like admire or want to stay in touch with. And so I just want to know their backstory a little bit more, but I am already connected to them. It’s not… I’m not just going out there and trying to find. And then the other part as well is, like, this is a really cool thing to do in terms of making your family member or friend feel special. And I kind of can see this as being like a, you know, you could shape it around a birthday, or an anniversary, or the festive period or something as a kind of gift to give someone. Like, I’m going to sit down and ask you about your story. And then here’s the recording, if you ever want to listen back, and you can hear how you reflect on things and tell your own story. Here you go. And I think that what I mentioned about my auntie kind of being really nervous beforehand, she made a comment about kind of not feeling important enough to be interviewed. And I think there’s something there where we just assumed that you need to be have some sort of celebrity status or something to be interesting enough, but that’s wrong, in my view. And because this isn’t public, this is just for me and them. They are the most interesting person for me to chat to. I don’t really care about people I don’t know. In that same way, I want to deepen the connection with the people I do know. So yeah, it’s just a couple of things I wanted to sort of bring up because it’s been playing on my mind as I’ve been writing about it as well.

Alex Alexander 47:08
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a really important point, both of them, both points are really important. The first one in particular just hits on something, which is, you know, so many people come to me, and it’s like, “I want to learn how to make friends, I want to move across the country, because the right people aren’t here.” And like, somehow, we’ve just been convinced that we really don’t have any meaningful connections, because they don’t hit some peak that we can’t even describe. So quite often, when I talk to people, it’s like, you have more than you realize. And you just aren’t appreciating that like, that goes back to the gratitude piece. And that’s not to say that maybe you don’t want to supplement an ad. But you probably aren’t starting from scratch like you think you are. Like, somehow we’ve been convinced that we just don’t have the meaningful connections that really, most people are surrounded by every day, they just don’t want to see the value, even if it’s small. So I think that doing this project is such a, like a practiced way almost, to tap into that and remind yourself that you do have a lot of really valuable connections in your life.

Chris Burnett 48:27
And there’s so much to learn about each other. I mean, like, I’m sure everyone listening to this could think of a friend that has had maybe some sort of hardship or lived experience that they kind of know about, but have never really asked about, because it’s you know, it’s difficult to create that space for the vulnerability. But doing this and taking the time allows for that. Now, there’s been a few things that people haven’t want to talk to me about and absolutely satisfying, like, the first thing I say before we hit record is to remind them of the structure. And then I basically say, if there’s anything you don’t want to talk about, we absolutely do not need to talk about. So there’s been a few instances where people have been like, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were gonna ask me that is okay. That’s fine. Let’s just move on.” That’s actually been the minority of the time. Like, the vast majority of the time, people are willing to, to share and is it because… it’s because you’re intentionally taking the time to ask and really doing it in a safe space where you’re like, yes, it is recorded, but it’s just between us. And there’s that trust there already. Because as I say, you’re doing with someone you know, so there’s already a level of trust there. And, yeah, I mean, it’s not all about the vulnerability and that but obviously, that formed a massive part. And I’m incredibly grateful for friends that have opened up about loss, racism, their faith. And one friend told me about an eating disorder she had. And yeah, I had no idea about And she just brought it up. I didn’t… like I didn’t ask about it, because I didn’t know anything. And just to have that kind of… that was a beautifully special thing for her to share with me. And it just kind of astounds me like how awesome my friends are basically, through that kind of conversation as well as… as well as just recounting the silly stories and the fun times that we… that we have together as well.

Alex Alexander 50:25
Yeah, I’m really admiring how they’re moving through the world and what they’ve gone through. So we have to wrap this up, at some point, we’ve hit that point. But to close it out, you told me that your goal in now sharing this project, like your original goal was obviously to do this to deepen your relationships. Now that you’re sharing it, your goal is to have just one person decide to maybe recreate this in whatever way they want, but a similar project, and like inspire one person to do it. And I think you’re going to have no problem achieving that goal, potentially tenfold, a hundredfold. We’ll see. So you have written a book for people to read, and get some of the structure some of the questions, some of your tips and tricks. And I’m sure also just like why you think this matters, you want to tell people a little bit about the book, so they can go find it, because I know somebody’s gonna go find it and do this project.

Chris Burnett 51:31
I think it’s important to note that I didn’t set out with the idea of, of writing a book. I think that’s really important, because what it’s meant is that I’ve been intrinsically motivated throughout this. The point of doing this, the why has been to get to know, my family and friends on a deeper level, and to deepen our connection. And also to have a bit of fun, just remembering good times shared together. So that has been the point up till now, and will continue to be the point beyond writing the book. The reason I want to write the book is that I’ve had a couple of friends who I’ve, I’ve had these chats with, say that they want to do it as well, and have asked me for a list of questions. And I actually genuinely didn’t have a list of questions until I got asked. And so I was like, “Okay, I need to actually write these down, because I just kind of write down a few bullet points. And I just kind of go off from there.” But I do have a set of questions for everybody. And then depending on who I’m speaking to, I will jot down a few things beforehand, as well, that I know, I’m going to want to ask them or I know will come up at some point. Yeah, once my friends started asking about that, I wanted to then be able to share that with them and hopefully encourage them to do it. And I thought, well, you know what? Why don’t I just see if I enjoyed the writing process, and maybe put this out to a few more family and friends and kind of have it like that. And as you say, the point of me writing this book, is to share what I’ve done, to share the story of what I’ve done. And I’m including quotes from the conversations I’ve had. So I’ve gone back to my family and friends. And I mean, the courts are anonymized. But I’ve got permission from them all to share these stories. And yeah, they range from relatively, you know, deep topics to just the silly, and the fun. And you know, one of my friends talking about an acting semester that she did at uni, and it was method acting, and she had to be a cat. So our homework was to go home and pretend to be a cat and her roommates walked in on her just like purring and looking like… and then there is… it’s just things like that are also like, I think that really hammers home what this is about. It’s… it’s also the fun stuff. So yeah, the book is sharing the story of what I’ve done, but also sharing the stories that people have told me along the way. And the whole point is to encourage others to consider doing it. Now when I say doing it, I don’t necessarily mean you have to go out and set out to do 75 of these. I just am saying you could just do one, you could take your partner, you could take your best friend, an older relative. I think a lot of people jump to older relatives when they hear this. And absolutely, that is part of it, too. I’ve done it with both my grandmas. And that’s an incredibly special thing to have. I’d had a similar chat with my grandma and granddad years ago. And I just recorded one at the time, but it kind of planted the seed for what I’m doing now. But my granddad since passed, but being able to play that back and hear his voice, it’s like I’m back in the room with him. And that’s really cool. So you know that that is also an incredibly special and valid thing. But my whole thing is that people have stories to tell now. You don’t need to wait until later in life to hear the whole life story. People have stories to share now. So yeah, I want to encourage others to do it. And as I say, a couple of my mates have gone away and had similar conversations, which is brilliant. But my kind of hope with this book is that one person that I don’t know, one random, reads it goes away has one of these conversations and then just sends me a message and says, “Hey, read your book. I had one of these conversations. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.” That would be the impact for me. That would be like, okay, this has all been… all been worth it.

Chris Burnett 55:03
The book part, the podcast part is worth it for you in your own life? Yeah, like the writing of the book and putting up there, one person. Yeah.

Chris Burnett 55:13
100%. I mean, yeah, in some ways, the book is just a bonus thing, to be honest, because I just feel like everyone has a narrative worth sharing. And we all have that opportunity to allow people a space to tell it. And who better to ask you, and to kind of get to your story than someone in your life, a loved one? So I just want to encourage more of that. And you know, I’ve benefited so much mental health-wise, being able to open up and be vulnerable. And I just want other people to experience that. And so that’s the whole point of the book, as I say, it’s called ‘conversations: deepening connection with people in our lives’. It’s going to be out on Amazon, available as a paperback and as an ebook. It will be out just in time for this podcast coming live. So…

Alex Alexander 55:57
As podcast… so inspired by Chris’s project that I told him, we would like release it around the same time, we will link to it in the show notes, we will link to wherever Chris tells us to link to. You can go find all the things and you’ll have a way to message him when some random listener decides to take this on, he wants to hear from you. And honestly, I want to hear from you too, if you listen to this podcast, and that was the inspiration, let us know. Because we want to hear how it affected you. Chris, thank you so much for coming on here and for reaching out and telling me about the project and spending this time like deep diving into all the parts of it. I think this gives people a really great roadmap for how they might go about this on their own.

Chris Burnett 56:46
Well, thank you for having me. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And hopefully, there’s some people out there who… who feel inspired to go and have some similar conversations and deepen their connections. That would be… that would be amazing. But yeah, thank you for your time. And thanks for having me.

Alex Alexander [Narration] 57:02
I am sure some people are gonna go do it. Okay. Who else is inspired? Anybody else considering this project? Because it can’t just be me. I am so grateful to Chris for coming on here, for reaching out, for taking the time to share about all the conversations he’s having and honestly for taking the time to write this book. His book is titled ‘Conversations: connecting with people in our lives’. And at the time I’m releasing this episode, it is live. Like his book has just been released only a couple days before now. There’s a link in the show notes that will take you directly to the book. It is alexalex.link/conversations. And Chris and I are not joking. If you even do one interview, where you message us, we would love to hear about how that conversation went through how you feel it impacted your friendships or your familial relationships or your romantic relationships or your relationships with your children. Whoever it is that you are spending the time to sit down and connect with we want to hear about it. With that, I’ll talk to you next week.

Podcast Intro/Outro 58:20

Thank you for listening to this episode of Friendship IRL. I am so honored to have these conversations with you. But don’t let the chat die here. Send me a voice message. I created a special website just to chat with you. You can find it at alexalex.chat. You can also find me on Instagram. My handle, @itsalexalexander. Or go ahead and leave a review wherever you prefer to listen to podcasts. Now if you want to take this conversation a step further, send this episode to a friend. Tell them you found it interesting. And use what we just talked about as a conversation starter the next time you and your friend hang out. No need for a teary Goodbye. I’ll be back with a new episode next week.

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Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

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Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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