I know many people who struggle with getting along with others. It’s not because they are difficult, arrogant, socially inept, etc., but rather because they just don’t know what to say and feel uncomfortable being around those they haven’t met before. This is incredibly common in high pressure situations such as job interviews, the first day/week on a new job, business meetings, meeting your significant other’s family for the first time (or just being around them in general), the initial introduction into your boyfriend or girlfriend’s social circle, and the list goes on.
There are generally 3 major things that play into this discomfort: Fear, insecurity, and not knowing what to talk about. Let’s take a look-see.
It is unfortunately true that many of us are scared of people. It sounds silly and may not even occur to some as really being the case. But in our modern society we are much more isolated than ever before. Screen time and social media play into it of course, but we are also very physically isolated. Many people live alone and stay in their apartments/houses, coming and going only through garages and not interacting with the people they live next to. Many of us don’t know the names of our own neighbors. The less practice we have interacting with people, the harder it becomes. With all skills, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
The thing to remember is that people are all the same. We want to be liked; we want to belong; we want friends and partners; we love to laugh; we are moved by the faces of children and baby animals. When we can come to believe and remember this fact, fear begins to melt away.
I’ve never met a person who isn’t insecure about something. But insecurity becomes poison when it keeps you from enjoying life and making friends. Try to think of something you like about yourself; something your good at. Direct your mind to this fact if/when you start to let insecurity cripple you and keep you from interacting with others. You’ve probably heard this a million times before but it holds true – say affirmations. Write them down and post them on your bathroom mirror or bedroom closet. Tell yourself that you are worthy and beautiful. Tell yourself that thing you love about you. “You have gorgeous hair,” or “You have awesome taste in shoes,” or “You have a great sense of humor and great legs”. Whatever it is, write it down, post it on your bathroom mirror and then keep saying it to yourself. You’ll be surprised by how it begins to permeate your subconscious mind and impact your self-image.
- Not knowing what to talk about:
There have been several books written on the art of small talk. There are even seminars on the topic that travel to large US cities. Having read those publications and attended seminars, the message is simple: come up with an interesting question you can ask new people in your life. You can use the same question over and over or come up with a few that would be best suited for particular situations. It should be an open-ended question and apply to many people. “So, I have a fun question for ya; if you could fight anyone living or dead, who would it be?” Yes, I took that one from the movie Fight Club. But you have to admit, it’s not dull. I think it’s even more interesting to ask this question of a woman. She’s not expecting it and will disarm her. Or try, “hey, I heard that there’s a renewed interest in going to or figuring out how to colonize Mars. What do you think about space travel?” Another fallback strategy is having a go-to story you can tell. Pick a story that is appropriate for most audiences. It should be something that leaves you with an open-ended question you could pose. An example would be, “So I was at the grocery store last week and this guy took a grape from the produce section, ate it, and then carried on with his shopping. He didn’t buy grapes. I’m kind of on the fence about whether or not that’s ok. What do you think?” The story is generic, non-offensive, and the person has to think about it a little. A moral dilemma (but not a heavy one) – this can definitely spark a conversation.
Okay, so those are good for social situations… but what about a job interview? When you first walk into the room or office where you are being led for the discussion, immediately look for something interesting or appealing about the room or décor. Do NOT be insincere. People know when someone is being phony and it will not play well. You might say, “wow, that’s some interesting art work,” or “I like the lay out your office space. I’ve always wanted to work in a space that has such an open feel.” You could also try complementing the jacket or shoes of the interviewer but not if you don’t mean it. You may want to steer clear of clothing other than outdoor wear because you want to keep the relationship as professional as possible and you don’t want anyone thinking that you’re checking them out.
These hints for starting conversation were true in the 30’s when Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People and they still hold true today. People love it when you notice something about them or take an interest in something they like. It pays to become observant. There is rarely a time when someone rejects a sincere compliment or is repelled by someone who likes the same things they do. Look for clues… does it look like they take good care of their shoes? Mention their shoes. Do they have thick hair? Tell them you wish you had a great head of hair like they have. Do they have a cool table in their office/house? Say so. You’ll win them over in no time. People don’t often remember exactly what you say to them when you leave, but they’ll remember whether they liked you.
Being likeable doesn’t have to be a skill or trait you were born with. You can develop this if you put forth a little effort.
One last thought – if you want to be liked, don’t be someone who talks over others. If you ask a question, let them answer it. It sounds like a no-brainer but it’s our natural tendency to try to finish others’ thoughts and just think about what we’re going to say next instead of listening. When they finish their thought and make their point (hopefully there is one), then that will inform the conversation. You don’t have to dominate it. In fact, its best if you don’t.
I’m not sure I’d say that these rules apply to winning clients or getting to the top of the corporate food chain. If the organization is one of integrity then that could be the case. Unfortunately, rising to the top may require having a certain moral flexibility – and that would be a different set of skills on which I am no authority. But if you just want to leave them thinking, “hey, she/he was cool,” then this might be your ticket there.