Talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours.
The Importance of Developing Social Skills
It is no secret that those who develop the ability to get along with other people experience a higher level of life satisfaction and fulfilment. Life is after all, all about building, nurturing and growing relationships. The higher the quality of our relationships the greater level of emotional support we receive from others. And of course strong emotional support forms the bedrock of a healthy and optimal life experience.
Building and nurturing strong relationships comes very naturally for some people. While for others… well let’s just say that it’s a bit of a struggle. However, it really doesn’t need to be this way, because anyone can improve their social game. And it doesn’t even matter whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. Social skills can be learned over time. In fact, it is something that you can get better at once you come to understand the rules and dynamics of this social game.
We’ve of course previously discussed various aspects of this social game. For instance:
These articles will provide you with key insights into the various dynamics of social interaction. However, what’s missing within these articles is a simple process you can follow they will get you from point A to B to C. In other words, a step-by-step action plan for interacting with other people.
What therefore follows is essentially everything you need to know to help you get started and make a good impression when in the company of others. You will learn how to make a good first impression, how to instigate small talk, how to become an active listener and how to build rapport. Moreover, we will also take a look at typical social mistakes people make that ruin their chances of building strong, deep and meaningful relationships with others.
In combination all these ingredients will allow you to make a fantastic positive impression, and will also go a long way toward helping you develop effective social skills that can serve you for the rest of your life.
Before entering any social situation, it’s always helpful to have an intention in mind. In other words, it’s important to have an objective or goal in mind for every social interaction you have with another person. Now, of course this won’t always be possible as many of your interactions will probably be unplanned and somewhat spontaneous. However, even in these situations it can help to have a pre-planned goal in mind, such as endeavoring to make a good first impression.
It therefore really doesn’t matter so much what your goal is for each social interaction, as long as you have something in mind that helps guide and direct your interaction with this other person.
To help you out with this, ask yourself the following set of questions:
What am I hoping to accomplish in this social situation?
What is my underlying goal and intention for this social interaction?
How will I approach the conversation?
What specifically do I want to say?
How would I like to make the other person feel?
How would I like to make them feel about me?
What would I personally like to gain from this social interaction?
Where specifically would I like to lead the conversation?
What questions might I want to ask the other person?
How could I best prepare myself for this interaction?
What research could I do that might be of value?
You of course don’t necessarily need to ask these questions before every social interaction, however it can certainly be helpful to get into the habit of posing these kinds of questions as they will help you come to terms with key goals and objectives that will allow you get the most from each conversation.
Besides these questions, it can also be helpful to prepare yourself in other ways before you jump into the deep end of the social game. For instance:
Check Latest News and Events
Updating yourself on the latest news and events will help you to bring these topics into your conversations or at the very least use these topics as anchors to help you develop deeper levels of rapport with the other person.
Develop Your Observation Skills
To develop your observation skills means to become more observant of people and your surroundings. This helps because the more you able to observe other people the greater insights you gain into their personality, interests, problems and other important factors that you can use to lead a conversation.
Observation skills are of course primarily developed in the field while you’re interacting with others. However, you can also fine-tune your observation skills through people watching from a distance. Simply sit on a park bench and observe people interacting with one another. Notice what they’re wearing, what they’re saying, their mannerisms, body language, etc. The better you get at noticing the fine-details, the better you will be at leading conversations in the most optimal way possible.
Practice Expressing Yourself
At times it’s not so much what you say, but rather how you say things that has the biggest impact on your conversations with other people. As such, it’s important to practice enunciating your words, which essentially means to practice pronouncing your words completely and correctly, but without sounding like a robot. 😉
It’s also helpful to practice emphasizing main points and ideas throughout your conversation. In other words, try to avoid speaking at the same level or using the same tone and pace throughout a conversation. Vary things up to add interest to your speaking style in order to draw people into your story. What this essentially means is to animate your voice with a little emotion. Not too much, but enough to draw another person’s interest.
Consider Cultural Differences and Social Expectations
Coming into any social interaction it’s also important to keep in mind any cultural differences between you and the other person, as well as any specific expectations that people might have in a certain social setting.
For instance, in some cultures it’s very appropriate to stand very close to another other person while interacting with them. While in other cultures it’s considered an invasion of personal space, and actually makes people feel very uncomfortable. Being aware of these expectations (what’s appropriate and not appropriate) as well as any social expectations pertaining to the social setting are critical toward helping you best prepare yourself for any social interaction.
Making a Great First Impression
Having taken the time to mentally prepare yourself for the social game, it’s time now to step out and make a great first impression.
Whether you’re meeting someone for the very first time, or you’re catching up with an old friend, making a good first impression within the first few moments effectively lays down the foundations for the remainder of the conversation. As such, it’s important to make a positive impression that puts you in an optimal and favorable light in the eyes of the other person.
Making a great first impression always begins with three key things:
- A great smile that is authentic and genuine. But be very careful that it is not overdone.
- Good eye contact that is gentle and inviting. Not the piercing and judgmental type.
- Open body language that is friendly but understands people’s boundaries.
When these three factors are in play you naturally appear warm, personable and inviting. This makes the other person feel more comfortable and relaxed in your presence. As such, they will be more willing to open up to you. And as a result you are more likely to develop deeper levels of rapport with them the further the conversation moves forward.
Be Well Groomed and Dressed
Another key factor that leads to a good first impression is to be well groomed and dressed appropriately for the social setting. We all know we shouldn’t be judging people by their looks or style of dress, but unfortunately more times than not people do judge, even if it is at an unconscious level of awareness. As such, take time to look your best in order to give the kind of impression that meets your goals for this conversation.
Give a Great Handshake
When greeting a person for the very first time, your handshake is also important. A handshake that is too hard, holds on for too long, is wet, or one that’s more like a floppy fish will probably not leave a good impression in the eyes of most people you meet. Again, this is something that is subtle that many people might not give a second thought to. But on a subconscious level it certainly has an effect on them. As such, it’s best to give a firm confident handshake that makes the other person feel welcome.
Radiate and Warm and Inviting Energy
Making a great first impression also requires being modest and humble, positive and upbeat (depends of course on the social situation), approachable, friendly, authentic, respectful and supportive. These are all key attributes that will help you radiate a warm and inviting energy that will naturally draw people to you; encouraging them to want to get to know you at a deeper level.
Think Before Speaking
The final guideline for making a great first impression is to think before speaking. Saying the wrong thing within the first few moments of meeting someone can certainly put you at a considerable disadvantage. It’s therefore important to really reflect upon what you will say and how you will say things within the first few moments of your conversation. And yes, you can certainly use a little humor to help the other person feel more relaxed and at ease. However, be very careful. What you find humorous might not sit well with another person. As such, it’s always safer to initially come across as warm and inviting rather than a “practical joker”.
Making Small Talk
Okay, so by this stage you have made a pretty good first impression. The other person is open and receptive to what you have to say, and there are certainly signs that the both of you could very well “hit it off”. Now what? Well now is the tough part. The objective here is to find some common ground so that you can start developing an ever deeper level of rapport as the conversation moves forward.
Making small talk will help you to progressively find those “common grounds of interest” that you can expand upon as your conversation evolves. But how do we do this?
Make Full Use of Your Observation Skills
This is of course where your observation skills come into play. It’s where you must pick up on the little things that you have noticed about the other person and turn them into topics for further exploration. For instance, possibly the person you are conversing with is wearing something unique, or something that hints at what they do for a living. Or maybe they mentioned something early in the conversation that they have an interest in. Or possibly they are holding something that you can talk about. No matter what it is, you need to use these anchors to help take your interaction with this other person to a deeper and more meaningful level.
Become a Master of the Question
To do this, you need to become a master at asking effective questions. To be more specific, you need to ask people questions that are insightful, open-ended and non-invasive. Insightful questions come through your observation skills. Open-ended questions encourage the other person to talk about something in depth. And non-invasive questions ensure that you don’t cross any boundaries that make the other person feel somewhat uncomfortable.
Asking questions can be quite an effective way to direct a conversation, however asking too many questions (one after another) within a very short period of time can also make a person feel rather uncomfortable. In fact, it might even make the other person feel as though they are being scrutinized within a job interview; which for good reason many people feel anxious about. As such, it’s important to mix questions with pauses, paraphrases and short statements and personal stories that support what the other person has said. This way the conversation flows two ways, and doesn’t come across as a job interview.
What Specifically to Talk About
If you’re struggling with the questioning process, then here is a list of things you can talk about at the early stages of a conversation with another person:
- Make a remark about the location, social occasion, or the circumstances you both find yourselves in.
- Share a relevant and interesting personal experience or entertaining story that has to do with the location, social occasion or circumstances of the situation. Be sure that this story puts you in a favorable light.
- Ask the other person for their advice or opinion about a current event or news story, or about a personal issue you are struggling with. But make sure it’s not too personal and doesn’t end up offending the other person or putting you in a negative light. 🙁
- Ask the other person what causes they care about, and then share your own passions and causes that you care about.
- Ask the other person about their interests, aspirations and possibly about their family background. But do tread carefully when asking about a person’s family as some people might find this rather aggressive this early in a conversation.
Using these guidelines should give you enough ammunition to get through the first few minutes of a conversation. You of course still have a lot of work ahead of you to build a good level of rapport with the other person, but you should by now have a solid foundation behind you that you can build upon as the conversation moves forward.
Active Listening Skills
The objective of making small talk is to slowly lower the barriers between the two of you. It’s about making the other person feel comfortable that they can actually open up to you and talk to you about more important and meaningful things. However, the other objective of making small talk is to help activate your active listening skills.
Active listening is a proactive and involving form of listening where you are patiently listening to what the other person is saying and then taking that information and making sense of it in your mind. But this is not only about listening to the words the person is speaking, it’s also about listening to the undertone behind the words, it’s about paying attention to their facial expressions, demeanor and body language, then making sense of everything and adjusting your approach accordingly.
Active listening is the key single step that helps you build deep levels of rapport with another person. However, it’s certainly not an easy step as it requires you remain very vigilant and focused on the other person at all times. In other words, if you typically get lost in your head while conversing with another person, or thinking about the next thing you’re going to say, then active listening isn’t yet a part of your nature. It’s rather something you will need to focus and work on developing over time.
Developing Your Active Listening Muscle
In order to start developing your active listening muscle there are several things that you will need to give particular attention to.
First of all, try and remove all possible distractions that could disengage you from the conversation. Possibly stepping into a quiet room away from other people might help. Ideally you should ask the other person if they would be happy to take the conversation to a quieter location where you don’t have to worry about visual, auditory, olfactory or kinesthetic distractions.
Once in a more optimal location, you must also willingly set aside any prejudices you might have. See this person as a clean canvas, and don’t allow your beliefs and values to cloud your judgment about what this person is all about. In other words, be very open and receptive to anything and everything they have to say without judgment and without making conclusions based on your past experiences. Only in this way can you truly get to know a person without prejudice.
Now, in order to switch on your active listening muscle, it’s important that you lean forward slightly and maintain good eye contact throughout the conversation. This will show the other person that you are interested in them and wanting to learn more. As a result, they will be more willing to openly talk to you about their life, feelings and circumstances.
While paying attention, make an effort to ensure that the other person isn’t doing all the talking. You don’t necessarily need to talk about yourself, but do make sure that at times you paraphrase and clarify what you’re hearing. To put this another way, explain to the other person how you understand “in your own words” what they have told you. This way the other person gets validation that you are present and paying attention to what they are saying.
Do also be aware of the subtext of the conversation. These are the feelings and words the person is not expressing openly at the time. You might very well be able to use some of these subtle hints to take the conversation to a deeper level as the conversation moves forward.
And of course, above all else, be very open and receptive to the person’s perspective and opinion. Keep in mind that they most likely have a different set of values, beliefs and experiences. As such their opinion and perspective will vary. And this of course isn’t wrong, it’s just different. Be open to this difference and see the situation fully from the other person’s shoes. Only in this way will you begin to grasp what it will take to develop high levels of rapport.
Building Great Rapport
Everything we have discussed up to this point has been for the purpose of getting to a stage within our interaction where we can begin to develop high levels of rapport.
Making a great first impression, making small talk, and using active listening skills have so far helped you to get to know the person at a relatively deep level. Now of course the active listening part doesn’t stop here. It continues throughout the entire conversation, however for the purpose of building rapport, let’s discuss how you can potentially develop a deeper emotional connection with the other person as you move forward through the conversation.
Continue Asking Questions
Questions lie at the core of every great interaction with another person. Asking the right questions can certainly help to build deep levels of rapport. Therefore it’s important to keep asking ever deeper and more insightful questions the further the conversation moves along. However, do be aware of questions that make the other person feel uncomfortable. You will typically notice this discomfort within their body language and facial gestures. If this happens, just step back a little and refrain from crossing those boundaries at this time.
Typical questions you can ask that will naturally allow your conversation to flow more effortlessly include:
How do you see…?
Can you imagine…?
How does that feel…?
Can you tell me…?
These questions are not your typical standard questions that you would ask while making small talk. These are deeper level questions that allow you to explore various layers of a person’s life and psyche.
Give Encouraging Feedback
Whenever a person talks about something, they are subconsciously looking for some reassurance and validation that you somewhat agree with them. As such, in order to develop rapport with another person it’s important to provide them with this feedback.
Feedback can of course come in the form of a compliment that you give them about their efforts, strengths, attributes or accomplishments. It can also come in the form of a simple acknowledgement that you believe that they did the right thing.
In the end, we trust those who encourage and support us. Your feedback provides the other person that reassurance that you are a person that can be trusted.
Adjust Your Communication Style Accordingly
At times conversations will take a sudden twist. At one moment the both of you are laughing and joking around, and in the next moment the person you are conversing with raises a personal issue that makes them feel somewhat emotionally vulnerable. In such instances it’s important to adjust your communication style accordingly and become more empathetic and caring in your approach.
Moreover, it’s critical to pay careful attention to the other person’s demeanor and mood. They may for instance begin talking about a family tragedy, but their demeanor indicates that they are no longer affected by it at a deep emotional level. As such, it’s important that you match their demeanor and feelings about the issue, and certainly don’t make things out to be worse than what they are for this person. This simple oversight can immediately ruin the rapport you have worked so hard to build.
Use Mirror and Matching Techniques
Mirror and matching refers to the act of copying the other person’s energy, tempo of voice, body language, movements, and choice of words. When you do this, it naturally helps you build a higher level of rapport with this person.
It could of course be said that mirror and matching is a form of manipulation. And yes, you would be right; if it wasn’t for the fact that we naturally do this anyways while conversing with people we get along with.
If you think about it, when you hang around your closest friends, you probably mirror and match them on various levels without conscious awareness. This is why you guys have such great rapport and get along so well.
As long as your intentions are pure, then there is no harm in consciously mirroring and matching people in order to help build rapport. The longer the conversation goes on the more natural this process will become, until you reach a stage where you are no longer thinking about mirroring or matching. By that stage you’ve established enough rapport that it just becomes a natural part of your interaction.
As you copy certain movements, mannerisms and words that the other person uses, it shows them that you are very much like them. This naturally makes them feel more comfortable in your presence. And over time, what typically happens is that they then start mirroring and matching your energy, tempo, body language, movements and choice of words without even realizing it. That is when you know that you have established deep levels of rapport.
Consistently Use People’s Name
Dale Carnegie wrote in his bestselling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People that the sweetest sound for any person is the sound of their name.
We have been conditioned from the youngest age to respond to our name. Today whenever our name gets called out in a crowded room — no matter how deeply enthralled in a conversation we might be — we immediately look up to see who wants our attention.
Using a person’s name sporadically throughout a conversation has essentially the same effect. It immediately gets their attention and allows them to focus more deeply on what you have to say. Moreover, using a person’s name adds a little intimacy. People are naturally more receptive and feel a greater sense of comfort around those who use their name regularly.
Now of course, over-using a person’s name also has the opposite effect: making the person feel incredibly uncomfortable and distracted. As such, it’s important to pick your moments throughout a conversation and only use a person’s name at key times when you would like them to really focus-in on the conversation.
Keep Connecting with People on a Personal Level
In order to establish deep levels of rapport, it’s important to get to a stage where you are connecting with people on a deep personal level. Mixing a lot of empathy with a dash of humor often works very well with helping break down a person’s emotional walls. However, in the end, the people we feel closest to are often the people who we share a common interest with; and even more importantly shared beliefs and values.
When you reach a level in your conversation with another person where you are discussing shared beliefs and values, then that is essentially the “social jackpot” where you have reached a level of rapport and social intimacy that goes beyond a typical social interaction. That is when you know that what you have built can turn into something special down the road: into a deep friendship, relationship or partnership.
That is essentially your ultimate goal. It’s about getting to the core of what people believe and value. And if their beliefs and values match yours, then you have yourself something that can last a lifetime.
Social Mistakes to Avoid
So far throughout this article we have discussed how to get to a level where you are building deep levels of rapport with another person. However, no matter how great of a level of rapport you have managed to build, there is always the possibility that one simple mistake can ruin all your hard work and efforts.
The social mistakes that we will discuss here are certainly simple and might even at times seem rather insignificant. However, when it comes to building rapport, one simple mistake can immediately put you in a bad light and ruin your chances of developing a strong bond or relationship with the other person.
Here is a list of the social mistakes you must avoid making when trying to establish deep levels of rapport with another person:
- Whining, complaining and/or making endless excuses.
- Being too self-absorbed in yourself and in your own life and affairs.
- Coming across as being too arrogant or too blunt.
- Being overly critical and/or judgmental of other people.
- Constantly talking about your problems and how bad your life is.
- Being intellectually competitive or overly argumentative.
- Talking too quickly, too slowly, too softly, too loudly, or unclearly.
- Talking too much about the same topic.
- Talking too much about yourself or only about the things that interest you.
- Inappropriately interrupting the other person throughout the conversation.
- Jumping to conclusions about what the other person has to say.
- Sidestepping the questions that people ask you.
- Giving the other person unsolicited advice.
- Overly invading the other person’s physical space.
- Asking too many questions that make it seem as though you’re prying into their private life.
- Bluntly telling people that they are wrong.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list. I’m sure just off the top of your head you could think of at least a handful more examples of how we typically damage our social relationships through silly behavior.
Establishing deep levels of rapport with another person can take several hours, days, weeks, months and sometimes even years. However, it only takes one of the above mistakes to ruin all your hard work and effort.
Now of course, the deeper your level of rapport with a person the more difficult it will be to break. After all, you can get away with significantly more when around friends you have known for years, then you can around someone you have just met. However, these social mistakes can build up over time. That is essentially how long-term friendships fall apart. It’s typically not one single thing that ruins these relationships, it’s rather a culmination of social mistakes that progressively deplete the levels of rapport between two people.
Given all this, it’s clear that we must be very vigilant at all times about how we come across in social situations. This of course doesn’t mean that we must overly obsess about how we are being viewed by others. What others think of you is their business, not yours. However, if your goal in any social interaction is to make a good impression and build a strong and lasting relationship with another person, then being mindful of these social mistakes will certainly help you to achieve your goals.
The social game is certainly not an easy game to play. There are so many dynamics involved and people’s behavior is not always easy to predict. It could even be said that at times no matter how hard you try to establish a good level of rapport with another person, that it will all be in vain. Sometimes people will just show no interest. Possibly it might be due to personal reasons, emotional factors, or life problems that they are currently working through. Just give them space and time; eventually they will come around. And if they don’t, then don’t concern yourself. Just move on and keep playing the social game.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 3 Ways to Build Rapport and Influence Others @ Psychology Today
- 7 Simple Social Skills that will Make You More Likeable @ Business Insider
- 7 Ways to Make Small Talk Work for You @ Psychology Today
- 10 Easy Ways to Build a Quick Rapport with Anyone @ The Week
- 10 Social Skills Everyone Can Master @ Oprah
- 10 Steps to Effective Listening @ Forbes
- 11 Ways that Active Listening Can Help Your Relationships @ Psychology Today
- Active Listening: Hear What People Are Really Saying @ Mind Tools
- An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Building Rapport @ Inc.
- An Introvert’s Guide to Small Talk: 8 Painless Tips @ Forbes
- Hate Small Talk? These 5 Questions Will Help You Work Any Room @ Fast Company
- How to Build Rapport: A Powerful Technique @ Psychology Today
- How to Make Engaging Small Talk @ Inc.
- How to Make Small Talk Way More Fun @ Inc.
- The Positive Power of Active Listening @ Huffington Post
- Top 10 FBI Behavioral Unit Techniques for Building Rapport with Anyone @ Time