We need human connection to survive.
The strength of our relationships is one of the biggest factors in our longevity.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development found that strong relationships literally delay physical and mental decline, and are more important to our health and happiness than genes, intelligence or socioeconomics.
If our relationships are our greatest asset, then learning how to connect with anyone is an incredibly powerful skill.
French philosopher Simone Weil said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
It’s one of the most valuable gifts we can offer yet so few people seem to harness its power. If you want to get an edge in a world plagued by distraction, start listening to people.
And I mean really listening.
Be an active listener.
Have you ever spoken to someone who was distracted or constantly looking everywhere but at you? It doesn’t feel good.
People can tell when your mind is wandering, and if you’re doing things like scanning the room or checking your phone, you’re being rude and destroying any chance of making a strong connection.
Focus on the person you’re talking to. Put your phone away and make eye contact. Ask open-ended questions, listen to the answer, and make a meaningful response.
Try not to start rehearsing a response as they talk, and shut off that inner voice that makes judgments about the other person. Never finish their sentences or try to interrupt while they’re speaking.
If you’re not sure how you come across when you’re listening to someone, ask your friends and family how they feel when you have conversations with them.
If you can be one of the few people who can offer someone their undivided attention, you’ll make a huge impact. When someone feels really heard by another, you’ve already formed a connection.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Everyone knows it’s important to make a good first impression, but you’ve only got a few seconds to do it. Studies have shown that most people decide how they feel about you within the first seven seconds of meeting you and it can be very hard to recover from a bad first impression.
This sounds scary, but you can actually use this to your advantage. Nonverbal communication is one of the most crucial elements in delivering a great first impression — you may be saying one thing, but your body language could be telling a completely different story.
If you can harness your tone, stance, expressions, and gestures, you’ll become a magnet to other people.
Next time you want to connect with someone, be confident and approachable. Stand up straight, speak clearly with an enthusiastic tone, make eye contact, and give a genuine smile (from the eyes!).
Avoid keeping your arms crossed (this is a major barrier to connection) and try not to fidget or use aggressive gestures. Stay calm, relax your arms at your sides, stand tall, and own your space.
All of these actions will help you to appear self-assured and trustworthy, which makes others feel safe and more willing to open up.
You can also use body language to gauge how someone else is feeling when talking to you. If their voice is high pitched, they may be feeling nervous. If they’re speaking faster, you may have hit a passionate topic. If they’re avoiding eye contact or crossing their arms, they may be uncomfortable. Use social cues to guide your conversation.
Remember their name.
It feels great when someone remembers and uses your name. Don’t be that person who says “I’m so bad with names” as soon as you meet someone (even if you are).
If you have trouble remembering names, don’t be afraid to ask their name again if you forget it as soon as you hear it. Try repeating their name as soon as you meet them (“Nice to meet you, Freddie”), and repeat their name several times throughout the conversation so it sticks. People feel acknowledged when someone refers to them by name, so you shouldn’t only use someone’s name when you greet them.
If you’re really struggling with names, try connecting their name with something memorable, or use a mnemonic device like Connie from California, Penny in the pink dress, or Leo like the famous actor.
In the same vein, you’ll make it easier for others to remember your name by doing something memorable. Share an interesting anecdote, wear something unique, or simply help out by repeating your name.
Learn from them.
Dale Carnegie, author of the wildly popular book How to Win Friends & Influence People, said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
If you want to be able to connect with anyone, you need to be willing to learn from them and show that you value their experiences and insights. You’ll make them feel validated, which in turn strengthens the bond between you.
The focus of your conversation should be getting to know the other person. The best way to do this is by asking good questions.
Rather than asking “What do you do?” try asking “Why did you choose your job?” It encourages people to open up without getting too personal, and leads to more interesting conversations rather than generic encounters.
Most people love talking about themselves, and one of the best ways to make people remember you is by giving them a welcoming space to share.
If you’ve ever had a memorable conversation with someone that made you feel really good, it’s probably because they were asking you a lot of great questions about yourself and taking a genuine interest in your answers.
If you feel sick at the thought of having a spontaneous conversation or experiencing the dreaded awkward silence, do a little prep work.
Think of some interesting questions ahead of time, but don’t feel like you have to stick to a prepared list — the goal is to have a fluid conversation.
You can also look for something you share in common with the other person. People love to feel like they belong, and whether you went to the same college or binge watch the same TV show, you’re more likely to hit it off if you can relate to something.
Make them feel important.
It’s important to share your ideas and experiences, but remember not to hog the stage. If you want to make a surefire connection, keep the focus on the other person and find something this person can teach you.
Be aware of your ego. Don’t try to ‘one-up’ someone with a story (it’s not a contest!) and never preach or lecture others. This is a huge turn off and will hinder your chances at connecting with others.
Embrace your passions, but talk about yourself without sounding like an a-hole, and open yourself to new perspectives and opinions. Resist the urge to show off your knowledge or expertise, and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know something. Ask for advice. Ask for opinions.
Learning from everyone you meet not only adds color to your life, but it makes people feel important and more connected with you.
Listening expert Dr. Ralph Nichols said, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.”
The most simple way to connect with anyone is to be caring, helpful, and authentic. By spreading your genuine warmth, you’ll attract people like moths to a flame.
Show you care.
When you genuinely care, you’ll click with everyone you meet. If you don’t actually care about the people you’re talking to, then any attempt at listening, sharing, or helping will come across as half-hearted or disingenuous.
Here are some of the best ways to show you care:
Look for the good.
We’re often a cynical bunch, and tend to focus on reasons to dislike people instead of looking for their best side. If you want to connect with someone, it’s best to shut off any derisive thoughts and look for the good in them. Find moments where you can agree with them and reinforce what they’re saying, and avoid writing someone off too quickly. Give them a chance to reveal their best qualities, and they’ll likely deliver it.
Be positive and uplifting.
An encouraging person is a wonderful thing to be around. Being supportive and thoughtful makes people feel special, and in turn creates deeper bonds. Whether it’s sending an appreciative text, or giving a gift to celebrate an achievement, there are plenty of small ways to make a massive positive impact on someone’s day.
Greet them as if they are already friends.
An easy way to break down walls is to pretend everyone in the room is already your friend. If you’re feeling self-conscious, remember that a conversation is not a performance. Talk to them with the same relaxed attitude as you would with your friends, and you’ll find yourself quickly building bonds beyond business.
Hand out compliments.
Besides making someone feel good, a compliment is a great way to start a conversation and forge a connection. Make sure your compliments are genuine and appropriate. For example, you might admire their watch or shoes, or they may be a great storyteller. There’s something to appreciate about everyone.
Treat others as you want to be treated.
We’ve all heard the golden rule before, but it’s easy to forget sometimes. This one is as simple as it sounds — you get what you give.
Offer to help.
If you want to be unforgettable, go out of your way to help others and add value to their lives. Even the most powerful people need help with something, and even the smallest acts of service are a great way to connect.
From offering to share their project with your community, to lending a book about a topic they’re interested in, you can be generous even if you’re just starting out in your field.
You’ll need to pay close attention if you’re going to offer genuine help. Ask them about their passions, learn what matters to them, and allow them to open up about any problems they’re facing.
Remember that you always have more to offer than you think, and even if you can’t help with anything, the offer alone will be appreciated and memorable.
Be genuine and open.
One of the most profound ways to connect with anyone is to be authentic and open to vulnerability.
Make yourself memorable by sharing who you are and what you believe in. Be willing to open up about your ideas, goals, and beliefs. What are you passionate about? What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you this year? People will find you more interesting if you tell stories rather than recite bland facts, and they’ll also be more inclined to share their own.
If you really want to connect with someone, you’ll need to venture beyond superficial conversation and commit to being authentically vulnerable. This means being open to people as the truest version of yourself because you want to — vulnerability should never feel forced or faked — although being emotionally exposed can be risky or sometimes scary. Reveal the real you, and you’ll find that most people follow your lead and do the same.
Don’t make the mistake of pretending to be someone you’re not. It’s an exhausting facade to keep up, and most people can see straight through an act. If you’re shy, own it. If you stutter when you’re nervous, that’s okay. You are enough and you don’t need to be anyone else.
It’s also important to remember that you can choose who you want to be and that doesn’t make you a sham. We all adapt our personality to different situations and people. How you act around your grandmother or boss is probably very different to how you act around your friends. The same applies to meeting new people. You get to choose who you are.
And as long you pay attention, learn from others and spread your warmth, you’ll start building deeper, genuine connections with almost anyone you meet.
[Featured photo by Ben White]