How we communicate largely determines what we experience in life. It influences how much money we make, every relationship we have and where we go in our career.
Our income can be limited if we are unable to pitch our product to a client, ask for a desired salary in an interview or request a raise from management. On the other hand, the depth of our relationships will be constrained if we don’t have the confidence to approach new people or have the ability to resolve conflict and express ourselves.
Yet how often do we actually practice this art? Most of the time we tend to just wing it and learn as we go. Unfortunately, throughout our lives, most of us pick up some devastating yet subtle habits that can ruin conversations. And the biggest problem is that we think some of the habits are good communication tactics.
When I coach leaders and other professionals on how to elevate human performance in business, I come across these far too often. Understanding how human behavior relates to your specific business can be a big competitive advantage.
Here are five tips to help you instantly connect with anyone you meet:
1. Maintain eye contact
When someone is talking, their subconscious is on the lookout to see if people are interested or not. It’s a defense mechanism to ensure we don’t get embarrassed or hurt from our environment. Our brain will look at everything from body language and facial gestures to the words that are spoken.
When listening to someone, your eyes should never look away for longer than a few seconds. The minute you start staring at other people or TV screens, you are sabotaging the conversation. It makes the other person feel like what they are saying is not important and can be a real shot to their confidence. Be aware of how you listen to others. A good idea is to ask close friends and family if there are any things you do that throw them off when they’re speaking.
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2. Don’t relate everything to yourself
If you are in a conversation and someone is talking, let them have the stage. Many people feel that by interrupting a story and relating it to their own life, they’re enhancing the connection. While this is true when done sparingly, there is nothing more frustrating than overdoing it.
You don’t want people to feel that you’re going to jump in every time they start talking. Not only does it interrupt their focus and retract their emotional investment in the conversation, but going forward, they will be hesitant to talk at all.
3. Watch for filler comments
I have a close friend who I love calling out when he does this. I will be chatting with him on the phone or in person, and despite his best intentions, it is incredibly obvious when he stops listening.
He tends to overuse filler comments that don’t align with what I’m talking about. Filler comments are typical things we say to show someone that we are listening such as “yeah,” “oh cool,” “gotcha,” “interesting,” etc. However, when they are used to pretend like you’re listening, it can be very obvious and distracting.
With multi-tasking at an all-time high, we’ve all been conditioned to do this at some point. However, if you are not called out on it, you may never realize how disrespectful and obvious it is to the other person. As a general rule: Always listen to others the same way you expect to be listened to.
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4. Don’t pretend like you know everything
When talking with others, we often want to show that we are educated and knowledgeable. It can be hard for some people to admit they are learning something new for the first time. Many leaders find it difficult to take advice because they feel they should know everything and be the one giving guidance.
On the other hand, most employees are eager to prove themselves, so they try not to expose any of their weaknesses. However, we have all been in a conversation where we think we are bringing up something important, only to hear the other person barely acknowledge it.
It doesn’t matter what your title or experience is; if you want to connect with someone or influence them, you must make them feel valued. In his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie’s principle #9 is as follows: “Make the other person feel important, and do it sincerely.” When you let someone know they are providing value, it makes them feel good and enables them to open up more. So be aware of your ego, and try to stop it from controlling your behavior.
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5. Plan ahead
If you are someone who gets nervous or freezes up during conversations, plan your questions in advance. This isn’t meant to automate your interactions and turn you into a robot. It’s to ease your mind so you can get out of your head, be confident and enjoy a natural, free-flowing conversation.
You can get through any conversation by asking the right questions. So come up with three open-ended, thought-provoking questions for any situation you may be in. You could split the potential interactions into:
A. A networking event or potential business opportunity
B. Meeting someone new at a social event
C. Bumping into a friend
The key is to ask questions that are not invasive but do make the person have to stop and think about their response. The great thing is that, not only will your conversation be more interesting, but you will be much more memorable.