When you work with volunteers (or if you are a volunteer) chances are, you are in contact with people. For some of us, the thousands of little interactions we have a day come naturally. However, for a lot of us, we have to focus on what we are doing, and it doesn’t always come easily.
The good news is that interpersonal intelligence can be learned. All of my introverted friends, rejoice!
Here are 5 tips that will help you build those “soft” skills.
#1 Realize that our emotions are contagious
Like a bad cold, our emotions can be catching. When we are in leadership roles, our followers take their cue from us, and the mood can infiltrate the entire organization.
In her book Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, Vanessa Van Edwards explains the idea of infectious emotions by detailing the work done by Psychologist Barbara Wild.
During an experiment where participants were shown an image and then given a series of mood tests, Dr. Wild and her associates found that people who looked at a happy face felt more positive, while those who looked at a sad face felt more negative. These pictures flashed in front of the test subjects in less than 500 milliseconds, and yet people not only registered what emotion was displayed, but they began to mirror those same feelings.
Hearing this research, we may be tempted to paste on a false smile and fight our way through a bad day. However, Van Edwards warns that faking our emotions doesn’t do us any good either. In a study done with more than 4,361 participants, over 86.9% were able to correctly identify a genuine smile (from among three fake smiles).
Even the great actor, Orson Welles, couldn’t beat those odds!
How does this information help us be better with people? Realizing that we are human is a good start. We don’t always have to have our lives together. People know that we don’t have it all figured out. So be authentic. You don’t have to pretend you are full of excitement if you’re having a rough day. However, we can choose to be joyful despite our feelings. We can choose to pay attention to how our emotions impact those around us. Moreover, we can decide not to allow our feelings to rule our behaviors.
#2 Learn names
People LOVE the sound of their name. Dale Carnegie once said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” And scientifically, Carnegie was right. In fact, research shows that your brain is activated in more cortexes for your name more than any other. So if you want to get better at connecting with people, learn names, and use them…often.
What if you are bad at remembering names? There’s plenty of tricks you can use to practice this critical skill. Repeat the name out loud as soon as you learn it. Say the name silently to yourself repeatedly during the conversation. Then, use it during the close of your meeting to seal it in your memory.
I try to use people’s names as often in a conversation as I can without sounding weird. It’s such a simple thing to do, but it immediately endears you to them. Even special nicknames can be an excellent way to connect. I once worked with a girl who was from New York, specifically Brooklyn. We started calling her Brooklyn around the office as a pet name. It stuck, and she loved it! Her face would light up in a huge grin when she heard us calling.
#3 Ask for more favors
In Pop Science, the phenomenon of someone liking you more if they do you a favor is called the Ben Franklin Effect. The founding father is quoted as saying, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
So as strange as this sounds, if you want to make more friends, you should ask for more favors. People rationalize to themselves that they must like you if they are willing to do something for you.
I’ve found this to be true in some of my own relationships. A new lady started at my job a few years ago and since we worked in different departments, and we had very different interests, I didn’t think to start a friendship. One day, out of the blue, she asked me for a non-work related favor. I was surprised she would ask me, but since it wouldn’t take much time and I was happy to help if I could, I did it. Shortly afterward, I started following up with her to see how she liked her new role. I checked in often, and she did the same for me. We became good friends after that, and now I’m glad she reached out. It all started with her asking for a little help. Then, since I helped her once, I was more invested in how she was doing in other areas like work and her personal life.
#4 Make eye contact
According to science, eye contact makes your words more memorable and coupled with sudden movements, it can help people notice and remember you. Not only does eye contact show confidence and denote authority, but it can also create trust.
We’ve all been there. It is the worst feeling when you are talking to someone, and their eyes are looking everywhere but you. It feels like they are looking for a better option (even if that’s not the case). When we take the time to focus on the person we are talking with, and connect with them by looking into their eyes; we show we are interested in what they have to say.
If this feels a little uncomfortable for you, practice by forcing yourself to examine the color of your conversation partner’s eyes. It only takes a few seconds to learn eye color, but it starts getting you more comfortable with eye contact. It is also more challenging to look away if you are studying the shade of someone’s eyes. If you want to connect with people on a deeper level, look into their eyes.
#5 Say, “Thank You.”
As simple as this may sound, good manners can have an instant positive effect on your relationships. Expressions of gratitude create strong bonds and can lead to more significant influence. According to the book, The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner, individuals who express gratitude to others at the beginning of the group’s forming period have stronger ties months later.
Want to connect with people? Start by including something as simple as, “Thank you” or “Please” in your conversations.
Looking for more ways to increase your interpersonal skills? Check out Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People by Vanessa Van Edwards.