We are innately social creatures, hardwired to seek each other out and profoundly shaped by our relationships and alliances.
Our ability to empathize, relate to one another and communicate our thoughts and ideas is what sets us apart and makes us uniquely human. We naturally seek deeper associations with people as a way of identifying and better understanding others and ourselves. But the truth is, it’s not always easy to make those connections.
The bonds we create are key to building our businesses and creating full and happy lives. However, in a busy world full of distractions it can be hard to build friendships, especially when we have limited time.
Here are 10 ways you can begin to build deeper connections with anyone you meet.
1. Pay attention.
When someone is talking to you, it’s important that you really focus on what they’re saying and pay attention to the details they give. You can learn so much about someone just by really listening to them and noticing both their verbal and nonverbal communication.
Checking your phone or scanning the room to see who to talk to next is rude and dismissive and shows that you don’t really care about what the other person is saying. Make eye contact. Ask questions. Focus on getting to know the other person, even if you only have limited time to talk.
2. Make a good first impression.
Body language is intimately tied to how others perceive you and their first impressions of you. How you hold yourself, your posture and your facial expressions are cues others will look at to appraise what type of person you are and whether you are approachable and likable. Be aware of your expressions, tone of voice and gestures.
Do you make eye contact throughout a conversation, indicating interest? Or do you keep your arms folded in front of you, forming a barrier? Remember that nonverbal communication is just as important as the words you use.
3. What’s my name?
Not everyone is gifted at putting names to faces, and it can be particularly difficult to remember names if you are in a social setting where you’re meeting a lot of people in a short amount of time. But remembering people’s names and being able to address them directly will instantly make them feel acknowledged and welcomed.
When you meet people for the first time, try saying their name several times during your conversation and introducing them to others. For example: “Nice to meet you, Larry. Have you met Josie?” The more times you say their name, the easier it will be to remember it.
Ask people about themselves. What are their hobbies or pastimes? Find something that will help lock their name into your memory bank. Try to think of something funny or memorable to associate with them or use a mnemonic device to remember their name (e.g., Calvin from California or Bobbie with the bobbed haircut).
4. Have a connection story.
Make yourself memorable by having a story about yourself that gives insight into who you are and what you’re about. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, come up with a narrative about why this is important to you and what experiences have fueled your desires and life goals.
Your connection story should be specific and include a series of events as well as other people. It should be meaningful and give people a window into your beliefs and motivations. It should also make others feel comfortable sharing their stories with you.
Use storytelling to give people a glimpse into who you are and what you believe. Stories capture people’s attention more than rattling off dry facts and information.
5. Add value.
Find ways to make yourself invaluable and people will appreciate you. Being of service to others, even in small ways, is a great way to connect.
Maybe you have a tip on a job that will be coming open, or maybe you know someone who is looking for services they offer. It could be something as small as lending them a book or telling them about a great TED talk or YouTube video on a topic they are interested in. Learn to embrace generosity and you will make yourself and others more successful.
6. Do your research.
If you find that having off-the-cuff conversations makes your palms sweat and prompts you to run for the door, consider doing a little groundwork ahead of time. Thinking through some questions to ask people will help put your mind at ease and alleviate anxiety.
The goal isn’t to have a list of questions you can pull out and recite. The idea is that a little prep work will help you feel confident and relaxed so you can have a fluid conversation. Before you go to a social function or networking event, come up with three open-ended or thought-provoking questions to help keep your conversation moving.
Make sure they aren’t too invasive or personal; however, they should be deep enough to make the person think about their response. A more meaningful and deeper conversation will make you more memorable and help others feel a connection to you.
7. Spark interest with a conversation piece.
Sometimes all it takes to stand out in a crowd is showing off your unique fashion style. Do you have a signature color you like to wear? A fondness for Hawaiian shirts? Or perhaps you like wearing Converse sneakers with your dress pants.
Wearing something that can be a conversation starter will help you seem both approachable and unique. However, make sure that you aren’t opening yourself up to be the butt of jokes or turning people off with something potentially offensive. Think of this as a chance to show a little flair, help you stand out from the crowd and put a smile on people’s faces.
8. Wear your heart on your sleeve.
We all have thoughts, ideas, beliefs and goals. Be willing to share a bit of yourself — who you are and what you believe in — and others will naturally be curious and want to engage you. Have you lived an interesting life or are you passionate about a cause? People will find you more interesting and memorable if they know more about your experiences and what makes you tick.
This doesn’t mean you should monopolize conversations. Be careful not to pontificate or lecture others on a cause or issue you care about. Simply embrace your passions and share them with others — it may be a great way to engage in deeper conversations or friendly debates.
9. Be open to learning.
As great as it is to share your life experiences, you should remember nobody likes a know-it-all. Always be open to hearing other people’s ideas and stories. Share the stage and resist the urge to always try and “one up” someone with your knowledge or expertise.
You can break down walls by hearing what someone else has to say. Chances are you don’t actually know everything, and being open to hearing another point of view will shed light on something new.
10. Show you care.
Being genuine and showing empathy and kindness will never go out of style, and costs you absolutely nothing. Show your gratitude to others by saying thank you and being grateful to those who help you. You can start building deeper connections with people simply by showing your human side.
If you are uplifting, positive and show common courtesy to those around you, you will begin building bonds that go beyond business. Never underestimate the power of real friendships.