Relationships have always been a challenge for me. If you aren’t a full-blown extrovert, a healthy and fruitful social life doesn’t come easy. It wasn’t for me.
Growing up, I was shy and awkward as hell. To make matters worse, I had a stutter that my teacher thought was a speech impediment. No surprise that I often struggled to make friends.
We moved around a lot when I was young, so I always had to find a new tribe. At one point, my mother eased me into an after-hours program at a new school. I felt like an outsider—the one person who knew no one. It was so miserable that, at one point, I refused to return.
As I got involved in sports, I broke out of my shell a bit. I began to expand my circle to the athletes and some of the so-called popular kids. I picked up some hobbies that forced me to be more outgoing. But as a true introvert, I felt more comfortable at a study hall than at a frat party.
Relationships are Key
Today, I’m over ten years into a career in sales and business development. My days are full of meetings, calls, etc. I’m having high-stakes conversations with strangers that would have once been unthinkable. These situations demand strong social IQ to navigate successfully. As you could guess by my background, that did not come easy to me at all…
While I’ll never be a “social butterfly,” I’ve learned a few ways to connect when it matters most. It’s never been more critical to understand how to communicate with others. The world is hyper-polarized, and what we need most is to listen and understand one another.
I used to dismiss the need to be an excellent communicator. I finally wised up and realized that better-than-average communicators are more successful than the rest. They build stronger relationships and more of them. And, in no small degree, the quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life.
Without further ado, the following is a list of 5 Simple Keys to Better Relationships:
1. Put the Other Person First
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. —Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
Dale Carnegie knew that the most deep-seated urge in human nature is to feel important. People crave feeling important almost as much as they need food, air, and water. When you listen to someone, you give them the gift of feeling important.
When we meet someone new, most of us focus on everything but listening. Whether we realize it or not, we are more likely to try to impress others than listen to them. But people are more impressed by a good listener than any of your accolades.
How do you listen? The key to active listening is to be present. Focus externally in all your interactions. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say next. Don’t panic if there is silence. Instead, remain attentive and genuinely interested. A proper mindset to have when meeting someone new is to play the detective. Imagine you were writing a biography about them. Don’t interrogate them, but be curious.
A simple technique is to repeat back what you’ve heard. Don’t overdo it, but paraphrasing is an excellent way to let people know you’ve listened to them. Use empathizers besides “yeah” or “uh-huh.” Say things like, “I see what you mean” or “I hear you” (only if you do—don’t be fake.) Use words like “you” and “we” to show solidarity and put the focus back on them.
Remember this: most people are more concerned about their mild headache than a disaster affecting millions. With that in mind, don’t complain or talk all about yourself the whole time. Put them first.
2. Remember These Things About Relationships
Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.—John F. Kennedy
There are a few things you want to remember about everyone you meet. A person’s name is the most important sound in any language. Remember it and say if often. I used to be horrible about remembering names. A few techniques that helped me improve. I repeat it several times in my initial conversation. Sometimes I will think about another friend or a famous person with the same name. Rhyme their name with a similar word. If you are at a networking event, write their name in your notepad or phone during a break. Add the fact that you can associate them with, such as where they’re from.
Try to remember peoples’ birthdays if it comes up during the conversation. A person’s birthday is the most important day of the year for them. If an acquaintance remembers your birthday, I promise you will think more highly of them. I had a coworker who would never forget birthdays. She might pass along a card for everyone to sign, or get someone a balloon or cupcake. It’s no coincidence that she was the most well-liked person in the office.
Remember peoples’ hobbies. People will want to talk about whatever passions they have outside of the office. Almost everyone has an interest that they love to talk about all day long. For me, it’s travel, personal development, and sports. You don’t need to be an expert on their hobby to have a conversation. Learn the very basics, and stay up-to-date on the latest developments.
Another tip is to bring up any special moments from earlier encounters with someone. These moments could be something funny the two of you experienced together. Or something embarrassing that you said or did. We do this all the time with old friends, but not always with new ones. This technique is an easy way to recreate the goodwill and nostalgia of those moments.
3. Ask Better Questions
Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. — Voltaire
A simple way to have better conversations is to ask better questions.
Steer away from getting-to-know-you questions like “What do you do?”. Instead, ask what they like to do outside of work. Or if they have a business or side-hustle, ask them how they want to spend most of their time. It allows them to discuss their passion rather than their 9-5. If they happen to be super into their career, you could ask them, “How’d you get into what you do?” or “What do you like best about it?”
People love to voice their opinion. Everyone loves good food, and most people like to drink. A good opinion question could be asking about their favorite restaurants or going-out recommendations. Before leaving the house and going to a party or social event, glance at the news, so you are up-to-date. Then you can ask for their opinion about it.
If you’ve built some solid rapport, ask some more in-depth questions. One example: what’s the best (or worst) part of (some aspect of their lives you’re familiar with)?” It could be their career, hobby, or trip they’ve taken. Everything in life has ups and downs, and talking about it brings about strong emotions.
Take it a step further and learn about what motivates them. It could be a mentor, a strong belief, or something else. What are their goals and dreams? See if there’s a way that you can connect them to the right person or help them in any way. To be clear: don’t use this information to manipulate; use it to build a deeper bond. If you can help someone achieve what’s important to them, you become important to them as well.
4. Be Open, Vulnerable and Honest
A good rule of thumb in any interaction is always to strive to be open and vulnerable. When you are, most will people reciprocate. That doesn’t mean you lay out all your baggage on the table immediately. But don’t conceal your emotions. Tell the truth about how you feel to others. If they reject your honesty, they’re not the kind of acquaintance you want.
when you’re nervous, you could say something like, “It’s odd how you become nervous at these social events.” Everyone feels a bit awkward in groups of strangers, so they’re likely to empathize with you. If you run out things to say, don’t panic. Say something like, “My mind went blank there. It’s weird when it does that. It would be nice to be that person that can talk forever about anything.”
Besides being honest and direct, there are other ways you can build trust with others. A scientifically-proven way is to have repeated exposure consistently. When you are around someone or spend time with them in any context, it builds familiarity. Gain closeness by finding common ground with the other person. Look for shared interests and other ties. You may be surprised at how this strengthens your relationships.
Last but not least: lead with giving and generosity. Give without expecting anything in return. Don’t overpromise, and when you do make promises, try your best to follow through with them. As hectic and unpredictable as life can be, this is easier to preach than practice. But make a conscious effort to be as dependable as possible to those around. That becomes your lasting brand.
5. What NOT To Do for Better Relationships
There are certain things you shouldn’t do when meeting someone. Avoid talking about work outside of work, unless the other person brings it up. Most of us spend 40+ hours per week on work, and that’s more than enough. If someone has their own business or is super passionate about what they do, then it can be okay.
If you’re getting to know someone, avoid controversial topics like religion or politics. The exception to this rule is if you know you agree with their views. It’s important to discuss these topics, but better not to do it right off the bat. If you hit a point of contention, try not to argue. Make a friend first, not a debate partner.
Avoid bringing up negative things, whether they’re personal problems or practical issues. You don’t want them to feel like your therapist when you first meet. On the flip side, if they bring up a problem they’re facing, don’t leap in to give advice. More often than not, people want someone to listen. Unless they ask for help, assume they don’t need it.
If you say something insensitive or offensive, admit you made a mistake right away. When the conversation comes to an end, don’t ghost out without saying anything. A good end-the-conversation line at a networking event could be “It was great to meet you, I’m going to say hi some others.” If there is a bar, try “I’m going to get a drink, can I get you anything?” By saying goodbye, it shows that you valued meeting them.
I hope that these 5 Simple Keys to Better Relationships were useful to you. What techniques do you use to communicate better and build deeper relationships? Comment below or drop me a line.
About the Author
Chris is an accomplished business development leader with experience at companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, and Dropbox. He went from being kicked out of high school twice to earning an MBA at UC Berkeley, and from being a pack-a-day smoker and aquaphobe to marathoner and triathlete. He writes about self improvement for knowyourbest.com.”