Networking, Soft Skills, Communication
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT / 14 December 2016
How to Instantly Connect With Anyone
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Aiming Li
Branding Intern

The fear of awkward silence and not being able to make a connection when first meeting with someone hunts us all. Do you remember the last time you sat in a car next to someone you didn’t really know? And because you didn’t know what to say to them, you decided to stare at your phone for the entire ride? Ah, don’t we all!

The good news is, you will never have to experience this again. Because you will learn the tricks that will help you to instantly connect with anyone in any setting.

In the real world, we are constantly being put into situations where we must interact with strangers. Therefore, being able to speak confidently and leave people with a good impression is an essential skill for everyone to have.  Here are the 4 habits that will help you to instantly connect with someone.

1. Ask questions you’re genuinely curious about.

When meeting someone for the first time, it is good to find out more information about the person by asking questions. However, we often fail to ask the right questions and kill the conversation leaving everyone in awkward silence.  

I learned this lesson by experiencing many awkward encounters. One time, I sat next to a student during a bus ride and I saw him wearing a Pirates hat. I asked, “are you a Pirates fan?” He responded with a simple “Yeah,” and that was the end of our conversation. I had no idea what to say next because I am not interested in baseball and I do not follow any sports. 

A good way to avoid this is to ask questions you are genuinely curious about. Oftentimes, this does require you to pay close attention to what this person is carrying, wearing, and representing. If socializing and asking questions is difficult for you, then read this article about embracing your inner introvert!

2. Ask open-ended questions.

When you ask an open-ended question in a conversation, you are giving the other participants room to talk about themselves (everyone loves to talk about themselves). You want to get a lot of information out of the other person so you can find common ground to build up a conversation. On the other hand, a closed-ended question often leads to one-word answers and the conversation goes nowhere.

Most of the times, an open-ended question starts with How and What. A close-ended question often starts with When, Where, Who, Do, Does, Is and Should.

For example, “How did you start working for Bank of America?” is a much better question than, “Do you work for Bank of America?” Because it gives the other person room to elaborate and explain, instead of just a yes or no answer.

Sometimes, a closed-ended question can also lead up to an open ended question. For example, I met Maria at a networking event. I asked Maria, “What do you study?” She replied “Marketing.” I asked, “What inspired you to study marketing?” She then went on about how she is a people person and how much she loves advertisement.

At this point, you might be wondering what about “Why” and “How come” questions. They are a little tricky and should be used with caution because these types of questions can trigger people’s defensive sides and make them feel like they need to justify themselves. Tips like these are crucial for being a good conversationalist!

3. Make other people feel impressive.

Growing up, I always tried to impress the people I met. I wanted to show everyone I met how cool I was so that they would want to be my friends. But, later on, I figured out that everyone wants to feel impressive. Therefore, it will make you more likable if you can make people feel good talking with you rather than trying to impress them.

A great way to make the person you’re talking to feel impressive is to give compliments. There is a perspective shift you can do that helps this along, which is realizing that compliments are a gift. When you give someone a compliment, you are not making a statement that needs to be factually verifiable, you’re giving them a gift.

More Specifically, you are giving them a gift of endorphins.  When people hear a compliment, their first reaction is that their brain lights up with a mild endorphin rush because you are telling something they believe to be true, or want to believe is true (this is the origin of confirmation bias).  They may later realize that you couldn’t possibly have meant it, but this is actually unlikely, and you are also communicating a subtext that you are considerate enough to give them an endorphin kick even if it may not be true. Therefore, think of compliments as a free way of going around giving people little gifts of endorphin kicks.  You can even get better at it by becoming skilled at figuring out what favorable thing people most want to believe about themselves (either in general or on that day, e.g. while wearing a particular piece of new clothing) so that you can give a compliment that yields an especially pleasurable endorphin rush.

4. Be real.

You can’t become memorable by always playing it safe. Everyone wants to be liked, and most people avoid conflict like the plague. But by doing that, you position yourself in the middle. Neither A, nor B. Neither black, nor white. People remember extremes, not mediocrity.

Speak your mind. Have an opinion, even if it might piss some people off. And disagree if you disagree. By doing that, you will instantly become more interesting and as a consequence more memorable.

These are just a few of the habits that you can start to cultivate that will help you to better connect with people you do not know and ease the awkwardness (read this post to learn even more about how to instantly connect with anyone!). By effectively taking advantage of these skills, you will be able to speak with more confidence the next time you are at a networking event or a school orientation. A great way to get started is to learn new skills like social media marketing! It will also help you to become a better communicator. Now, go practice those new skills and enjoy awesome conversations with strangers!