Can’t connect with people? Try this one easy trick.

As a quiet person I often feel really awkward around people, and quite frankly, a little bit boring. I just don’t know how to connect with people in the same way that a confident person seems to. I have often watched people at events and parties and marvelled at the way that they work the room with ease. Everybody that they come into contact with seems to be putty in their hands and I wonder how on earth they manage it.

This has meant that I have spent quite some time studying them to try and pick out exactly what it is that they do that is so different from what I do. And there is one striking difference that I have noticed. I quite obviously want to impress people, and with them, (even though they still want to impress people) it is far less glaringly obvious.

How not to go about it….

To illustrate, I think it’s best to look at an example of when I have done this spectacularly wrong. A couple of years back I decided that I wanted to earn a shed load of money so I got a job as a recruitment consultant. It was my job to go out and win over the financial directors at local businesses so that they would turn to me when they needed to recruit. I was woefully bad at the job and crashed out after eleven weeks having achieved absolutely no sales. It is only recently that I have started to see where things were going so wrong.

Back then I was drinking so I had some serious scarcity issues, completely believing that there isn’t enough to go around for everyone. Therefore, whenever I went in for business I felt absolutely desperate. My mind was clinging to the fact that I needed to connect with the person and get the sale as there would be nothing else for me if I lost it. That put a hell of a lot of pressure on me and it showed. I would go into the meeting terrified that I would not be able to impress the other person and it was obvious that they could see it. Hence the reason that they would shake my hand at the end of the meeting and I would never hear from them again. Because why would they want to hire a woman who was so blatantly desperate for the business?

A change in mindset changed how I connect with people

Since putting down the drink, a lot of things have changed but two of the big things are that:

  1. My values have changed so I’m not so engrossed by the thought of money. I know that I can survive on what I earn so it’s not the end of the world if I don’t earn the bucket loads that I used to chase after. As long as I can put a roof over my head and some food in the cupboards, I’m not going to die. And;
  2. I try not to worry so much about whether or not people like me. So if that one financial director decides that he doesn’t like my sense of humour or the colour of my shoes, it’s not the end of the world. There are seven billion people on the planet and so there are bound to be at least a few that really think the world of me!

So changing my mindset was the first step and this was then followed by a little trick that I have since tried out and it really does work. It was so simple that I didn’t believe it would have any effect on how well I connected with people.

Basically, all it involves doing is getting the person that you are engaging with to impress YOU. I couldn’t understand how this could work as my confidence was low and I didn’t know why anyone would want to try and impress me, but it really worked a treat.

Next time you go into a room and you’re nervous that nobody is going to connect with you, find someone to talk to and try to imagine that you have five minutes to learn a bit about them so that you could introduce them to an audience. This encourages you to start thinking “what can this person say that impresses me?” rather than “what do I have to say that will impress them?”

This also means that the other person feels listened to and this makes them feel valuable. Normally, in a networking environment people are all wanting to talk about themselves so if you’re the one that is bucking the trend you are going to be far more memorable.

The caveat

The only thing that you need to remember with this technique is that it still pays to be kind. It’s fun to ask yourself what this person does that is impressive but don’t go in with the mentality that you are better than them or that you want to disregard them if they aren’t the most impressive person in the room. Liking the people around you, in turn, makes you more likeable so it’s always worth being the nice guy.

This also leads on to the point that you shouldn’t just go in thinking “what can I get out of this exchange?” It’s sometimes far better to think about what you may be able to give (and this is aside from the services you provide as a part of your business). So you might be able to start talking to the stranger who looks like they’re standing awkwardly in the corner, or you could put a person in contact with somebody you know who could be a help in their career. Neither of these give you any immediate benefit but you never know what it may lead to further down the line. Events are far more fun if you are focusing less on what monetary value you are going to get out of it. There is a reason that surprising benefits come out of meetings where you didn’t expect there to be any value. It’s because the real you can shine through and ultimately that is what people want to see.

Give it a try and see if it helps you to connect with people

So next time you’re at a networking event or business meeting , try it. Ask questions as though you are going to introduce the person on stage and try to forget about the transactional nature of the meeting. Look for things you can give for free, at no cost to yourself, and imagine that everybody is already your friend. I promise you that it’ll work and you might even find yourself having some fun.

The power of saying “I don’t know”

When I was in my twenties I was perfect. Or at least I thought I was in my own head. I could do no wrong and if anyone questioned me or my actions I would go into meltdown. And guess what? I failed miserably at almost everything I did. There were a few flukes where things went really well but a lot of the time I was languishing in my own self pity while outwardly telling the world that I was the most knowledgeable person on the planet.

Anyone who has been reading the past posts on this blog will know that I’ve had trouble with addictions in the past and one of the big character defects that you see time and time again in addicts is that they can’t see the error of their own ways. Why else would they drink themselves to near death and financial ruin?

However, when we get better we have the advantage of being able to see things from two very different perspectives and I’m glad that I was so steadfastly adamant that I had it all right because now I know that that is impossible to achieve and it’s laughable to think that you can get anywhere in anything without a little help from those around you. It’s no coincidence that all athletes say that they couldn’t have won their gold medal without their families and their coaches. It really is true. Without that support they’d still be jogging round the park with the rest of us.

So saying “I need help” or “I don’t know” or “can you tell me how?” is anything but the weakness that I first thought it was. It means that you are able to use a whole heap of resources and information and advice that comes your way from just asking. Think of the time and energy that will save by just asking the question!

This is precisely why it’s important to find a mentor or a group of people that you trust who can guide you and support you in difficult times. If it is just you weathering the storm on your own then there is nowhere near as much chance of success. Taking it back to what I’ve learnt from getting sober I know that it is near impossible to do that on your own. People who are the most successful are those that have a sponsor and go to meetings so that they have a huge network of people to call on when they’re having a bad day.

My argument against telling people that I didn’t know the answer was that it would make me look stupid. Actually I’ve learnt that when you are open about the fact that you have flaws and holes in your knowledge, it makes you appear just a little bit vulnerable and quite a lot more likeable. Nobody likes a smart ass, especially when they are just talking a load of rubbish. If people are going to buy into your ideas and your visions then they have to see you as a human being that has hopes and dreams and feelings just like them.

The worst thing that you can do when you don’t know, is to pretend that you do and I’ve learned that the hard way (trust me on that one!). You just look like a fool because you’ll always be found out. Even if you’re doing your first Saturday job in a clothes store, if someone asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, go get the manager. A customer would rather wait and get the right information!

Having said all this, I would put up a word of warning and say that you should always arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. If you keep saying ‘I don’t know’ people will start to think that you don’t know your stuff. You’ll just have so much more confidence going into a situation if you are fully prepared and you can back up what you are saying with examples, even if they are just examples that are personal to you.

So go out there and practice. You might find that you learn more than you expected and you branch out and meet new and interesting people just by saying that you don’t know the answer to a question. The doors that it could open are infinite. Whole communities have been built on wanting to learn more about a subject and you could be at the heart of it. To me, that sounds like a really fun and exciting place to be.