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9 Secrets to Building Relationships Outside of the Office

9 Secrets to Building Relationships Outside of the Office
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Handshake

    Today, I’m an election judge for the Maryland primary. Sure, you can say that I’m doing it because of my personal politics, but there is an added payoff: I’m going to meet hundreds of people that I’ve never seen before.

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    I work from home, so it can be hard for me to find ways to interact with real, live people — but I’d argue that many those of you with a commute have the same issue: outside of those people that you see every day, how often do you connect with anyone new? Online buddies don’t count, either. As valuable as an online connection may be, face-to-face conversations can be the fastest way to build a real relationship, whether you’re trying to sell something or get a date.

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    We get out of the habit of talking to new people fairly quickly, but it’s an important skill. New people bring innovation and possibilities to your attention. Even beyond the necessity of networking in order to help your career, making new friends can help keep you from stagnating, from sinking into the same routine day in and day out. There are a few actions you can take to improve your relationship-building skills.

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    1. Go to where the people are! Volunteer for a big event, attend a conference or join a club. While it’s possible to meet people hanging around the local coffee shop, it can be harder — your prospective contact may not be interested in interacting with anyone except the barista. However, at events and club activities, people show up ready to talk.
    2. Make eye contact. I ‘borrowed’ this technique from one of the Comfort Challenges in Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Workweek”: Ferriss suggests spending two days when you make eye contact with people you encounter, from those you already know to those you see on the street. Beyond becoming comfortable with new people, this activity gives you an opportunity to make conversation, even if it starts out on the “What are you looking at?” level.
    3. Prepare an elevator speech. An elevator speech is a 30 second pitch, a description of your project, which I know sounds like more of a marketing skill than a relationship-builder. But being able to boil down who you are and what you do can jumpstart a conversation — especially if your pitch piques interest. Some people rely on elevator speeches that showcase what they can do for their new contacts, while others rely on pitches that demonstrate what a contact can do for them. Either way, it’s worth thinking about why you want to make new contacts, and including that information in your elevator pitch.
    4. Don’t limit your options. I know most of my fellow election judges are much older than me (60 seems to be the average age, even with me bringing it down), which isn’t the age group I have the most in common with. Just because I don’t have much in common with them, however, doesn’t mean that I should ignore them. Personally, I think it means I should talk to them more — I can learn more from someone with very different experiences.
    5. Carry business cards, or some other method of providing your contact information. Business cards aren’t necessary, but they do make life easier, especially if you want to give other people an easy method of staying in touch. Even a simple card with just your name, phone number and email address is worthwhile — your goal may not be to make connections for your employer, so using their cards could be less than ideal.
    6. Avoid wasting time. I know that I hate people that drone on and on about something I have no interest in. I feel like they’re wasting my time. I try to avoid doing it to anyone else, either. Instead, I make a point of holding a conversation — you know, that thing where all parties get a chance to talk — with a topic that is (hopefully) interesting to everyone concerned. A further caveat: I also always try to be genuine. It isn’t too hard to tell if someone isn’t and that can feel like just as much of a waste of time as a droner.
    7. Write down details. I forget names, dates and details regularly, so I make an effort to write things down. I find business cards are great for this sort of thing: if I have a person’s business card, I write on the back when and where I met them and why, along with relevant details. I also add this sort of information to the ‘notes’ field that most electronic address books offer.
    8. Follow up on your new connections. If you get a business card, a phone number or even a website, make a point of following up. Without any sort of follow up, that great connection that you just made will never see you again, which doesn’t make for a very effective relationship. And, if you said you were going to do something (pass along a name to a friend, email a link, etc.), just do it!
    9. Don’t stress. It’s okay if a few fishies get away. You don’t absolutely have to make every contact possible, and you certainly don’t have to maintain ongoing relationships with every person you meet. It’s not worth worrying about. Instead, try to focus on making the most of a small number of contacts, Even one new connection can be worthwhile, if you’re willing to devote some time to furthering the relationship.

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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