In a highly connected and exceedingly mobile society, we can sometimes forget the value of human contact and connections.
This can be especially true in the business context where the widespread use of smartphones means that an employee or colleague is just an email or text away and meetings can be conducted across different time zones and continents with the simple click of a mouse. While business is now more efficient, cost-effective, and convenient as a result of technological innovation, modern day mediums of communication can never replicate the level of trust and rapport that one can build in face to face, personal interactions. Whether your next face-to face interaction is for an important presentation, a lead for new business, or an interview for a dream job, this article will provide you with practical strategies and tips that you can use to make a lasting and positive impression.
From the outset, let’s understand that most people get nervous with face-to-face meetings. However, to be truly successful in your industry as a professional you are going to have to overcome this. Because leaving a lasting impression is as crucial as having the right background, experience, and education and it can make the difference in landing your next business opportunity, high-profile client, or sought after job. Or it can simply mean that you are a far more effective leader because of the manner in which you interact with employees and co-workers. So put yourself out there and meet with others face-to-face and employ the following tips to increase your chance of getting handpicked for the best opportunities when they come knocking.
Tip #1: Give a firm handshake
In a recent University of Alabama study, psychologists evaluated the handshakes of 112 male and female students and found that those with firmer handshakes were seen as being more extroverted, emotionally aware, and socially likeable. These findings applied equally across the gender divide and females with firm handshakes were viewed just as favorably as their male counterparts. Dr. William Chaplin, the leading psychologist conducting the study, noted that this was an interesting discovery because “often when women have characteristics that are more similar to men, they tend to elicit a somewhat more negative evaluation—simply because it’s counter to the usual stereotypes.” But this is not so in reality. So ladies and gents alike reach across and give a firm, confident handshake the next time you meet someone in person.
Tip #2: Smile
This bit of advice may seem cliché, but experts say that smiling during times of stress can improve performance. So when nervous tension overtakes you as you get ready to meet someone, the brain responds by sending stress chemicals into your bloodstream. This creates a vicious cycle—the more stressed you are, the more difficult the task becomes. So just try to relax and put on a smile to help convey openness and friendliness, which will naturally ease the flow of conversation. Remaining tense and straight-faced will only exude tension and strain into the interaction. If this tidbit of conventional wisdom seems too implausible, try this exercise: Pretend greeting a client or business contact out loud as you would in a live meeting or interaction- first do it with a smile, then without. Notice a difference in how your demeanor comes across more friendly, confident, and calm when you say it with a smile? The fields of science and psychology now backed by your personal mini-experiment urge you to smile!
Tip #3: Be genuinely you
One of my favorite quotes is by the famous Irish literary genius Oscar Wilde which says “be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Sometimes we so desperately want to impress that we think it is best to take on a persona or role that is unflappable or not really representative of ourselves. Or we get so caught up in the intensity or pressure of the moment that we tend to get tight and tense. Before we know it, we are so contoured and wound-up, there is no opening for our true selves to shine through. But the real power and secret to leaving a lasting impression is to be vulnerable.
In her New York Times bestselling book Daring Greatly, research professor Brene Brown tells the story of Gay Gaddis, the owner and founder of T3. Gay cashed in her sixteen-thousand dollar retirement account to fund her dream of starting an ad agency. Twenty-three years later, Gay has built T3 into the largest advertising agency in the US wholly owned by a woman. When asked about the power of vulnerability, Gay remarked that, “When you shut down vulnerability, you shut down opportunity.” So don’t close the door on your next big opportunity. Be human, make mistakes, admit when you make a mistake, laugh at yourself when you make a mistake, let others make mistakes and help them feel at ease and less intimidated for doing so, ask questions, offer your opinions in a respectful way, state your ideas even if they may seem “crazy” or unorthodox, don’t give into the fear of being judged. Everyone is trying their best to be their best selves, honor and respect that in you and in others. Above all, don’t try to be anyone else other than who you genuinely are!
Tip #4: Avoid distractions
To make the most of your face time with others, show that you’re truly engaged by turning off or setting aside distracting devices and electronics. I have worked with some of the most highly paid managers who neglected this very simple technique and it hurt their reputation and credibility within the entire organization. Everyone dreaded a meeting because they knew that it would be a waste of time, they would not get the person’s full attention, and it result in a choppy conversation and exchange of information, at best. So if you are sitting behind a desk (where it might be tempting to multi-task) when approached for a conversation, shut your laptop, if possible and position yourself away from the computer and towards the person. This tells signals to the other person that you’re ready for an engaging conversation with them and will leave a positive impression in their mind that you value their interaction and time with you.
While avoiding external interruptions is important, it is equally crucial that more nuanced interruptions are also kept in check. For example, during any conversation you may interject comments to agree or encourage the speaker or try to show empathy by tossing in an occasional, “yes, I see what you mean.” This is great technique for rapport-building and can reap positive rewards but make sure it is well-intended and used judiciously throughout the conversation to avoid it becoming a distraction. One highly effective technique that professional conflict resolution mediators use is giving uninterrupted speaking time, followed by a summary. So the goal is to listen to and understand what’s being said since you will be repeating back what you actually heard instead of trying to interject your own thoughts.
For example, once you’ve listened and absorbed, you succinctly repeat back what you heard by saying, “so what I hear you saying is_______. Is that right? Or let me see if I heard you correctly, you said_______. Did I miss or misinterpret anything? In the event that you were somehow distracted or genuinely did not absorb what the person said, simply be honest and say, “Can you repeat that, I want to make sure I heard and understood you correctly?”This will ensure that you’ll not only have a crystal clear understanding of the conversation, but you’ll also demonstrate to the person you are engaged with that you’re truly invested in what he or she has to say.
Tip #5: Practice Stage 3 listening
In his classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie cites that being a good listener is one of the most potent things you can do to increase your influence and likeability. Plus, the ability to listen is one of the top skills employers seek in employees. Additionally, good listener is also perceived as having an innate ability to lead, which translates to bigger promotions and positions of enhanced responsibility.
Most people listen to conversations at a Stage One level, which means that when they listen their thoughts are trying to assess how the conversation will affect you. Conversely, a Stage Two listener will listen to see how what is being said in the conversation will affect themselves and the speaker. While at Stage Three, the listener is completely in the content of the conversation but is also engaged in non-verbal cues noting body movements, eye contact, tone of voice, and reading between the lines. When we encounter someone who gives us their full attention this way at Stage Three listening, it can be flattering and overwhelmingly positive. In fact, the reason that professional therapists and life coaches are easy to talk to is because they are trained Stage Three listeners. We’ve all experienced Stage Three listening. For example, think back to a time when you were in love with someone, this is when you were at full Stage Three listening mode where you took in the content of what your partner said while also taking full notice of their facial expressions, eye contact, slight inflections in their tone of voice, and subtle movements of their body as signals of communication. So, in your next personal interaction, it’s worth paying attention to what assess what stage you are listening at. Improved listening skills will set you apart as a colleague and leader as others start noticing that you take them seriously in your face-to-face conversations.
Tip #6: Leverage your body’s power Mirror Effect
You have heard the saying that “imitation is the biggest form of flattery.” Well, according to a study by renowned Duke University, it turns out that subtle forms of imitation can in fact prove to be highly effective when you are trying to make a lasting impression. For example, a study revealed that interviewees who mirrored slight mannerisms of the person who was interviewing them, such as chin-touching, leg crossing, holding mutual eye contact, and simultaneous head-nodding were seen as more trustworthy, competent, and likable. The art of mirroring, however, is in its subtly and conspicuousness because failing to be delicate with the technique can appear as if you are mocking the person you are interacting with or otherwise engaged in some sort of weird carnival trick!
In a recent Ted Talk, Amy Cuddy, a professor who studies nonverbal behavior at Harvard Business School, spoke about how holding a “power pose” for two minutes before any unnerving interaction could boost personal self-confidence. In a series of experiments she conducted, it was revealed that those people who held high-power poses for a few minutes before a fake job interview were given higher marks than those who held low power poses. According to Cuddy, power poses are those poses that open up the torso and expand the physical space that body takes up (i.e. pumping out the chest and anchoring or widening arms and legs). So the next time you have an important face-to-face situation, duck into the bathroom and power up those poses in front of the mirror.
Small changes in body language can completely change the dynamic of the conversation. One of my favorite conversation techniques is the triple nod. For example, body language expert Vanessa Van Edwards explains that the triple nod approach is a nonverbal cue that encourages people to talk longer and divulge more details. When you nod three times towards what might appear to be the end of the person coming to a natural pause or stop, they will naturally tend to keep talking. Not only do you show you’re interested in the conversation, but you build rapport in a natural way because the person will feel encouraged to stay engaged in conversation with you.
Keep it below the elbow – As humans, we all have an innate human desire for human interaction and touch. It is for this reason, one powerful technique you can employ in building long lasting rapport is to casually and naturally touch or graze the person you are speaking with below the elbow. However note that in a professional setting, you want to avoid going higher than the elbow as it encroaches on more intimate space. Stop shaking your legs – Legs are the largest part of our bodies, so when we shake them it is hard for it to go unnoticed. Shaking legs can also be seen as a sign of nervousness and anxiety. One technique to employ is to sit with your feet planted firmly on the ground or crossed at the ankle. This will tend to calm you and also make you appear confident and poised. Leave your neck alone – The neck is a vulnerable part of the body with many nerve endings that, if touched, reduces blood pressure, anxiety, heart rate, and generally calms the entire nervous system down. In his book What Ever Body is Saying, FBI Counterintelligence Agent, Joe Navarro states that neck touching is one of the most significant and frequent behaviors we use to heighten our response to stress. It signals discomfort and anxiety, possibly even insincerity so avoid this gesture even if you are employing the mirroring technique!