Whether it’s your spouse, in-laws, children, friends, colleagues at work, clients, children, or people you encounter while going about your day, knowing how to get along well with others can greatly enhance your life, as well as the lives of those around you, in both personal and professional arenas.
Healthy interpersonal relationships and a strong social support system are counted among the most important elements in a happy existence. The following are some simple (although not always easy) ways to connect with others:
Be a good listener. You don’t have to do a big song and dance to impress people. In fact, making the conversation mostly about yourself may get you some attention and make you feel good in the short run. However, we all have an inherent need to feel heard and seen. So, if you’re not giving these gifts to others by showing that you’re interested in them, you may be putting people off. Instead, try to learn something about the other person. What new fact about them can you discover (and retain in your memory)? Having this intention can not only help to keep your attention on your partner in the conversation, but can show them that you were listening if you refer back to this knowledge at a later date.
Ask open-ended questions. Instead of posing questions that require a one- or two-worded answer (like yes or no), ask people to tell you a bit about themselves. What are their hobbies? What type of work do they do? Where did they grow up? Your questions will vary, of course, depending on the setting and your relationship with the other person. You probably wouldn’t want to ask very personal questions in a business setting, for instance. If the other person seems disinclined to engage in conversation with you, you can either offer a few words about yourself or simply smile and move away. Who knows, the other person might recall your goodwill and approach you at some time in the future. In the meanwhile, you’ve done your part to create camaraderie.
Use confident body language.
- Try standing or sitting upright with your shoulders back.
- Speak slowly and clearly, with a moderate (not overbearing) tone.
- Make good eye contact – not staring at the other person, but not looking around the room or on the floor either.
- If you gesture with your hands (which is generally preferable to stiffly holding your arms close to your body), make your movements clear and deliberate (rather than flailing about).
- Try not to:
- cross your arms or legs
- play with your hair or face
- pick at your nails
- nervously shake your foot
- turn away from the other person
Put away your cell phone. Yes, you can live without checking it for the length of the conversation. Doesn’t it seem sad to see a family out to dinner, with the parents and children all staring at their phones? Instead, have the courage to really be entirely present. Focus your attention on your conversation – or, if the other person just wants to sit or take a walk with you without talking, you can still be emotionally present by not distracting yourself with social media or checking your email.
Use the other person’s name from time to time. This works best when you’re speaking to just one or a few people but can also work when speaking with a group. People tend to perk up when they hear their name. This indicates that you’re thinking specifically of them.
Look for similarities. If you tend to shy away from people because you feel as if you might not fit in, attempt to see what the two (or more) of you may have in common. Maybe you’re all rooting for the same football or baseball team, have children roughly the same age, order the same drink at Starbucks, etc. Find some common ground and build from there.
Tolerate or even revel in differences. If the other person has an alternate point of view from you or has made different lifestyle choices, this doesn’t have to feel threatening. Be curious and try to see things through their eyes.
Be supportive and encouraging. Relationship researchers John and Julie Gottman have found that even during a disagreement, the ratio of positive to negative comments is five to one for couples who stay together. Yes, you read that right. Not only when things are peachy-keen but also during arguments, it’s important to show that you value and respect your partner. Admittedly, this ratio was found to be true for married couples, so the stakes will not be that high for other relationships. Nonetheless, it’s an admirable ratio to strive for.
Maintain your integrity. Not everybody will like you. To try and please everyone will not work, because people have varying motivations and wishes. Know and stay true to who you are while also being respectful of others. Know when to say no if a request of you is unreasonable or not in line with your principles or ability. Express yourself with tact, courtesy, and honesty, and at the end of the day you will find it easy to live with yourself – and getting along well with yourself is often the first step to getting along well with others.
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About Rachel Fintzy, MA, LMFT
Rachel Fintzy, M.A., LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist in Santa Monica, California. Rachel counsels in the areas of relationships, the mind/body connection, emotion regulation, stress management, mindfulness, emotional eating, compulsive behaviors, self-compassion, and effective self-care. Trained in both clinical psychology and theater arts, Rachel works with people to uncover and develop their unique creative gifts and find personal fulfillment. For 17 years, Rachel has also been conducting clinical research studies at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the areas of mind/body medicine and the interaction of psychological well-being, social support, traumatic injury, and substance use. You can read more about Rachel at her website: http://www.rachelfintzy.com