Even though we know we are more likely to savor life and attract more opportunities to collaborate when we click with others, we often get in our own way – especially when we are distracted or worse. Here are five concrete ways to connect with others.
1. Face the world as you want to be treated
We’ve all been startled by observing a passerby’s dour expression instantly transformed into a warm smile when someone they knew came into view. The fixed-face habit is increasingly common yet it limits one’s opportunities to make friends or just be treated well.
I envy those who naturally display an open face, yet, with practice, we all can. We don’t have to turn into grinning fools. Research shows, however, that even slightly elevated eyebrows cause the eyes to widen and – presto – one looks more open and less judgmental. Strangers unconsciously project onto such people the qualities they most admire in others, believe those people care – and act more generously towards them.
Unknowingly, as a journalist I came to have an intense facial expression, especially interviewing people I found fascinating (that’s my excuse anyway) until I interviewed an expert on Paul Ekman’s research on reading faces. He gently suggested that it would only take a couple of months of practice to “transform” my face into one with the open expression he was exhibiting in our interview. It took me much longer – yet his advice comes to mind every time I see a dour or hardened face. That person probably does not understand the missed opportunities for friendship and more – just from this one simple habit.
When you are literally uptight–rigid in any part of your body - others instinctively resist or even react against you. This phenomenon is akin to bouncing a hard rubber ball on a concrete surface as compared to a soft carpet. The ball bounces higher and faster against the hard surface than the soft one, of course, just as others react more against a body that is even inadvertently held tight against the world.
Whenever you are entering an unfamiliar or potentially volatile situation, loosen up physically. It will help you feel more at ease. Walk, stretch, and release tension from the places where you hold it in your body.
Probably –like many conscientious, hard-working people– you hold your shoulders higher and slightly more forward than is natural, with one of the tendons in your neck tightened up even more than the other. If someone can give you a quick three-minute shoulder and neck massage, you will relax – and look at ease. Others will respond more warmly to you.
Here’s another quick way to feel and look comfortable. Take your “pointing” fingers and the ones adjacent to them and rub both sides of your face in small circles, beginning at the cheek bone, near the sides of your nose, continuing along that bone towards your ears, down to the jaw line and on toward the center of your chin.
3. We feel closer to happy people, especially when we are happy
Enjoy the bond-building boomerang effect that happens with contagious happiness (when you’re happy, you cause your friends to feel happier, and that makes their friends happier). As the circles of friends around you feel happier their upbeat behavior will swing around back through those friends towards and around you, reinforcing your capacity to stay contented.
Plus those positive feelings that boomerang back to you in waves from others serve as an emotional cushion in your rocky times. I’m suggesting this as reinforcement for you to smile your way into a better way of feeling. When we feel down we close down and withdraw. This boomerang affect enables you and those you are around to open up to each other.
Women tend to worry more than men so it is especially important for us, when we start to feel anxious or depressed to mentally change the channel of thought to something – any small thing – that lightens our mood.
Consider this. In any situation you only have three choices: 1. Change how you act, 2. Accept the situation, or 3. Leave. The sooner you make a decision the less likely you deepen the rut in your memory of fixating on worrying rather than acting to change.
5. Meet new people to see fresh sides in yourself
Want to pull new people into your life? Like to show an evolving new facet of yourself? Get out of your orbit. Attend a lecture, sit at a lively café, join a civic, special interest or non-profit committee. In short, put yourself in a place where you don’t know anyone well.
That’s when, “we are more free to experiment with ourselves, and less likely to have our new behaviors and roles reflected back to us by people who object, ‘But that’s not like you!,’” says Melinda Blau, co-author of Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don’t Seem to Matter. . . But Really Do. She adds, “Strangers help us stretch beyond the relatively rigid boxes that the people who have known us the longest – our family and close friends – often put us into.”
This may be the surest way to turn the page for the next chapter of your life to be the kind of adventure story you now want. Even within one hour you can learn specific ways to stand out in your work or life.