The Psychology of Connecting with People

Two friends in sunglasses lie on their backs outside smiling

If you’ve ever tried to make friends in a new city or socialize at a networking event, then you know how awkward or intimidating it can be to connect with new people.

Being able to connect with people is a valuable skill, and one that impacts our personal and professional life. We’d all love to be able to make friends easily, or get along with our coworkers. 

And your reputation at the office is tied to your ability to build trust and work well with others. This could influence what projects and assignments you get, who you get to work with, as well as being in the running for a promotion. 

So how can we improve our relationships and make connections more easily? And in this day and age when so much of our social and professional life is conducted online, how can we make meaningful and genuine connections with others? 

Like with any other skill, connecting with people takes a little bit of time and effort. Luckily, there are psychological insights and techniques that can help us forge better, more meaningful connections.

Keep reading below to find out how you can connect with people and create more positivity in your relationships. 

Want to get people to like you? Ask them for a favor.

It may seem counterintuitive, but asking someone for a favor can help you build rapport and trust. Take it from Benjamin Franklin. 

Known as the Ben Franklin effect, this networking technique is described in his autobiography, in which he writes about how he won over a political rival by asking him to borrow a rare book from his library. After reading the book, he promptly returned it with a gracious thank you note, conveying his deep appreciation and acknowledgement of the favor. Not only did asking for a favor improve his relationship with his rival, but it created a long lasting friendship. 

You would think that asking for a favor would backfire, and that it would inconvenience the other person. But in fact, it has the opposite effect. According to this article, the Ben Franklin effect builds connections because of the positive way it make the other person feel:

“They feel respected. They feel valued. They feel trusted. They feel the satisfaction that comes from making a difference, however small, in someone else's life.” 

As with any networking or relationship building technique, it's important to remember to be sincere and genuine with your approach. And if networking isn’t something that comes easily to you, being genuine and sincere will help you connect with others, without worrying that you’re coming across as a pick-up artist. 

Try thinking about what it is that you admire about this person. Then use that to help build up to your ask. 

It can be something as simple as saying, “Hey, I heard you’re really into traveling. I’d love to get your tips on where to go on vacation.”  Or if it’s a coworker, you can say, “You’re so great at designing presentations. Could I get your feedback on mine?” 

As long as you’re genuine and respectful with your ask, you’ll be connecting with others and making them feel good at the same time. 

And don’t forget to express your appreciation afterwards with a good old fashioned thank you note

Actively listen

This one sounds obvious, but if you think about it, when’s the last time you truly, actively listened to someone? Active listening is a skill, one that asks us to be mindful and engaged, without being distracted by our phones or noises in the background or even our own judgmental thoughts.

Here are some pointers for active listening:

Echo back. This is a listening technique in which you paraphrase or reiterate what the other person is saying. Not only is this a good way to stay engaged in the conversation, but it also helps you process what you’re hearing. 

If the person is telling you about a challenging time at work, you can say something like, “that must’ve been so tough” or “sounds like that must’ve been stressful.” 

Repeating what you’ve heard is a compassionate conversation technique, and one that helps make the other person feel heard and understood.  

Ask questions. Asking follow-up questions shows that you are naturally interested in the conversation and curious about what the person has to say. It’s also a good technique to help the other person feel more comfortable around you. 

Just make sure to allow the questions to come up organically and at a natural pause in the conversation.  No one wants to feel like they’re being interrupted or at a job interview. So if there’s a natural pause in the conversation or if the question seems relevant, then use that as an entry point for your question. 

Give your full attention

Nothing creates a strong impression like giving your full and undivided attention to the speaker. Keeping your phone away or putting it on airplane mode can help you stay device-free and focus on being present. Non-verbal cues like nodding along or smiling can be encouraging and create a positive, supportive environment for the other person. 

Remember key details

Little things like remembering a partner’s name or their child’s favorite toy makes such an indelible impression. It shows that you have paid attention to what this person has had to say in the past, and it signals that you’re genuinely interested in how things are going in their life. 

Use compliments 

Your compliments for other people can also create positive impressions on your own character. 

This is called spontaneous trait transference

“If you describe someone else as genuine and kind, people will also associate you with those qualities. The reverse is also true: If you are constantly trashing people behind their backs, your friends will start to associate the negative qualities with you as well.”

Maybe it’s because the positive traits you see in others are ones that are important to you as well. If we hold someone in high regard for their kindness and warmth, it’s probably because we value those traits and want to emulate them in our own lives.  

So go ahead and pay a compliment. It will have positive results for you too.

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