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Have you ever changed jobs or moved to an unfamiliar city, only to find yourself wondering how to connect with new people? Building relationships can be tough. However, a connection is a part of what it means to be human. When we can do it well, our lives are far more fulfilling.
From finding common ground with a stranger to making new friends over social media, social skills help us build our networks and create meaningful relationships. But connecting is about more than socializing — it’s a transferable skill that can help you grow professionally and personally.
Unfortunately, not everyone is excited to start making new connections. It can be awkward and uncomfortable at first, especially if you suffer from social anxiety. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. Once you become comfortable being uncomfortable, you can learn how to connect with people too.
Learning how to develop better relationships with others will be worth the effort. Here’s why it’s so important to connect well with others and 10 effective ways you can start today.
Why is it important to know how to connect with people?
The importance of other people in our lives has become even more apparent since the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve all seen the benefit of meaningful connections during hard times. These deeper connections can allow us to learn to be vulnerable, get help when we need it, and better support our friends and coworkers.
If you form a strong connection with another person, you can build a meaningful relationship. And if you already have a relationship with a person, learning how to connect well with others can make it that much better.
We can improve our overall happiness by having better connections, whether with coworkers or friends.
Research also shows that strong social connections are just as important as exercise to our overall health. A deep connection with another person can boost your mood, lower blood pressure, and even decrease mortality. That’s why when it comes to taking care of your well-being, learning how to connect with people should be a high priority.
Why do some people struggle to connect with others?
The benefits of learning how to connect with people are endless. Yet strengthening our social networks can be challenging. If you’ve struggled with social interactions before, it can be hard to build the confidence to put yourself out there. Shyness, introversion, and social anxiety may make people put the brakes on connecting with others.
If a person has poor self-esteem or mental health issues, they may also struggle to connect. If this sounds like you, you may need some extra support to start feeling your best. A platform like BetterUp could be the impetus you need to invest in yourself, build your mental fitness, and grow your relationships.
Another reason why people struggle to connect with others is that they don’t know how to ask good questions.
Asking good questions helps a conversation get off on the right track. Without questions that stimulate interesting conversations, people won’t connect. The good news is that this is definitely a skill that can be learned and practiced.
10 surefire ways to connect with people
Some connections are easy, while others take time. For example, if you and a coworker went to the same school or have the same hometown, you’re more likely to form an instant bond. It’s also easier to make connections with people who have similar professional interests or hobbies as you.
Note, an easy or instant connection doesn't mean that you're going to be best friends. Try not to put that kind of pressure on your interactions. Friendships may develop. But we all also need the looser social connections that create a sense of belonging and community and make life interesting.
In some cases, making a connection takes more effort. In fact, most of the time, making new friends doesn’t happen automatically. Maybe you eat lunch with a colleague who works in an entirely different part of the company. You don’t understand each other’s jobs or seem to have obvious common ground.
However, you can probably think of times you’ve had amazing conversations with someone so different from you. Learning how to connect with people just requires an open mind and a few social skills.
Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, you can learn how to more easily connect with others. Here are 10 tips to help you build and strengthen connections with people:
1. Be your authentic self
You can't go wrong with being yourself. Pretending to be someone you aren't can lead your relationships to be built on lies and cause confusion in the future. People make mistakes when they desperately want to fit in, but they forget that being yourself is how you make genuine connections.
2. Respect people's boundaries
It's likely that when you get to know someone new, you'll discover their limits quickly. For example, if you’re trying to connect with a coworker, you may find out that they don’t want to talk about their dating life.
In order to build a meaningful relationship with that person, you must respect their boundaries. Don’t push them to share things that they don’t want to for the sake of connection — ultimately, that will kill the connection.
That said, try to let your conversations go beyond basic facts. If your new friend is comfortable, dive into more intimate conversations. Ask what they’re passionate about, what their dreams for the future are, and what scares them. If you show your willingness to open up, they’ll likely share more, too.
3. Stay focused on the present
If you're having a conversation with someone, your focus should be on them. You shouldn’t be looking at your phone or thinking about what you want for dinner. One of the best ways to learn how to connect with other people is learning to be present.
And don’t just be present mentally. Use your body langauge to show your friend or coworker that they have your full attention. If you aren't facing the person who's speaking, they won't feel like you care about connecting with them.
4. Move past the surface level
Meaningful connections move past the basics of small talk. Yes, the first time you meet someone, you can cover surface-level facts. However, the next time you see the person, or after you’ve been talking for a while, try to go deeper.
What are their values? What types of goals do they have for the future? What are their biggest hopes and dreams? These are all questions that give more insight into who people are and how we can connect with them.
5. Share the conversation
Being mindful of how we communicate helps us build stronger connections with others. When you start speaking with someone new, your sharing should be balanced. All good conversations have a give-and-take. For example, if you ask your coworker about their 5-year plan, they may give you a long-winded answer. In the end, they should then ask you what your goals are.
If you feel like the other person isn’t asking you about yourself, they may just be distracted. Don’t be afraid to offer information about yourself and share your stories, too. If the person keeps changing the subject back to themselves, though, they probably aren’t a good connection to have.
6. Be genuine with your admiration
Actively showing your appreciation for someone can put a smile on their face. You may even think that showering someone with admiration is a good foundation for a deeper connection. Compliments that were given without sincerity, however, are likely to make someone distrust you.
Be careful with this on social media, as well. If you’re trying to build a connection with a new friend, you may be tempted to reach out to someone with lots of compliments. If you wouldn’t the same thing in real life, this can be deceptive.
It’s far better to give fewer, sincere compliments in the long run. This will make someone trust you more because it shows you are intentional and not just saying anything you can to gain a friend. Ultimately, that’s the best way to connect with others.
7. Be a good listener
Actively listening to people when they speak can tell you a lot about them. Think about how your conversations usually go with people: Do you interrupt their sentences? Are you judging them as they speak? Listening with an open mind lets you know them better. You also won't need to ask them the same question twice or have them repeat themselves.
People like to be around good listeners because it makes them feel heard and understood. If you want to learn how to connect with others, this tip is a great way to start.
8. Schedule your time
Everyone gets busy sometimes. That can make it feel like there's zero time to connect with people. If you feel like you can't keep your time organized, rely on your calendar to help out.
Take a look and see when you can be the most social with others. Establish if weekends, weekdays, evenings, or mornings work best for you. Rather than feeling rushed, you can schedule when you want to connect with people so that you have the proper energy to do so.
9. Maintain eye contact
Eye contact is one of the easiest ways to show someone you're interested in what they have to say. Being attentive in this way will help the other person see you want to build a deeper relationship with them.
It also demonstrates that you’re happy to be present with them and not thinking about being somewhere else. Maintaining eye contact makes people feel like they can trust you more, helps people open up, and keeps the conversation flowing.
When you’re face-to-face, just remember not to stare too hard at the person. A normal amount of eye contact is enough to help build the connection.
10. Offer a smile
The person you’re conversing with could be nervous or have social anxiety. Offering them a smile when you greet them or as the conversation progresses shows that you're having a good time.
It can also reduce stress and awkwardness for both of you. A smile initiates more positivity and makes people feel comfortable enough to open up more.
Why is feedback important?
Even after learning how to connect with people, you can't jump in and make perfect connections with people right away. You need time to practice, make mistakes, and learn the best ways to connect with the different people in your life. If you’ve been trying to deepen your connections and feel like it isn’t working, you may need to ask for feedback.
You’re probably aware that taking initiative and asking for feedback at work can help your career grow.
But have you ever thought about asking for feedback in your personal life? If you’re overly stiff in conversations, interrupt others repeatedly, or have any other bad habits, your friends can tell you so. This will help you build better connections in the long term.
We can always improve our communication skills. Taking the time to become a more effective public speaker, storyteller, and listener will benefit you for years to come.
Why does mirroring behavior and language work?
If your connection with someone new is building, you might find yourself mirroring each other's body language and behavior. This might not happen over a video call where you can only see the person from the shoulder up. However, in-person, this phenomenon can help foster deeper connections.
If you mirror the other person’s behavior and language, intentionally or not, it’s a sign that you're listening to what they’re saying. It can instinctively make the other person feel more comfortable.
Repeating similar language and words back to them shows that you've heard their words and you're echoing them in your response. You can try using this as a way to connect better with people.
Connect to your future
Learning how to connect with people is a great way to get closer to friends and family. It can also help us relate to coworkers and put new friends at ease. In life, our meaningful connections motivate us to reach our goals, work smarter, and improve our well-being. We can't do things alone all the time, and when we have people we can rely on, it makes our challenges seem not so impossible.
It might seem daunting to put yourself out there, but that's how connections are made. Next time you have the opportunity to deepen your relationship with someone, take a deep breath and allow yourself to be curious.
If you need support you as you learn how to connect with people, BetterUp is here for you. Find the guidance you need to strengthen your communication skills and build your confidence. Before you know it, you’ll be making connections with people everywhere you go.