Update: This was originally a single post but it ran a bit long. I realized I’ve got enough material for 2 or 3 posts so I’ve split it up to make it easier and less time-consuming for you to read. Enjoy Part 1, then click here for Part 2. Thanks!
I recently posted about about a great experience I had at a social networking event. While this event was great, I’ve been to a few not-so-great ones. Usually what makes a social event not-so-great is the inability of attendees to converse with ease. So I thought I’d offer a few tips that have helped me out when I’m in a new social environment.
If you’ve ever had corporate employee training, you’ve probably learned about communicating up, down and laterally: communicating “up” to a superior, “down” to a subordinate, and “laterally” to an equal. I bring this up to point out there are different communication styles and the ability to recognize this in others can be a powerful tool in any social networking environment. All of us have our own unique style of communication, both verbal and non-verbal. Too often, we expect the people we’re communicating with to speak to us on our level without making any effort to speak to them on theirs. This can lead to some pretty awkward conversations. However, if you can identify a speaker’s communication style, you can start to modify your style to theirs. In addition to a more comfortable conversation, you may find yourself making a great connection!
So how do we recognize another person’s communication style? I know it’s kind of cliché, but the answer is as simple as listening. But don’t just listen to the words a person says, listen to how they say them. Here are some examples that will hopefully help you understand what I mean.
Recently I was speaking to a woman on the phone. We had a great conversation and talked for almost two hours. I learned a lot about her in that time. One thing that struck me was that she spelled out the word B-I-T-C-H. She did this more than once. From that I gleaned that either she doesn’t like that word or that she doesn’t use expletives at all. I personally expletive like a sailor so once I picked up on her cue, I made sure to keep my language clean. This wasn’t a huge compromise on my part and it ensured that I didn’t offend her with unwelcome, foul language. Now, I could be totally wrong. Maybe she spelled it out because she wasn’t sure if using the word would offend me. Maybe it was because we were conversing as professionals and she didn’t think it would be appropriate. Either way, it’s important to note the cues and speak/act appropriately.
I’ve got another friend who always announces when she’s going to give me a hug. We’ve known each other for years and we’re actually close friends and she still prefaces each hug with a little announcement. From this, I’ve learned that she’s not comfortable with physical displays. Now again, I’m the opposite. I use physical touch to form connections. In conversation, I often find myself touching someone’s shoulder or knee when making a point or sharing a joke. But with someone like my friend, I try to limit those touches because she may not welcome that physical expression. Especially when making new friends or connections, I try to limit physical contact until I know the other person’s level of comfort. Each of us has our personal space bubble and some of ours are bigger/smaller than others. It’s important to know where the personal space bubble begins and ends. Respect the bubble!
Ever spoken to a New York native? They’re loud-talkers. They’re close-talkers. You back up, they move in. Modifying your communication style doesn’t always mean dialing it down; sometimes it means ratcheting it up. I have been in more than one situation where I had to be more brash, more outgoing than I normally am (which is saying something!) in order to keep up and gain the respect of the person speaking to me. When you encounter a large personality, don’t be afraid to step up your game a little bit, otherwise you could be left on the sidelines.
Have you ever been in a conversation where the 50-cent words were flying, and there you were without your thesaurus? Sucks right? Or maybe you’re the smart one. If you are, don’t make people around you feel stupid. Either way, there are tricks to fit in no matter which side of the dictionary you’re on. If you’re the smart one, it’s easy to use layman’s terms in a non-condescending way. If you’re the one craving edification, learn to smile and nod. Take mental notes and learn what you didn’t know so you’ll be prepared for next time.
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
If you’re reading this and thinking, these are not new concepts, duh, you’re absolutely right! A lot of this is common sense but it’s not being utilized in social situations. If these ARE new concepts for you, don’t be intimidated. While it may feel awkward at first, these practices will help you showcase yourself in a charming way that makes your audience feel like you’re really listening to them and connecting. Because you are!
These tips are meant to help ease communication with a new acquaintance in a social environment. I’m not encouraging you to censor every word that leaves your mouth or be less than genuine. I am in no way advocating “political correctness”, nor is this post meant to encourage you to change your personality or communication style as a matter of course. Use these tips to identify the communication styles of the people around you. Volume, intensity, energy and content are major clues that can practically paint you a road map to an easier conversation. It takes practice so start out by listening and identifying different styles, then practice modifying your style to some of the others you’ve observed. If you meet someone and want the chance to get to know them better, I believe these tips can help open the door. Go for it!