Updated: Aug 19, 2019
If you only had one minute, or even just 20 seconds, to establish rapport with someone you've never met before, how would you do it? Here are three techniques I’ve used over the years that you may find helpful. You can call them “The Three A’s of Getting Along.”
Getting along with others requires an awareness of three things, and they are all interrelated — the environment, time, and the person you are meeting. An awareness of what is expected in a foreign country or culture, or even in a new office or apartment building, gives you a head start. Venue expectations (e.g., a church versus a sports arena), just like countries, dictate how we communicate and even what we should wear.
Time is also a factor. Do I have hours, minutes, or just seconds? The less I have, the more I need to think about what I will say and how will I say it.
And while an awareness of the setting and time is important, so is our awareness of others. Our immediate assessment of others, their mood and emotional state, contributes to getting along. Approaching someone when they are stressed may not be the best thing to do, especially when waiting just a half-hour can make all the difference.
You want to be liked? You want to fit in? Guess what: It requires amiability on our part. That’s right, we, not they, must be both accessible and friendly. Standing in the corner with your hands in your pockets won’t do it. We need to interact with a smile. Dale Carnegie had it right. Smiling works to a point, but we must also be approachable; we must make welcoming eye contact. Invariably, we do have to work harder at it, but we can’t expect others to do for us what we should be doing for ourselves. Our body language should say, I am friendly and approachable.
Being friendly means being socially engaging. In his great book, It’s Not All About Me, Robin Dreeke gives us the formula for getting others to relax around us and open up, and the secret is to not dwell on ourselves, but rather to allow others to talk about their interests and what they enjoy. Frankly, I would rather hear about what others do than to listen to myself talk about my own work: I am already familiar with that. Benign curiosity of others can serve to make us more amiable, because our focus is on them and their interests.
Since ancient times, the wise have said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Put another way, once you have figured out where you are and who you are dealing with, resolve to abide and accept. This is especially true in foreign countries, but it certainly applies in different settings. Resolve to change how you do things, how you dress, how you greet, how you talk, so that you will fit in. Don’t resist; don’t insist that you have things your way, or that you know better. It is, once more, not about you. It is about two things — the venue, and fitting in with others. Conformity is harmony. Respect the beliefs, norms, customs, and practices of a local culture or of those you wish to engage. Mirror those around you — that’s the secret mariners and travelers have utilized since biblical times. It is no different today.
For additional reading, see Louder Than Words (Harper Collins) by Joe Navarro.