Don’t think this is a communication skill? It’s one of the best.
If we are in our heads all the time, worried about what to say next, we can seem so distracted the other person assumes we aren’t interested.
When we work to be fully present, other people feel it. They are more likely to want to connect as you will suddenly feel ‘available’. As for what to say next, it comes more naturally when you are in the present moment because you are paying attention.
TRY THIS: If you feel nerves causing you to drift off or get caught up in thought, start noticing the things around you. Try to notice one visual detail (the colour of his/her top), one smell (the food cooking in the restaurant), and one noise. Or get present using your body. Notice that your feet are on the ground, or wiggle your fingers under the table.
TRY THIS: Put all your focus on what the other person is saying, repeating it in your head as they talk. Do not worry about what you will say next, do not think about what you will do next, or allow your mind to project into the future about what your kids would look like! Just simply stay focused and listen, then try the next step.
3. Reflect back.
Nervous and not sure what to say? Then just reflect back.
Reflecting back means you take what the person just said, rephrase it, and repeat it back to them. For example, they say, ‘I really love sport, particularly climbing.’ You say, ‘Oh, you like climbing more than other sports’.
It might sound simple or even obvious, yet you’ll be surprised to find that nobody will notice that you are simply repeating what they are saying. Instead, they feel heard.
TRY THIS: Turn your reflecting into a question. “Ah, you really love climbing?” The other person will feel you are even more interested, and excitedly tell you about the new climbing centre they found.
Take a tip from life coaching, and aim to ask ‘how’ or ‘what’ questions over ‘why’ ones.
‘Why’ questions can come across as too intense or accusatory, particularly if you don’t know the other person too well yet. It can also lead to him or her going down a negative rabbit hole… why DO they want to do well in their career?
‘How’ and ‘what’ questions are forward looking. They are more likely to lead to new ideas and positive thoughts. “What will life look like then, if you do well in your career?” Suddenly the other person is realising more about what they want from life, and attributing it to your wisdom, when all you did was ask a good question.
TIP: If you just met the person, ask questions depending on what the other person is already sharing, or you risk leaving the other person feeling interrogated. And if it’s a first date, leave questions about their dating history or future plans for kids and family for another time.
5. Use the power of the pause.
Instead of filling every moment with nervous babbling, allow a pause. It’s a moment to connect in ways other than words, like with glances and smiles. Plus it allows the other person move the conversation in a way that they might have been waiting to.
TRY THIS: when you pause, use the moment to relax your shoulders and breathe. The confidence to pause in a relaxed over anxious way can help the other person suddenly feel more relaxed, too.
6. Don’t agree unless you do.
Photo by Priscilla du Preez
Do you tend to agree with everything a love interest says, because then they will like you? Stop immediately.
Nobody wants to date a mirror. And a little disagreement can actually cause attraction, anyway.
Plus, blind agreement is dishonest. Even if it leads to short-term gain, it’s going to lead to heartache later when he or she realises you manipulated them.
TRY THIS: Appreciate the other person’s point before disagreeing. “I see your point, but I see it this way…”. This helps the other person feel heard instead of competed with or attacked. You might also want to try the phrase “I could be wrong”. It shows that you are open to learning more. “I see your point, and I could be wrong, but I feel this way about it…”.
7. Use open body language.
No amount of good listening, good questions, and being present is going to work to attract the other person if you are sitting with your arms crossed, your shoulders crunched up, and wearing a big frown.
TRY THIS: Give ‘mirroring’ a go. Studies show that people feel that they have something in common with someone if the other person mirrors their body language. If they cross their legs, cross yours. If they lean in, you lean in a little too. Although if they are crossing their arms, leaning back, and angling their body away, you might not want to mirror – it’s the body language of not being interested!
8. Drop the advice.
Second only to a monologue about yourself as a key way to turn people off is giving advice. Even if you mean to be helpful, you’ll come across as bossy and leave the other person feeling unheard.
TRY THIS: Only offer advice if the other person directly asks. If you aren’t sure, then ask first. “I do have experience with that myself, but I won’t offer you advice unless you want it!”.
9. Show appreciation.
Flattery, offering compliments just to win approval, is neither honest nor attractive.
Appreciation, on the other hand, means sharing something you genuinely like about the other person.
TRY THIS: Appreciation about looks can be misinterpreted. Try showing appreciation for a behaviour or trait instead. “I really appreciate how nice you were to that waiter, it made me smile’. “I love what a good listener you are, thank you for that’.
What if I just can’t communicate well?
Do you have social anxiety? Freeze every time you talk? Or always say things you don’t mean?
If you really can’t be yourself around other people, and findconnecting to others overwhelming? It might be that you have past issues that are controlling your present behaviours. Perhaps the way you were parented meant you could never speak up and be yourself. Or maybe it was childhood trauma that left you with low self-esteem and a belief you are unlikeable.
Sometimes we need support to learn how to share our thoughts and feelings, or to process the things that hold us back. A counsellor or psychotherapist can help you get to the root of the issue, and you can even practise new communication skills in the therapy room.