Develop your conversational skills
It stands to reason that taking an interest in others requires you to be a good questioner and listener. It helps if you enter a conversation with an intent to understand – like a detective or journalist, but less intrusive.
On the flip side it’s great if you’ve got something arresting to say about yourself (your storytelling skills). Many people avoid this by claiming, “Nothing interesting ever happens to me.” But it’s a learned skill and it’s the smaller observations and incidents that make the best anecdotes (see this legendary episode of the Graham Norton Show).
Storytelling (and story-listening) is something we explore in depth in our Applied Storytelling programme.
Make others feel better about themselves
Dale Carnegie recognised the importance of winning friends as a route to success; he suggested that the sweetest sound we can ever hear is the sound of our own name (although perhaps not when it’s read out in court!).
If you’re on a group video call, refer to something another delegate said earlier if you feel it adds something to the discussion. It’s not always about you saying something impressive; recognise the contributions made by others.
In fact, if you DO want to make an insightful point, refer to others as exemplars, people who exhibit the techniques and behaviours you are looking to promote. It’s nice if you’re an expert in your field to have the confidence in yourself to acknowledge the work of others, ostensibly your competitors.
Learn to accept (and give) compliments
If someone gives you a compliment, rather than brush it off (a very British thing), accept it gracefully. Recognise the contribution others have made to your success. Tell us who you admire, the people who have shaped your thinking and beliefs. Whatever success you have had has probably involved standing on the shoulders of others!
Sending someone an unsolicited LinkedIn recommendation is one of the most appreciated things you can do.
Point out the mistakes you’ve made (and the lessons learned)
Brene Brown maintains that the most connected people (not in terms of LinkedIn numbers, but those with rock-solid relationships) share one characteristic – a willingness to embrace their own vulnerability. Be willing to accept and point out the mistakes you’ve made, and what you have learned along the way. If you do this skilfully you’ll come across as humble, reflective and wise.
This can be a useful strategy as a manager when you’re dealing with under-performing employees. Remind them that you were in their position once and made the same mistakes. But a mentor pointed you in the right direction…
Judicious use of humour can get you a long way. Great speakers often open with a self-deprecating story (as with the first few minutes of Bryan Stevenson’s wonderful TED talk). It temporarily lowers their status, makes them human (and flawed), gets the audience behind them and then…they deliver the goods.
They can do this because their status is established (after all, they’ve been asked to speak), so more care needs to be taken with self-deprecation in things like a job interview.
Incidentally, Malcolm Gladwell observes that interviewees who speak with confidence are seen as either self-assured or arrogant, depending on their likeability.
Gentle teasing can boost likeability, but again you have to be careful. When it comes from a place of affection (and the target sees it that way), the bond strengthens. There’s a rule in comedy that teasing works when it’s directed at those who are higher or on the same level, but to tease downwards is just mean. Watch this clip where Hanks teases David Walliams on the Graham Norton Show – he seems to take it well!
Leave a good footprint
Carnegie got it right when he identified lots of little things which, when combined, help us win friends and influence people. Think of each interaction you have as leaving behind a footprint, where people feel more confident, empowered, informed, inspired, understood, appreciated and listened to as a result of that time with you.
We all get this wrong for time to time, occasionally assuming we did well when the reverse is true. But if you have the humility to recognise this, and the desire to improve, you’ll develop a powerful fan base over time.