- Eye contact
Eye contact is the first point of any social interaction. It sets the tone. In every social interaction there is an Alpha and a Beta. These aren’t real terms but are to be seen as an easy description of the spectrum that occurs during any social interaction, Alpha being the charismatic leader and Beta being the subservient follower. Eye contact is the first point of contact that determines where each individual fits in to the interaction, sometimes regardless of pre-existing status. A CEO of a company can come up to a group of middle managers and, if he/she fails to make proper eye contact, find themselves on the outside of the interaction. Typically high powered individuals have learnt this throughout their careers and will usually instinctively show powerful eye contact to each person and allow themselves to be “sized-up” before assuming the position of Alpha and continuing with the conversation. All this can take place in two seconds so it is critical to get it spot on the first try.
- Firm handshake
A good handshake is the easiest way to show dominance in an encounter. Whenever two presidents have a public meet, if news cameras are present you can bet they are waiting for the handshake. They want to take pictures of it and ultimately, draw conclusions about it. They might even decide who “won” the meeting based on who had the most powerful handshake. You may already be getting the sense that it is about competition. You’re right. Even the most seemingly benign social interactions are competitions on some level, usually with us not being acutely or consciously aware of it.
- Taking up space
Watch this TED talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are
One of the first things that people in service industries are told to do is to smile. This is known as an easy way to evoke a positive response in patrons and often positive reviews will involve the line; “Jessie at the front desk greeted us with such a wonderful smile and it set the tone for our whole experience”. I am not a psychologist but I can faux understand this phenomenon. A facial expression is a descriptor we use to gauge somebodies emotional state. If someone is frowning/ scowling we assume they are angry/ sad. This is true if we see someone smiling as well we assume they are happy. I have seen people who are always smiling be described as happy-go lucky and “always” happy. Happiness is clearly a transient emotion so nobody can always be happy. What is most probably happening here is a feedback loop being created where somebody is happy for a small amount of time, smiles, and realises that smiling is helpful even when they are not feeling particularly happy because people will still respond to them in a joyful manner. They have more chance of escaping moments of temporary depression if they smile through it. Another possible reason is the concept of mirroring. Wikipedia describes mirroring as: “Mirroring is the behavior in which one person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. Mirroring often occurs in social situations, particularly in the company of close friends or family. The concept often affects other individual’s notions about the individual that is exhibiting mirroring behaviors, which can lead to the individual building rapport with others”. Using this definition we can infer that the benefit that fast-food joints get or even (high-powered executives) is that smiling is an expression of a positive emotional attitude and state. This creates positive emotional states in the people they are dealing with which naturally leads to more positive interactions. Adversarial interactions are overly emphasized and I doubt they are as prevalent higher up as the media would have us believe.
- READING AND RESPONDING TO SOCIAL CUES
In my view this is the most important and oft underappreciated social tool of successful people. It encompasses concepts such as mirroring, improvisation and all the other concepts already discussed in this piece. It can stop you in the middle of a long rant that is hurting the person you are speaking to in ways that you wouldn’t know because you are not privy to their intimate thoughts and emotions. Often these cues will be slight and it will take tremendous amounts of sensitivity and dexterity to spot and navigate them. Being able to gain and apply this skill will make you a legend and you’ll be able to make friends with even the most difficult people because you will have the empathy to understand where they are coming from.
Hope this was valuable… till next time.