March 2, 2005
Excerpts: Never Eat Alone - Part III
Youre at a meeting when you turn to the person standing next to you. She turns to face you, and within a fraction of a second your mind makes a thousand computations. In that instant, youre trying to figure out whether you should run, fight, or be friendly. What youre doing, anthropologists say, is thinking like a caveman.
Deep in our genetic code, we are conditioned to be afraid of strangers. Will they eat us or feed us? Thats why we form first impressions so quickly; we have to decide whether or not it is safe to approach.
You have about ten seconds before a person decides, subconsciously, whether they like you or not. In that short period of time we dont exchange a lot of words; our judgment is mostly based on nonverbal communication.
How do you get someone who doesnt know you to feel comfortable talking?
This is not the time to play hard-to-get, keep a distance, or play mysterious. These all-too-common reactions may work for the likes of Marlon Brando, but for the rest us, such poses register as keep away! in our prehistoric minds. Instead, we should take the initiative in creating the impression we want to give. People are wowed by social decisiveness when its offered with compassion and warmth. How another person perceives you is determined by a number of things you do before you utter your first word.
First,give the person a hearty smile.It says,Im approachable.
Maintain a good balance of eye contact. If you maintain an unblinking stare 100 percent of the time, that qualifies as leering. Thats plain scary. If you keep eye contact less than 70 percent of the time, youll seem disinterested and rude. Somewhere in between is the balance youre looking for.
Unfold your arms and relax. Crossing your arms can make you appear defensive or closed. It also signals tension. Relax! People will pick up on your body language and react accordingly.
Nod your head and lean in, but without invading the other persons space.You just want to show that youre engaged and interested.
Learn to touch people. Touching is a powerful act. Most people convey their friendly intentions by shaking hands; some go further by shaking with two hands. My favorite way to break through the distance between me and the person Im trying to establish a bond with is to touch the other persons elbow. It conveys just the right amount of intimacy, and as such, is a favorite of politicians. Its not too close to the chest, which we protect, but its slightly more personal than a hand.
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About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.