The 2 Most Important Ways to Connect and Influence

Connect and Influence

Do you want to influence and persuade more effectively? If so, you will have to learn how to connect with people in a way that builds trust and this often requires that you make this trust connection quickly! 

Many of our daily interactions are quick and involve little conversation and exchange of words.

A brief, “How’s it going?” on an elevator at work.

Dropping into someone’s office to say a quick “Hello.”

You see a friend or colleague in the hallway and wave.

You see an old friend at a restaurant and exchange pleasantries, followed by, “Let’s grab lunch soon and catch up.”

You wave at a neighbor as you’re getting out of your car when you get home from work.

We are all on schedules. We are busy and we’ve got things to do and places to be. Our interactions with people are shorter than ever before, but connecting with people is still the most important thing you can do to cultivate influence.

This is why knowing how to connect quickly is such a powerful skill. It’s rare that we have hours to cultivate relationships with colleagues and clients. Yet, it’s imperative we make connections that cultivate trust and paves the way for influence.

So, how do we do it? Well, we first have to start by understanding how our brain works.

You see, human brains are wired to subconsciously assess other people within the first few seconds of our interaction. During these first few seconds, we assess two things:

1) Will this person harm me?

2) Will this person help me?

Yes, it’s that basic. From the beginning of the human race, our brains have used this basic mechanism to know whether we should fight, run, or befriend another person.

This is how we stayed alive thousands of years ago. It’s a primitive drive.

Today, we use the same mechanism, but most of us are not in a life threatening environment. Instead, we use this assessment at work and in our community when we interact with people. We ask the same two questions.

The interesting thing about this phenomenon is that this assessment process happens quickly and initial judgments are made in as little as milliseconds.

Of course, the initial impression of a person can be changed given the right interactions and time.

Your level of connection and trust with a person can also degrade based on your interactions over a period of time. We don’t just ask these questions once when we meet a person for the first time. We continually assess our level of safety and assess whether the person we are interacting with is harmful or helpful?

So how do we answer these two questions? When we understand how we test the waters with people and assess our safety, we can know how to interact with people in a way that creates connection and trust.

The answer to these two critical questions is a result of two observations we make.

Similarity. First, we determine safety by deciding if the person is similar to us.

I know there is a great deal of sensitivity about judging people’s differences and the need to value difference and diversity in our culture and at work. I believe and support this idea 100%. However, what I am explaining is why acceptance of diversity and difference is often difficult for people and a struggle in cultures.

A basic way to perceive the safety and intent of another person is determining how similar they are to us. It is a quick way to assess possible risk.

So you can see how this is a primitive brain process that was very helpful thousands of years ago. If someone didn’t look like you or dress like you, there was a good chance they belonged to another tribe or group of people and were your enemy. You could then determine very quickly whether you need to fight or run for safety.

This function still exists today, but we have to monitor it and make sure that it doesn’t lead us to poor judgments of people or to only like and respect people similar to us.

The principle still remains. If you want to make a good impression, connect quickly, and become likable. It is to your advantage to build similarities with the other person.

This is why when I speak and conduct training programs in manufacturing and maintenance environments, I don’t show up in a suit. I wear jeans and even boots. Likewise, if I’m working with a group of corporate executives, I dress up and seek to match the clothing of the culture.

The more a person perceives you as similar to them, the easier and faster you will build rapport and connect. 

Body Language. The second observation we make is related to a person’s body language.

Your body language — what your body is communicating — is much more important than the words that come out of your mouth. In fact, many people say one thing while their body language is saying something completely different. When that happens, people believe your body.

Why? Words are easily manipulated, while your body’s message is the “tell.” It communicates what you really feel, want, and believe.

A person can say she is happy, but if she doesn’t smile much and looks depressed, you will assume the truth is that she is really not happy. If a colleague tells you he likes your idea, yet he doesn’t smile and you perceive a lack of enthusiasm on his face, you will conclude he really doesn’t like the idea and is just trying to avoid hurting your feelings.

Body language that connects you with others includes the basics like smiling (it’s amazing how many people don’t smile often), eye contact, leaning in slightly and nodding your head in agreement when people are talking to you.

That is just a reminder, by the way. I know you know this.

Other body language tactics that are more advanced and may take some practice include:

1) Square up. When your shoulders are squared up with the other person’s shoulders (or just slightly open) you look focused and attentive.

2) Facial expressions. Use your facial expressions to show emotions like surprise, agreement, curiosity, sadness, concern, excitement, or even sadness and concern. These facial expressions validate that you are on their side and that you care and are someone who can help them.

3) Open Hand Gestures. When speaking to a person or group of people and using gestures, be sure your hands are open and not aggressive. Avoid pointing at people, hiding your hands behind your back, or using any gesture that includes a closed fist. 

 4) Power-Down. The power of your body language is also an important component of connection. If you are a superior, a boss, or have a level of power above the person you are seeking to connect with, be sure to decrease the power of your body language. You can do this by closing your body more, sit down to have discussions, and bring your eyes, as much as possible, to the eye level of the other person. 

4) Power-Up. If your power level is lower than the other person, you can increase the perception of your power (to create similarity and credibility) by using more open stances and sitting styles. Put your arm on the back of the chair next to you. Sit up straight and as tall as possible. Hold your head up and seek to look as calm, relaxed, and confident as possible.

One of the best pieces of advice I received about connecting and influencing people who had much more authority than me at work happened a few years ago when I was meeting with a group of corporate officers of a large Fortune 10 company. As I was preparing myself for the meeting, my supervisor said, “Jason, just act like you should be there.”

Connecting with people isn’t always easy. In many cases, it takes forethought, preparation, practice, and intention. By focusing on the first few seconds of your interactions and understanding that people are assessing their level of safety and your willingness to help them, you can quickly make a good impression and connect in ways that will make you a better influencer.