Expand Your Social Skills
This week we’re continuing a series designed to boost readers’ friendship skills. Whether you enjoy an active social life or struggle with maintaining friendships, you’ll find tips and tricks for making your relationships thrive.
Meet Vanessa Van Edwards
Vanessa Van Edwards is a Huffington Post columnist and her work has been featured on NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the Today Show and USA Today. She has written for CNN, Fast Company, and Forbes. Her science of people approach has benefited both readers and corporations as Vanessa has consulted for multiple Fortune 500 companies including American Express, Clean and Clear and Symantec.
Sarah: You’ve studied and written a lot on attraction. Many times it relates to dating relationships, but attraction is also the basis for all human relationships...including friendships. What drew you to want to study attraction?
Vanessa: I think that attraction is the underlying principle between all of our interactions. We can be attracted to ideas, to personalities, to brands, and to ideas. The whole idea is trying to figure out what are our attraction triggers. Most people think of attraction as unpredictable and mysterious, but I think that there are patterns. So I like to study why certain people are attracted to certain things. This helps us get to know ourselves and the people around us.
Sarah: That is fascinating. I wonder though if we always put our best, most attractive foot forward. It seems like sometimes people are tempted to hold back or “tone it down” in an effort to blend in socially. Maybe this is because we don’t want to attract negative attention, but I’m guessing it could potentially come off as boring as well. What would you say about this?
Vanessa: We can’t help but want to blend in. Another word for this is ‘belonging.” I think it is deep rooted part of human nature to desperately want to feel like we belong. This can be good―we learn about people around us and become agreeable and open minded. Or this can be bad―we shut down, try to be something we are not and become boring or inauthentic. I think what’s important for people to know is that while belonging is important, you can’t (and shouldn’t) want it with everyone. I pay attention to moments where I shut down. Instead of trying to flip out of it, I try to think about what caused it. Perhaps I am not around the right people? I think the best people bring out the best in us and make us feel like we belong without trying.
Sarah: That makes a lot of sense. Related to the last question, first impressions are obviously a critical part of developing new relationships―again, whether those are dating or friend-based relationships. What are a couple of the most important tips you would give someone who wants to learn to make a positive first impression? Vanessa: I talk a lot about the science of first impressions―and it is a science. I have all of my tips on my website, but I would really recommend trying to remember that your first impression happens the moment someone first sees you, not the moment you start talking. We focus so much on what we want to say in interviews, on dates and in meetings, but actually how we say something and greet someone is more important. So don’t forget about your grand entrance and how you stand while you are waiting. Stand tall, walk proud, and own your presence.
Sarah: That is actually a great segue. You’ve also written on decoding body language. Many people know the basics like maintaining eye contact or offering a friendly smile. But what are other examples of positive body language that are helpful to know?
Vanessa: I think the body language we don’t think about is called ‘engagement cues.’ These are nonverbal signs we give someone to show we like them and are listening to them. You can do this by leaning in on important points, angling your toes towards them, and nodding during the conversation. These are all very positive and create wonderful rapport.
Sarah: Thanks. That’s a great start. Some people want to go beyond just first impressions and learn to be socially memorable. When there’s a party or another social event, some people make a positive lasting impression. What do memorable people typically do or how do they behave to earn a lasting memory in our minds?
Vanessa: I think it is intimidating to try to think about being memorable. When you do this it only makes you more nervous. Instead of trying to think of ways to be memorable try to think of ways you can make other people feel memorable. So for example, make it your goal in conversation to ask people stories they love telling or help them share interesting tidbits about themselves. Find ways to highlight them. This takes a lot of pressure off of you and makes you extremely enjoyable to talk to. People like to feel impressive so let them impress you (this is very memorable indeed).
Special thanks to Vanessa Van Edwards for taking the time to share her insights with Huffington Post readers this week. Check back next week for another installment in the Making Friends series.
Read the next post in this series on friendship here. Or check out Truth or Dare: The Podcast That Boosts Your Social Health.