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How to make friends and establish meaningful connections

Posted by Chad O'Connor  July 17, 2012 11:00 AM

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I’m frequently asked what the key to good communication is. Without even thinking about it I always answer- a meaningful connection with the target of your message. Inevitably the follow up question to that is something about how one establishes a meaningful connection. The answer is in the four C’s: compliments, compassion, common ground, and courtesy.

Compliments: I was recently out to dinner with a group of friends and someone’s girlfriend told me I looked “great… much better than the last time she saw me.” Hopefully most people know this backhanded compliment is not what we are going for and for the record the last time she had seen me I was just back from the gym. Compliments are about recognizing not only what others are good at but what they value in themselves. After a long lunch, a client once sent me a note and mentioned that I was very good at what I do and the nicest person. Since I strive to be pleasant and useful in all my daily activities to me this was the ultimate praise and it helped establish a business relationship that has actually become a friendship.

By taking the time to get to know me at lunch, the client had figured out what I valued about myself and didn’t have to resort to standard flattery, which despite the cliché doesn’t get you anywhere and usually comes off as insincere.

Compassion: We judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions, but luckily compassion is the antidote to this perfectly normal human behavior. It is virtually impossible to form a meaningful connection without compassion. Compassion is different than sympathy or empathy. You don’t have to necessarily understand the person’s behavior to feel compassion for them. The above mentioned friend’s girlfriend may have failed in compliments but I do feel compassion for her. She is new to this otherwise established group of old friends and was trying to “fit in” with the girls.

The reason compassion forms meaningful connections is it is an active emotion that helps us alleviate negativity and leads to a greater acceptance of what others are offering, even if it’s not exactly what we are looking for.

Common Ground: I have a colleague who I don’t have a lot in common with, but we do have one inside joke. We’ve overplayed this joke to the point there is no way anyone finds it funny, but just by bringing it up I create an environment that makes both of us more comfortable. Common ground can come from so many places: shared values, history, experiences, beliefs, traditions, geography to name just a few. It can also come from some of the most basic human emotions that we all share. When I give presentations I always weave in anecdotes which tell the audience I’ve experienced heartbreak, humor, love, joy, etc. I can establish a connection with someone I’ve just met and am likely never going to see again simply by telling them the best day of my life was the day my mother took me to the toy store and let me pick out whatever I wanted “just because.”

The pure delight of childhood is something all humans share and when you throw in a story or two about Barbie dolls it’s amazing what a group of strangers will tell each other.

Courtesy: When I lived in New York I stopped for coffee every morning at the same place. The staff got to know me very quickly and it was inevitable that by the time I got to the head of the line my drink was ready and waiting. As I’m a bit of a creature of habit when it comes to my caffeine, it became inevitable that this ritual played out at the same time everyday, meaning there were more than a few familiar faces among the clientele. I always remember one man who for months had been as rude as can be to everyone in the line, the staff, and whoever he happened to be loudly talking to on his phone. One day he apparently noticed a lady in line who was up to his high standards and he tried to strike up a conversation. Turns out he may not have noticed her but she was also a regular and had noticed him: conversation denied and she wasn’t shy about calling him out on his rudeness.

You can’t pick and choose who you want to be pleasant to. Connecting with others is all about recognizing everyone’s value and respecting them enough to say please and thank you.

Kellyanne Dignan designs and leads the media, public speaking and presentation training programs for Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications clients. Prior to joining Rasky Baerlein, Dignan worked in broadcast and digital communications producing content for major media outlets. She can be reached at kdignan@rasky.com or on Twitter @kellyannedignan

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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