When I was asked to answer this question on Quora, this was my initial reaction:
Then I thought about it more.
The internet is filled with “life hacks” for every perceivable skill; from getting the shell off a hardboiled egg to folding t-shirts in two seconds.
Some of these tips are really useful. I mean, have you tried to peel a hardboiled egg (the shell turns into egg dandruff)???
However, there are many skills where shortcuts deliver no lasting value and can even have a net negative consequence on your life.
Would you feel comfortable with a surgeon operating on you if you knew that he used “life hacks” to pass medical school? How about a commercial pilot that got his license by using “life hacks” to get his certifications? Wouldn’t you want both of them to put in the hard work to develop their skills correctly?
Now obviously, you’re not going to hurt anyone with bad social skills.
Except for yourself.
It won’t be possible to connect either deeply or quickly with people. Putting aside personal relationships, let’s get down to the brass tacks of what this means for your business.
How will you build relationships with your clients to the point that they become clients for life- ones that continually send you referrals? How will you consistently get past that hard 60 seconds when you first break the ice with a prospect?
Those questions are why I’m writing this now. I feel so much for salespeople that want a way out- a way to form deep, real connections with the people they work with and have no idea how.
And the ones that do- but know they’re leaving a lot of opportunities on the table.
I was there for years trying to claw my way out.
But when you’re sinking in quicksand, a life preserver doesn’t help- you need a rope anchored to a tree. A quick little hack isn’t going to lead to improvement. You need to pull yourself up one systematic step at a time with a plan anchored in sound reasoning and tested advice.
So this is a non-answer, if you will. And it’s meant to show that
A) there is no such thing as a “life-hack” for social skills but
B) there are actionable steps you can take immediately to improve.
The most outstanding communication life hack isn’t questions or listening.
Those are merely extensions of understanding the most important principle.
What is most important is actually that you demonstrate a genuine interest in other people.
People love to talk what what interests them. Coworkers and clients are no different. And if you want to jumpstart your communication skills, you would do well to talk about them as well.
Do you enjoy talking to people that always steer the conversation towards their own opinions, hobbies and life? What about discussions that center on they’re business- without a thought to what’s going on with you?
Are they fun? Usually not. Well, unless you’re talking to this man:
But you are not this man.
People really get the most out of a conversation where they feel that someone shows personal interest in them.
But how does that help me? If I talk about what clients and colleagues like all the time, I’ll never talk about what really matters!
That viewpoint is why you’re having a hard time in the first place.
Just because you start by discussing their interests does not mean that you will never talk about things you’d like to.
It’s simple, really- let me explain.
Talk to people about their interests until you find something you’re both interested in. And there are always shared interests as long as you
- put in the effort and
- aren’t judgmental or presumptuous.
For example, in talking with a client you find out they enjoy surfing. Say that you like nature walks. There aren’t any shared interests to be found here, right?
Depending on the situation, those two activities share an interest in nature, exercise and relaxation (those are things I came up with off the top of my head)- and there have to be even more ways those activities are related.
By showing interest in this way, you will find mutual interests, goals or aspirations. In turn, you’ll build deeper, healthier connections and relationships with coworkers and, importantly, customers.
The above post was originally published on Quora and received the most attention of my answers to date. To make it more easily accessible I have decided to adapt it here as well. It’s not my normal format, but I hope you enjoyed it!