What do you think about the most when you’re interacting with someone new? This mindset will determine much of how you behave, and the ultimate success of the encounter.
According to the authors of First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You, there are 4 “focuses” people adopt (and typically switch between) when they’re interacting with someone:
- How you feel about yourself
- How you feel about the other person
- How the other person feels about you
- How the other person feels about himself or herself
The social mindset of most people toggles between #1-3.
You do a lot of thinking about how you’re feeling (#1): whether you’re nervous, confident, bored, having a good time, annoyed, embarrassed, etc.
You mull over whether or not you like the person you’re conversing with (#2): Do they seem nervous or confident? Are they boring? Are they attractive? Could this be a potential friend/girlfriend?
And you very likely spend a lot of time in #3 — wondering what your new acquaintance thinks about you. Do they seem interested in what you’re saying? Have they laughed at your jokes? Are they liking you or not?
It’s no surprise that the primary mode of most people’s social mindset revolves around these first three focuses. When we’re meeting new people, and getting to know recent acquaintances, it’s common to be at least a little self-conscious — to be extra aware of what’s going on with yourself, and how that self is being assessed by the other person.
Common as this mindset is, however, it’s not an effective way to socialize.
Not only does excessive self-consciousness make you more anxious and less confident, by placing yourself at the center of the reality of an interaction, it becomes easy to mistake your having a good time, for the other person also doing so. But there isn’t always a correlation between the two respective states. Maybe you talked a lot about all your favorite topics, which always makes you feel really energized, and you thus walk away from the interaction feeling like it went great. The other person, meanwhile, hardly talked at all, and actually felt bored and drained.
When there’s a disconnect between how you felt, and how the other person felt, it will sink your chances of building a future relationship.
The Power of Focus #4
One of the most important dynamics to understand about socializing is that much of interest and likeability is premised on the principle of reciprocity. When someone sees that you are interested in them, they viscerally becoming more interested in you. People like people who like them — it’s as simple as that.
So too, when you make someone feel good, those good feelings often boomerang right back to you, making the other person see you in a more positive light.
For that reason, focus #4 is the most powerful mindset to adopt for social success.
The more you think about how the other person is feeling, and take steps to enhance and elevate their feelings, the more their perception of you is enhanced and elevated. Or as the authors of First Impressions put it: “how you come across to others is less about what you say or how you feel and more about how you make people feel about themselves in your presence.”
While this principle may seem obvious, and it is probably something you’ve heard in some form before, it’s something you’ll need to remind yourself of continually.
Because shifting into focus #4 requires real intentionality, while falling into #1-3 are default social mindsets — without conscious effort, your nervous monkey mind will automatically go right to them. Think about the last time you socialized: even if you went into the encounter reminding yourself to act interested in the other person, you probably left it realizing you spent almost no time thinking about how they were feeling, and all your time focused on how you were performing. In the heat of the moment, nervous self-consciousness will constantly work to throw the switch on track #4, and send your thoughts racing down lines #1-3. You have to learn to stop and consider how the other person is feeling in the midst of the interaction, and you achieve this level of social consciousness only through consistent practice.
Now you know that leaving someone feeling good about themselves is the key to leaving them feeling good about you. But how do you engender those good feelings?
That’s what we’ll tackle next time.