Dear Patti,

Recently I’ve been extremely fortunate and have obtained my dream job. I can’t believe it. I’m so happy. The problem is that I was hired to fill a powerful position which requires me to have a high likability quotient and make a good impression when first meeting others. In other words, I will often be the face of my company.

My mother and two sisters all have the ability to instantly connect with everyone they meet. I’ve never been able to do that. I’ve kept friends all the way back from elementary school. After people get to know me, they usually like me a lot, but I can’t say I’m someone who people love immediately. I think at first I’m hard to get to know.

A close friend of mine insists that knowing how to connect with others is a learnable skill rather than an innate trait. If so, that is an expertise I very much want to acquire. How do I master creating immediate, positive connection with others?

  — Lesley

Dear Lesley,

While some people appear gifted and seem to have a natural talent for quickly bonding with others, it is a skill that can be learned. Here are a few tips.

A good impression at first meeting is important. Communication — verbal and nonverbal — is essential. Before we explore how to communicate verbally, let’s look at nonverbal cues and how other people use these cues to assess your approachability. Have an open attitude as well as open body language. When first meeting someone keep your arms and hands open without covering your body. Make easy and warm eye contact and readily smile sincerely. Learn to be aware of how you use your body and how you come across.  Is your body relaxed or tensed? Do you lean slightly forward or hold back? Is your eye contact direct or avoidant? Is your facial expression warm or cold? Do you dress and act in a way that conveys warmth and accessibility?

It does take time to learn how to use your body to express a positive attitude without also nonverbally expressing tension, fear or boredom simultaneously. It’s important that your message is congruent without mixed messages. With practice, using your body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and eye contact you can express a sincere, energetic desire to connect and respond with another.

At this point you are in a position to give a friendly greeting and take the lead. With experience you can learn to easily establish rapport with someone you first meet in a unique way using your own brand of humor, sense of ease, attentiveness and ability to communicate openness and interest. Be yourself, don’t try too hard, do what comes naturally and show a genuine curiosity and regard toward the other person. You can practice and become seasoned through chance encounters anywhere — on a train or plane — ask someone where they are from and what’s to like to live there.

One way to build rapport with a stranger is to learn how to become like this unknown person — take an interest and reduce the distance between you and find a common ground. Identify the natural synchrony between you and find an honest enthusiastic desire to be in the company of this person. Even people who are scared and distrusting or have plenty of friends and family and don’t need any more, still value and appreciate a new person willing to truly see them, communicate and have an engaging and welcoming attitude.

Remember that a major part of communicating is listening. Are you listening attentively — fully focusing your attention — or do you appear distracted, detached or indifferent? It takes a lot of concentration and determination to practice good communication skills, however, you don’t have to do anything that special, just be fully present and available. Ask questions and then truly listen. To be a better listener, you need to be involved and interested in what the other person has to say, encouraging the other person to continue by giving empathic smiles and nods. Find out what makes this particular person special. There have been many studies proving that people often find other people interesting and likable when they believe that person is interested in them. Don’t just learn this skill for your new job, do this for yourself. The better you become at connecting with others, the better your life will be.


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.