A while back, a friend of mine asked me for advice on how to be more approachable and have better results with meeting and keeping new friends. In this instance, we were on our way to a shindig and he wanted to make sure his communication game was on point. I ended up settling on a very simple mnemonic device to help out my first-impression-impaired pal. He listened intently and practiced during the drive there.
At the event, my friend was able to use the tips and tricks that I shared with him to great success- so much so that he was able to engage multiple people in conversation and keep them interested throughout. The acronym I shared with him was SOFTEN - (S)mile, (O)pen stance, (F)orward lean, (T)ouch, (E)ye contact, and (N)od. You may have heard this before if you are familiar with Arthur Wassmer's work Making Contact: A Guide to Overcoming Shyness. Actually, many folks in the communications and body language business have taken this model and made it their own. It's easy, it works, and I'll share it with you now.
This one's a little too simple, right? It's true, smiling helps you appear more open and approachable to conversation. You don't have to be cheesy, but you also need to make sure the smile is genuine. This part of the acronym also extends to making sure you communicate tactfully and respectfully. No one likes a Sour Susan, Negative Nelly, or Cantankerous Carl.
This one might be tough for those that feel most at home crossing their arms. Try your best to keep an open posture with your arms at your sides- or better yet, talk with your hands. Use your hands to add animation to whatever story you are telling. Be expressive, let your words and narrative flow through to your hands and arms.
This little tip is all about leaning forward. It's truly that simple. Leaning toward your conversation partner shows that you are interested in what they have to say- you're showing your engagement by moving in to hear their words. If you are sitting, this is easily done just by bending forward in your chair. If you are standing you can make sure you turn toward your talking teammate.
As a kid, you learned about "good touch" and "bad touch." In this instance, we are talking about good touch and touch that is appropriate for the given situation. Touch builds connection; don't be afraid to reach out. A handshake is almost always the safest bet. If you're feeling brazen, go for the hug, but only if it fits the blossoming relationship.
Proper eye contact is about five to eight seconds of eye-to-eye action. You don't need to stare into the windows of their soul, nor do you need to focus on an invisible third eye on their forehead. Just meet your communication compadre's eyes for a bit, then let your eyes wonder to other things in the near vicinity. Remember to face the person to whom you are speaking and try your best to keep your phone, tablet, and other distractions out of mind. Eye contact shows that you are present- you're here to hear.
The most basic of the six - nod along. Show that you get it, but make sure you're not a bobblehead. Try your best to reiterate what you heard before you hop into what you want to add. The nod is a great way to show that you're there, you're present, you heard what your new acquaintance has to say and you're ready to hear more.
Has SOFTEN worked for you in the past? Or do you have an even better method to boost your body language? Share in the comments section!