Some people – you know the ones – just seem to do this effortlessly. They walk into a room, smile, and within moments they’re engaging people and building relationships. What’s their secret?!
I decided to write this advice because it seems to me that so many clients of Harrison Careers, especially those who do not speak English as their first language, struggle to build effective relationships and to get professionals to like them as quickly as they could.
I am no psychologist, but I do have common sense. Seven years of working in Convertible Bond sales at Goldman Sachs, decades of coaching candidates, and a multitude of life experiences have trained me to be able to get people to like me quickly.
The advice that I’m about to give applies especially to overseas candidates who have not been in the UK or US for very long, and who sometimes struggle with their spoken English. It is also very relevant to any native English speaker who is not naturally confident.
To keep things simple, I have come up with the 3 most important ways to get people to like you:
- Be interesting;
- Be charming;
- Ask questions.
People are interesting for a variety of reasons, but typically we are attracted to people who are fun, who tell engaging stories, and who have opinions on interesting topics.
Be fun! Fun people have a big smile, they laugh a lot, they have fantastic eye contact – and with just their body language, they are able to make someone feel that they are the most important person in the world at that moment. Fun people look excited by what you are discussing, and they seem energetic. So – lighten up and don’t be too serious! Try to use your humor to have fun with the people you meet.
Be willing to tell engaging stories! I know that you have seen and done lots of interesting things in your life… If you come from a different country from the person you’re speaking to, there are things about your culture, your family and your country which will be great to hear about. Why don’t you come up with 10 interesting stories about you, based on your background and experiences? Right now, you could probably list 100 subjects about any aspect of life, careers, or whatever, and I guarantee I would have at least 5 interesting things to say about any subject. You could sit there, and I would be able to do all the work – smiling, sounding interesting, and entertaining you with things I have seen and done. Can you do that? If not, practice until you can!
Don’t be afraid to offer your opinions! Another way to be interesting is to offer insight and opinions. You may lack confident in your knowledge of the financial markets, but I know a guy who is a penultimate year student, and who I think knows more about the markets than most people actually working in investment banks – simply because he runs a simulated trading portfolio and he reads the newspapers every day and forms his own opinions. Newspapers tend to give you both viewpoints – positive and negative – on any topic, and support these with facts. Develop your own opinions by reading what is in the newspaper, and then use these to talk knowledgeably with a professional.
Being charming is probably pretty similar to what people call “schmoozing”. It is how you behave when you are trying to get someone to like you. Often it involves flattery – but it must be subtle. Telling someone they are fantastic will not impress them because they won’t think that you really believe that, and because it’s obvious that you are exaggerating.
The charm has to come partly from your body language and partly from what you say. It involves humility from you and respect for what the other person has done – but you also need to convey that you are being genuine and not treating them like they are some kind of deity.
At Harrison Careers, we often find that some clients are not especially charming when we start working with them. They sit in an interview with a straight face, never smiling, and not making much effort to proactively develop the conversation. We get it – they have never had to sell themselves to anyone! We work on this “charm coaching” a lot with our clients at Harrison Careers.
The most powerful tool of all is asking questions – and anyone can do that. You must develop the skill of making small talk. It just takes practice. So, what do you make small talk about? You should have a mental checklist of several things that you can discuss with anyone. They include holidays taken or planned, children or other family members, the weather, where someone lives, where they grew up, what got them into this business area, what sport they play/watch on TV, how they work out (nowadays everyone goes to the gym or does something). What do you like doing? Start there and the questions will flow.
And finally, Practice!
Yes, I know I preach this all the time!
You will not be successful in making small talk, getting people to smile or laugh, asking questions, or showing people you are nice unless you practice. You can practice in all areas of your life – it’s about establishing common ground with everyone you come into contact with.
When I take a taxi ride to the airport, I ask about the taxi driver’s family and how hard he works. I strike up a conversation and remember stuff he tells me. The ride passes quickly, and the driver thinks I am a good guy.
When I check-in at the airport, I am super nice and friendly to the person checking me in. I ask them questions about how hard they work, what they are doing this weekend, whether they travel much, and I make small jokes to make them laugh.
When I am getting myself a coffee on the trading floor, and I ask a colleague how his weekend was, I do not stop there. I ask about what he did with his kids, whether he and his wife go out often, and whether they go to dinner or the opera or theatre or whatever. I ask where they live, then I ask how long his commute is to work. I remember this stuff. I write it down in my Outlook contact file. When I see him next, I ask how his wife is – but I mention her by name and I mention his kids by name.
When I buy bread from the bakery, I always have some kind of chat (which the British would call banter!) – a few jokes or sarcastic comments to make the server laugh. When I visit the baker, they know me, and immediately say hello. I do not get served quicker or get better bread, but when I walk out, I feel good because I know that people like me and enjoy talking to me.
When I talk to anyone on the phone, I try hard. I smile, walk about the room with my airpods in, and behave in an energetic way even though no one can see me. I try to say interesting things, I am expressive, I laugh if it is appropriate – and I make sure that I get the other person doing much of the talking. Most people like to hear themselves talk. I am far more interested in learning about other people and hearing them talk. I am genuinely curious about others. I remember things people tell me.
I have around 14,200 Outlook contact files of people I know or have known. The contacts of Harrison Careers are many thousands more. When you tell someone at Harrison Careers something, we do not forget it. We write it down and record it. Primarily this is so that we can give our clients a better service, but it is also because we want to know as much about our clients as possible – we are genuinely interested. We want a long-term relationship with everyone who comes into contact with us.
Learn to initiate! More importantly, learn to nurture relationships with everyone around you. This should be something you do for the rest of your life. Practice every day with anyone you encounter, and you will constantly improve. Above all, be nice, smile, and ask questions!!