How to Connect Emotionally With People

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Your earnings and job security may depend on it. The quality of your personal relationships may pivot on it. But several things seem certain: Your self-image, confidence and happiness will rise or fall depending on how you connect emotionally with people.

Emotional Connections Are a Big Deal

Deeper than a rapport, an emotional connection occurs when two people discover that they relate to and understand each other, at least on some level. This realization can stir a raw and utterly fulfilling human emotion – igniting a glow of inner peace on the inside while making you want to exclaim, “This person gets me!”

As human beings, we cannot connect with everybody we meet. And from a certain point of view, if we did, the ubiquity could diminish the meaning and importance of the people with whom we do forge an emotional connection. But you also wouldn't be human if you didn't occasionally wonder if your “connectors” could benefit from a “tuneup.” If so, try some of these techniques. They're general enough that you can personalize them and make them your own. And this is precisely the point: Genuine people usually make the most mutually beneficial emotional connections of all.

Hope for the Best – and Assume You'll Find It

It can be difficult to approach new people. And if you're in a foul mood, it's better to wait until you can don your “optimist's hat.” In a crowd, assume that you will find someone to connect with. And if your first attempt flounders, move on to someone else. One-on-one encounters don't leave you such options, so look and listen for commonalities and pay attention to details that could trigger a connection.

Exude Friendliness

We may not realize we're doing it, but we actively “scan” people as they talk, listening to what they say while assessing their nonverbal cues. And here's where it can get complicated. If you send an unfriendly message, intentionally or not, the other person is likely to mirror the same message. And there goes any hope for creating a connection. Set the right tone from the start by smiling, nodding occasionally and using the person's name. Researchers say that people feel validated when they hear their own name – and this bodes well for any connection.

Ask Questions

In a world of talkers, you'll stand out as a good and thoughtful listener. Without getting too personal too fast, ask good followup questions and maintain eye contact. Most people like to talk about themselves and their experiences, so this should be a relatively simple technique to employ. (And if you're on the shy side, it could be your verbal life preserver.) Two caveats: Turn off your “inner judge” and shut down any line of conversation that veers into the “one-up zone.” Sharing common experiences can help forge emotional connections; competitive tales can short-circuit them.

Take a Risk

Many promising emotional connections fizzle because someone isn't willing to take a chance and move beyond small talk or venture outside of his or her comfort zone. They're called “risks” for a reason; you don't know how they're going to turn out. So take a baby step and offer assistance with a problem. Share a useful piece of information. Or, if you really feel daring, confide something about yourself.

Leave a Lasting Impression

The “Let's do lunch” parting line has thankfully disappeared from the vernacular. Its one redeeming quality is that it portended the promise of another contact. You have time to decide whether this is a good idea, but there's nothing wrong with sending someone an appreciative text message after you meet. You could make their day – and be on your way to building an emotional connection that will last a lifetime. And if you're still dubious? Remember the words of self-improvement expert Dale Carnegie. His life work underscored the notion that people can influence other people's behavior by first adjusting their own: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."