The main key to getting along with people is having empathy, or E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. Fortunately, connecting with others just became much easier. Harvard psychologist Helen Riess has created a neuroscience-based approach to build empathy and appear more relatable to others, as recapped in an article on Business Insider. Dr. Riess outlines the methods in seven effective steps.
1. Eye contact
Looking others straight in the eye can feel intimidating for some, but pushing through any initial discomfort is typically pays off. Maintaining strong eye contact signals that you’re invested in what the other person has to say. Dr. Riess recommends looking someone in the eye for the first time at least long enough to notice the color of their irises.
2. Muscles in your face
Non-verbal communication can have a larger impact than many realize. As you interact, keep in mind what your face is doing. Rolling or squinting your eyes can convey hostility or disinterest while slightly opening your eyes can express genuine surprise and investment in what the speaker is conveying. Brains naturally copy the expressions of those around us, so expressing a genuine smile can lead others to smile, too.
Leaning into someone who is speaking conveys the message that you’re interested in what they’re telling you. Project confidence by sitting up straight and tall instead of rounding your shoulders. Demonstrate that you’re proud to be engaging with who you’re around, and they’ll become drawn into your positive energy.
Take time to evaluate how you believe a person is feeling and respond accordingly. Thanks to evolution, our brains are more preceptive than we let ourselves believe. If you think you’re picking up on someone’s sadness, discomfort, or anger, the notion probably isn’t merely in your head. Provide the speaker with light encouragement or space when you sense it could be necessary.
You’ve probably heard that, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” dozens of times, and that’s because it’s true. When you have a conversation, pay close attention to the tone that you use—it can have a larger impact than you realize. Dr. Riess trains doctors to use soothing tones when seeing patients, and this skill can be replicated when speaking to others in initial meetings or negotiations.
6. Hear the whole person
This skill especially comes in handy when you need to de-escalate a situation. If you find yourself in a conversation with another person who is visibly upset, focus on them as a whole person instead of just the words that they’re saying. Respond to their statements compassionately. Instead of adding fuel to the fire by engaging with same amount of emotional intensity, respond calmly. You’re more likely to find a favorable outcome if you create an environment where the speaker can relax than if you latch onto their argument and counter without taking their entire interaction into consideration.
7. Your reaction
The way you feel when you go into an interaction will naturally have an impact on others. Because we’re constantly providing information through spoken and physical cues, our personal emotions are not necessarily hidden to the extent the believe they are. The internal scripts that we have in our minds before or during an interaction can come across quite clearly. For instance, having a positive internal dialogue will be more likely to attract others than a negative one, which will be more likely to repel them.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.