Make Contact, Make Friends!

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Fresher or a third year. Your university life is likely to involve a lot of socialising.

There is no perfect way to blossom as a social butterfly, but there is plenty you can do when getting to know new people at uni. Here are a few things to remember for getting friendly with new people in a new academic year:

  • You’re in the same boat – You’re equal and you’re looking for new people to talk to. So go forth and talk. Can you be sure they want to find new people to speak with? In most cases, yes Yes YES!
    Fresher or third year, remember? Every new academic year brings new opportunities. Returning students are welcome to re-Fresh.
  • Take easy opportunities – When you’re standing in queues to register for things, don’t look down at your phone or dig your face in all your reading material. Strike up a conversation with others in the queue around you! If you’re sitting down for an induction talk or similar, say hi to those sitting next to you. These are easy opportunities because you aren’t making a determined move toward anyone, you’re staying just where you are.
    And while lots of things can be done online and in the comfort of your own digs, there’s a lot to be said for plonking yourself on campus and showing your face a bit.
  • Listen, listen and listen – People like to talk about themselves. It’s easy. Ask questions and let the answers flow. If you’re asked a question, great! Just don’t go nuts. Let them have another turn. Not only do people like talking, they like to be listened to.
  • Friends come in all different shapes and sizes – Don’t expect to find your best friend on the moment you hit campus. Don’t expect to stay bosom buddies with the first people you spark up a conversation with. Even the people you hooked up with in advance via Facebook won’t necessarily end up being the people you get closest to.
  • So be bold! – Your job is to get out there and enjoy the new experiences at your fingertips. Make the effort to speak to more people and you’ll reap the benefits. The world thrives on communication and, believe it or not, others generally like to help. A casual conversation may offer up all sorts of invitations, suggestions, introductions, and so on. Be bold and let your conversations take you places!
  • Wear a thicker skin – The first couple of weeks in a new academic year provides the biggest and easiest opportunities to randomly walk up to people and say hello. Most of the contact you make will be welcomed by others. On the odd occasion when you’re hit with a rejection, think of how many in-roads you’re making with all the other successful approaches you’ve made. I quoted a Paul McKenna story back in 2007and his story is worth quoting again:
    • “Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. I know. Procrastinators aren’t lazy. They’re scared.” He tells me about a guy he used to envy. “He wasn’t particularly handsome, but he dated more girls than anyone else. I studied him for a while and I figured out that because he was thick-skinned, he asked more girls out than anyone else. And I thought if I up the number of girls I ask out, the down side is that I might be told to F-off more, but the upside is that I might meet the person of my dreams.”

    As a fresher, the situation is less daunting, since most others are looking for new connections too. So grab a thicker skin for a while and tell yourself not to take these small rejections personally. A new year means there’s no baggage and no major cliques yet. There’s no better time to get involved and meet new people.

  • Offer people doughnuts – Looking for a prop to break the ice? Doughnuts are like a cheap round and are appreciated most of the time. Since supermarket doughnuts are usually a pound for 10, you won’t lose much in the process, but you may gain some attention! 🙂

What will you do to get socialising this year?

Doughnuts: a good prop (photo by Stéfan)
Doughnuts: a good prop (photo by Stéfan)

11 Ways to improve your communication skills

You speak with a wide range of people.  Even if you don’t alter your personality to cover this, I’m sure you change the way you speak.  It only takes a few subtle differences to make you sound like another person.  How you talk to a mate isn’t how you talk to your Mum.

However, the way you communicate should be similar, whoever you talk to.  Here are 11 ways to communicate with clarity:

photo by Torley

photo by Torley

  1. Pay attention – Don’t start thinking about what you’re going to say next when someone is talking to you.
  2. Watch the person – No need to stare, but always try to maintain a good amount of eye contact. If you’re looking around all over the place, you’ll look bored or distracted.
  3. Listen – Communication can break down more easily than you think.  You have more chance of finding common ground with someone if you truly listen to what they have to say.  Even if you don’t agree with the other person, give them a chance to explain their view before you crash in again.  Understanding someone else’s view isn’t a weakness, it should help strengthen (or alter) your position.
  4. Show interest – How much do you take your friends for granted? The more you get used to your mates, the more casually you will become in showing interest.  We tend, almost bizarrely, to hang on every word of someone we’ve just met.  But as a friendship develops, the effort fades even though you’re becoming closer.
  5. Ask questions – Ask when you don’t understand, ask when you need further information, ask when you’d like their opinion, ask when you’ve been doing all the talking, ask when you’re interested.  Enjoy asking questions as much as you enjoy answering them.
  6. Don’t waffle – Make your point, give an example if you need, and perhaps ask a question to finish.  Don’t ramble on for hours unless you’ve been asked to tell a story or you’re up on stage. Don’t give people the chance to switch off.  Do give people more chance to talk themselves.
  7. Respond to the wants of your audience, not yourself – It’s easy to go on a mission and forget that everyone else has moved on.  Don’t get carried away with your own importance.
  8. Respect others – Disagreements are common, no matter how close you are to a person. In fact, those we’re closest to can sometimes get the worst of you.  If you don’t see eye to eye, respect the other person’s opinion.  Unless the matter is purely objective and is problematic until you get an answer, you’re better off letting go.  And if the matter really is that important, actively seek out the information you need before carrying on.
  9. Take a break if the communication has broken down – You can’t always find resolution or compromise or even a natural cut-off point.  If the conversation gets too heated, suggest a rest so you can clear the air a bit.  Without a break, the chances are nobody is listening to others any more.
  10. Treat all communications like a presentation – When faced with a public talk or presentation, we want to make an impression.  Advice on delivering a speech is available all over the place.  Take advantage of these tips when putting your point across in less formal situations.  If you can learn to look good on the stage, why not learn to maintain a good impression at all times?
  11. Use the right platform – Face-to-face, over the phone, through a text, via a tweet…there are many ways of communicating.  Before you pick one at random and before you choose what’s easiest for you, consider how much better you could make the discussion using the right format for the recipient too.

Communication is not just about what you say.  Just as important is how you communicate that information.

Quit acting defensively and start listening!

You may have read about the power of listening a million times. You may even think you do listen. But might you still give listening the brush aside?

Listen to me (photo by keela84)

Here are some positive factors about listening:

  • Listening communicates an open approach, relaxing the speaker;
  • When avidly listening, a speaker is inclined to give more information;
  • To listen is to be in a much stronger position than when speaking;
  • Listening allows you to focus internally on your thoughts, before you blurt out something you wish you hadn’t;
  • Listening engages you to the point where you will begin to see further and start discussing, sharing and understanding, rather than arguing.

Listening is an intensely powerful tool. But there is a problem:

  • To listen is to deal with the opinions of others. To listen is to be told uncomfortable thoughts (and sometimes truths) about yourself. To listen is to experience situations that you may not personally agree with.

While a great many of us have got past the problem of hearing as opposed to listening, far fewer individuals are able to listen and process. All too often, we will listen and discard.

To listen and discard is different to letting talk go in one ear and out the other. Rather, it’s a sense of denial that acts as a defence mechanism. We know there may be an element of accuracy in what another person says, but we don’t want to expose ourselves to weakness.

Unfortunately, this is a weakness in itself.

The Next 45 Years puts this forward well:

“We flee from the truth in vain. Somewhere along the way there are truths about ourselves we never allow to see the light of day. Shame, guilt or embarrassment keeps these truths hidden and locked away. But remember, we cannot change or heal what we do not acknowledge.”

photo by la jul

Truly listen to what people have to say. Put yourself in their shoes. Try to consider where they are coming from and why they may have a different opinion to you.

And if someone disagrees with you, or wants to give you some constructive input, just listen. You don’t need to go further than that. Thank the person for their time and be happy that you have listened.

It’s easy to do this because most conversations are not debates. We just seem to arrange them that way. And even if you do need to fight your corner, your position is greatly improved when you actively listen to another person’s beliefs on the issue. A true listener can understand that person’s point of view and can go on to explain exactly where it falls down and why you have a stronger argument. Taking in the views of others doesn’t result in your downfall; it can only strengthen your outlook.

After listening, it’s fine to have questions. In fact, you might have more questions if you’ve been listening carefully. Go ahead and ask them. Questions don’t cause fuss, so if you want to argue the point, find a valid question instead. Life’s too short for anything else.

When you master listening, you have mastered one of the greatest forms of communication there is. You may have heard that it’s good to talk. Yes it is. But it’s even better to listen…

photo by bjortklingd