Have you ever been in a room full of people and felt like you were on the outside looking in? Feeling everyone else has something in common that you don’t know about? Or perhaps like they’re speaking a language you don’t understand? You may feel you don’t have a clue how to get “in” or you have an idea how to start talking to them but you feel frozen to the spot, filled with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
Every year I meet many people at the Wokingham Therapy Clinic who come for NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) support to help them manage these challenging feelings and take brave steps into making connections in a variety of different social situations. Last year I met a teenage girl who felt exactly like this. Becky described it as having an invisible wall between herself and everyone else at an event. The wall would stop her from approaching people. She felt it held her back from taking any steps towards them and she felt it stopped people from approaching her. She referred to it as a forcefield of loneliness.
If this happens to you, do you want to make a change? Would you love to be one of those people who can integrate yourself into different situations, feeling connected with the people you meet and striking up conversations with your friends and family? If that sounds like something you’d like then the NLP tips in this article are for you.
Before we look at the tips though, I’d like you to take a moment to think about your reasons for wanting to change.
Perhaps it’s so that you no longer have unhelpful emotions firing off in your body and mind when in social situations.
Maybe it’s so that you can become a social butterfly, easily striking up conversations with anyone you meet.
Or it could be that you want to feel more at ease with the people you know and interact with regularly.
Whatever your reason, take a moment to really clarify it in your mind.
So, you’re now clear on your reason to change but how will you know when that change has happened?
What will you be doing when you know for sure you no longer feel those old feelings of loneliness?
Will you be at a party and in place of those old unhelpful feelings, you feel calm, relaxed and in control or your emotions?
Are you at an event and you’re chatting freely to the people you come in contact with?
Can you see yourself spending time with close friends and everyone is completely engaged in your conversation?
Whatever your end goal, just spend a moment picturing it in your mind. Where are you? Who are you with? What are you talking about or who are you listening to? Notice how much you’re enjoying the interaction. Notice the calm, relaxed feelings in your body as you chat easily. How are other people responding positively to you? What are you hearing around you? Is it fun and laughter, meaningful conversation or something else? Just take a moment to create that picture in your mind and hold it there for a few seconds.
Now that you have complete clarity on what you want and your reasons for wanting it, let’s look at 3 simple ways you can make that happen now.
When I was a teenager, I wasn’t sure how to interact with other people, I felt awkward and self-conscious. I felt especially awkward because most people we met with as a family told me how much I’m like my Mum. I couldn’t understand this because my Mum could talk to ANYBODY! She would enter a room of complete strangers and within 5 minutes she’d be engrossed in conversation with at least two of them. I was always in awe.
My fascination with personality traits was already well under way at this point so I used to watch her. I’d watch her walk into a room, she’d take a deep breath and walk up to someone. Usually it was someone who looked a little like her (similar age, build, etc.) She’d introduce herself, smile warmly and then ask the person something about themselves. She would always give the person her full attention, stand or sit in a similar way to them and occasionally touch them on the arm. I noticed she did the same things with everyone she met. This I later learned is an NLP technique we call Modelling. It’s where we’re looking at all the aspects we like and copying them.
Now that I had a list of things my mum did every time she met someone, I knew I could put modelling into place. One day when my desire to experiment overtook my self-consciousness, I decided to give it a go. I took a deep breath and looked around. I spotted a girl a similar age to me. She looked equally unsure. I walked up, introduced myself, smiled warmly and asked her about herself. I gave her my full attention as she talked and I sat in a similar way to her. It worked!! In the time we talked, we found out we had so much in common, not least that we were both on our way to visit the same University. That girl has been one of my closest friends for the last 25 years. I have no doubt that had I not have used my modelling strategies that day my University experience would have been very different. I have continued to model this same strategy ever since, adding and adopting my approach as I’ve learned and practiced.
When working with Becky, we looked at some of the people she knew who she felt interacted in the way she wanted to. We investigated the things they did well and came up with a great list of common actions. I worked with Becky on practicing these skills. Initially with me, then with close friends, then with acquaintances and eventually with strangers.
Have you ever noticed how sometimes you meet people and you just know there and then that you feel comfortable with them, without having to say or do anything? This is rapport at work. It’s the ability to relate with others in a way where everyone involved feels at ease and communication occurs easily.
The majority of rapport building is done through our body language and one of the easiest ways to build rapport with someone is to mirror their body language, for example standing in a similar way, using similar hand gestures or facial expressions. Now, that you’ve noticed how someone stands, then you can stand in a similar way. If they’re prone to using their hands when they talk, you can do the same. Unconsciously they’ll start to feel comfortable because you do things in a similar way to them. The similarities between you are emphasised and the differences are minimised or played down, people like people who are like themselves. When modelling body language be carefully not to copy exactly, otherwise the person you are mirroring may feel you’re making fun of them. Mirroring should be subtle and using similar body language.
Remember my Mum and the list of things I modelled? One of her skills was to build rapport quickly by mirroring the way they were standing or sitting.
Once you’re feeling more comfortable with someone you can build rapport by interacting with them verbally. This is the conscious part of rapport building where you can find out about them (for the most part people like talking about themselves) and you can see how their likes, dislikes, beliefs and interests match with yours. When someone talks about a topic that’s of interest to you or something you know about you can then build on the conversation. If you’re struggling to find a common interest and you’d like to continue interacting with this person, then look for similarities in what they’re talking about. For example, recently someone I met started to talk to me about fishing… I have never been fishing and apart from knowing you need a fishing rod, net and some kind of bait, I’m lost. I knew if I said this the conversation would stop dead and we would lose rapport, so a few topics similar to fishing popped up in my mind..
1. I like fish and chips.
2. My uncle goes fishing sometimes.
3. I went on a lovely walk down by the river the other day. There were people fishing on the bank.
On closer inspection of my options, I guessed the “Fish & Chip” conversation might come to a quick halt, there’s not an awful lot you can say about fish & chips really. I didn’t have a clue what kind of fishing my Uncle does or where he goes, so that conversation would be short lived too. So, I went with option 3. I asked if he ever goes river fishing and mentioned the place I’d visited. This then sparked off a whole new conversation about my walk and the local area. Phew! I’d maintained rapport and we were onto a topic more suitable for both of us.
When Becky and I worked on together on the rapport building skills, she practiced building rapport in her study group. Initially she did this from behind her forcefield, then, when she felt more comfortable, she stepped out and began a conversation. At first, she asked some tentative questions, then she built up to talking about herself and eventually, she started to fully engage with the rest of the group.
Anchoring is a great NLP skill and one of my favourites because it can be used in so many different ways. Anchoring is an easy way to change the way you feel by using a “trigger”. For example, have you ever been in a bit of a pants mood and then you hear a song on the radio which reminds you of a really good time with your friend. Your mood changes completely, your memory transports you back to that really good time and you feel great again? Well that’s an anchor at work. The song is an external trigger which sparks the memory of a great time and completely changes the way you feel.
How can this help in our social situation? It’s okay, I’m not going to suggest you start singing your favourite song at the top of your voice in front of everyone. What I am going to do is to suggest you create your own anchor, utilising positive feelings from experiences which have helped you in the past.
To give you an example, let’s look at how Becky and I worked on anchoring…
Becky had already set up her own anchor, the problem was it was an unhelpful one. She’d developed a forcefield, which in her mind, appeared whenever she was in a social situation. The feelings that came along with the forcefield were of exclusion and loneliness. Neither of these feelings were helpful, so we changed them into more helpful ones.
Firstly, I asked Becky to change appearance of the forcefield. Instead of a wall in front of her we turned it into a bubble that surrounds her. We then transformed it into a lovely shade of purple (Becky’s favourite colour). Next, we spent some time filling it up with memories of positive interactions from the past. We used: times with her best friend, fun interactions with her parents, memories of times with a group of childhood friends. Next, we gave Becky complete control of her bubble by creating a trigger. Every time Becky wanted her bubble around her, she would squeeze together her thumb and forefinger. Becky’s bubble worked so well that every time she triggered it her entire body language changed (she stood up tall, took a deep relaxing breath and had a huge smile on her face).
Becky continued to add to her anchor by adding new positive experiences each time she had them. Being armed with a list of techniques to model, the knowledge and confidence to build rapport and her bubble full of happy and confident memories, Becky’s social interactions were full of positive experiences.
If you’d like to know more about any of the techniques discussed in this article, or about techniques to build confidence or free yourself from anxiety then email me at DebbieK@nlp4Kids.org
By Debbie Kinghorn