Have you ever wondered over those people you meet, every once in a while, who for some inexplicable reason, you end up telling all your secrets to, without even realising it?
I have, a lot. Being a therapist and working in coaching, it’s really important to me that I make people feel comfortable enough to open up about the most sensitive elements of their lives within minutes of meeting me. This is something you are taught during training and have plenty of time to practise, but I still find myself reviewing my behaviour regularly against my training to see where I could improve.
This is no easy feat and, whilst in a therapy room, people know what they are there to do and what it will involve, it’s much more difficult in normal situations, so this is where it’s best to hone your skills.
That may sound extremely clinical – ‘hone your skills’ – like making people feel comfortable is the same as learning how to count to ten, but allowing people to let their guard down around you requires a lot of personal integrity, but also requires the skill to show the person this integrity so they know they can relax around you.
Some people seem to be naturally good at it, and I’ve sure you’ve met some. Others find it more of a challenge. I’m fortunate in that people generally say that I make them feel very comfortable and are able to trust me very quickly, but once upon a time I was socially awkward and unsure of myself. GIving myself time to grow as a person, train in various therapies and push myself to experience different social situations changed my perception of people and my behaviours.
Good news is that making people feel comfortable is something you can learn. It might take some time and it might not be quite as effective as with those to whom it comes naturally, but you can certainly make progress if this is an area you struggle with and want to improve in.
The points below are things to think about when with other people. They are not definitive, nor are they guaranteed to work, as it will always depend on the individual you are talking with to a certain extent, but they should help you feel more comfortable, and help others perceive you as someone they can be comfortable with.
1. Be comfortable with yourself and the situation. In this way, other people will feel more comfortable with you. Take some deep breaths and remind yourself how you always have choices; you don’t have to be in this situation, you have chosen to be – enjoy it!
2. Show an interest in people and listen to them. It’s great to be able to talk about things which interest you and keep the conversation going, but encouraging people to talk about what interests them and really listening and picking up on what they are saying will make them feel valued and more able to talk freely. Look them in the eyes, ask sensible questions and practise picking up on when to back off or change the subject.
3. Be genuine. Probably the thing that puts most people off talking to someone is if they don’t feel they’re talking to the real person. Being fake, showing off, making fun of people or being obnoxious will only lead to people distancing themselves from you. Let your own guard down, and people will know it’s OK to let their guard down too.
4. Show respect and integrity. Respecting others and yourself shows people that you are a good person who won’t use any information shared with them to their advantage.
5. Put yourself in their shoes. If you were them how would you feel? What would you want to hear? How would you want someone to react to what your were saying? How do people make you feel comfortable?
A lot of these things are common sense, but taking the time to think about them rather than ploughing in to a conversation heaad first and spouting forth can really make the difference between seeing the real person, and having people keep their guard up around you.