10 Tips for Improving Social Interaction
"Social interaction is a two way street. Make sure you are driving on the right side."
- Bryce's Law
By Tim Bryce
In past articles I have described the problems our younger workers
are having with interpersonal relations/communications.
Many find it easier to plug into an iPod as opposed to working
with others. This is resulting in a socially
dysfunctional workplace where people work
at odds with each other. To overcome this problem, I offer the following
suggestions for improving a person's social
interaction. There is nothing magical here, just ten commonsense tips to
help you develop better relationships
with your coworkers, your vendors, and your customers.
1. GREET SOMEONE
Nobody wants to feel unwelcome or unappreciated. If they do,
they will feel like outcasts and less likely to help you with something. The
objective is to make people feel at home. This can be accomplished
with a simple greeting or a firm handshake while looking at the person directly
in the eyes.
It is easy to detect when a greeting is sincere or routine.
Your goal is to appear genuinely concerned about the person. This can be achieved
- Complimenting on some personal attribute
of the person (e.g., clothes, hair, car),
- Inquiring about a person's family (e.g., birthday observed, anniversary, graduation,
pets, health, etc.),
- Asking about an event the person recently experienced
(e.g., attendance at an event, participation in a volunteer
organization charity, a new
job or project assignment, etc.),
- Commenting on something newsworthy - community,
weather ("What did you think about...?").
Such greetings are an expression of your interest in the
person. Too often greetings become routine and, as such, less credible. Try to
break it up.
A good, basic greeting can work
wonders in building cooperation between people.
2. ENGAGE IN A CONVERSATION
People have a natural curiosity as to what you are all
about. The best way to communicate
this is to engage in simple conversation.
Some people are naturally shy and tend to withdraw from such discourse. If one
person is not willing to start a conversation,
another should take the initiative simply by asking the other, "How
are you?" or "What do you think?"
A good icebreaker is to tell a joke. But in this day and age
of "political correctness," exercise good judgment and taste in your humor. Avoid slang
and offensive remarks unless the occasion calls for it. Goodhearted kidding and
teasing is fine, as long as it doesn't turn malicious.
Some people do not have the gift of gab for telling jokes. As such, tell a story
about some recent event that happened to you. But don't ramble. Stay focused and
be sure your story has a point to it.
A conversation is a two-way street, regardless if it is humorous or serious in tone. Look
interested, stay focused, and ask questions. Also be careful not to dominate a conversation
unless that is your intention. If you have a tendency to monopolize a conversation,
people will be less likely to engage in conversation
Many people prefer to sit back and watch as others perform
the work. Volunteering your time or skills may add an additional burden but it tells others you
believe in them and are willing to help out. Such an expression also makes it
easy for you to solicit support when you are in need of help.
4. ASK FOR ADVICE
Too often people are too proud (or too stubborn) to ask for
directions in our journey through life. But asking for advice from a colleague accomplishes
two things: first, you might get the answer you seek, and; second, it says to
the person you trust and respect their opinion. By confiding in an individual, the advisor becomes
concerned with your best interests. This leads to mutual trust and
respect between people.
When you are asked to offer advice to another, be as
articulate and rational as possible. If you do not know the correct answer, do
not fabricate advice or mislead the person. This will only shatter the person's
trust in you. Instead, point him in another direction where he might find the answer he
It seems participation in trade groups and volunteer
organizations today are dwindling. This is surprising since such groups provide
a convenient vehicle to meet and exchange ideas with your peers. Such forums
- To exercise our basic social
- To stay abreast of current developments in our field of interest.
- To establish relationships with people who possess different skills and knowledge that can help us.
Instead of resisting networking with others, the younger
generation should embrace it. I heartily recommend joining trade groups and volunteer charity fraternal
organizations. Regardless of the group dynamics involved, such forums help
to improve ourselves personally and professionally.
6. TURN OPPONENTS INTO PROPONENTS
Today we live in a competitive society (some prefer the
expression "a dog-eat-dog world"). I guess this is somewhat natural.
There is nothing wrong with some friendly competition; it is when it turns
vicious, thereby turning competitors into enemies, that you have to be careful.
To overcome this problem, be gracious in defeat and magnanimous in victory.
This was the secret to Abraham Lincoln's success. After losing earlier political
campaigns, Lincoln would stun his opponents by appearing at their victory
celebrations and offering a sincere hand of congratulations and support.
Because of this, his early opponents became his proponents later on. After winning
the presidential campaign of 1860 he again stunned his opponents by offering them seats in
his cabinet. These former opponents became his closest confidants during the
dark days of the American Civil War.
It is one thing to go into a contest confidently; it is
quite another to go in with a chip on your shoulder, thereby inviting trouble.
Take disagreements in stride and pick your fights carefully. Ask yourself if it
is really necessary to create an enemy at this point in your career.
7. BE COURTEOUS
Your manners and how you interact with others says a lot
about a person's character. Basic courtesy means you are socially
well adjusted. No, I am not suggesting everyone turns into a "Miss
Manners," but attention to basic courtesy can improve your image with
others. Small details can have a dramatic effect. For example:
- A simple Thank You note will be remembered for a service
rendered. I have been a program chairman for various organizations over
the years. After a speaker conducted a presentation for me, I would be
sure to send a thank you note to him/her for their presentation
(regardless if there was an honorarium or not). This is a nice personal
touch that is remembered. Consequently, I never have a problem securing a
- Invite others to participate in events. Again, a personal
note can work wonders and makes people feel wanted. If you stumble over an omission on
your invitation list (which inevitably happens), move swiftly to correct
the omission. Include people, don't exclude them, let them know their
presence has meaning to you.
Above all else, watch your temper. As the old adage
admonishes us, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with
vinegar." A little courtesy can go a long way towards building
8. BE POSITIVE
People naturally gravitate to others with a positive or
upbeat personality. This doesn't mean we always have to wear a smiling face, but we should concede
that people like optimists as opposed to pessimists. As such, we should always
be looking for reasons why something should be done, as opposed to reasons why
This leads us into the area of effective criticism. Avoid
the temptation to maliciously criticize someone or something. First, it makes
the person look like a whining and jealous naysayer; second, it tends to be
more destructive as opposed to constructive. It is simply good practice, when
identifying problems, to suggest alternatives as opposed to simply criticism.
As Winston Churchill astutely observed, "Any idiot can see what is
wrong with something. But can you see what is right?"
So, is the glass half empty or half full? Your answer says a lot about how people
9. BE OBSERVANT
As I have frequently written in the past, if there is
anything constant in life, it is change. Change is
always around us, but it takes a perceptive person to be able to spot the
smallest of changes,
whether it be a new hair style, someone losing weight, a small job
well done, or whatever. When a change is
observed, ask yourself why it has happened. Be inquisitive and understand the
rationale for the change. This will help you adapt to the change as
well as improve your interpersonal relations.
For example, people are easily flattered when someone compliments them on a change. It
means you are perceptive and interested in the person, both of which puts you
in good standing with the other person.
Included in this area is the observance of the names of
people. It is embarrassing to both parties when a name is forgotten. In
particular, it sends a signal to the other person that he/she is irrelevant in
your eyes. This certainly does not help build relationships.
Asking for business cards is one thing, remembering names is something else. This may require a
little effort but it is time well spent.
It is these little observations that go a long way. As an
example, perhaps the best secretary I ever saw was a lady named Myrna who worked
for an MIS Director in Chicago. The first time I visited the office, Myrna
warmly greeted me and asked if I wanted a cup of coffee. Saying Yes, she then
asked me what I wanted in it. I said cream and sugar, which she then made for
me. Months later when I returned to visit the MIS Director, Myrna greeted me by
name and presented me with a cup of coffee with cream and sugar. Frankly, I was
startled that she not only remembered my name but how I also liked my coffee.
Later I found out that Myrna maintained a simple card file; whenever someone
visited the office, Myrna would record their name and the type of coffee they
liked. Sharp. Very sharp.
10. BE HONEST
The linchpin to good interpersonal relations is trust.
Regardless of our form of discourse, nothing builds trust better
than honesty, the basic building block of confidence. Having an honest
character conveys an image that you are dependable, that your word is your
bond, and you can be trusted to do the right thing. But your reputation can be shattered overnight if you are
caught in a lie. Therefore, don't falsify or mislead. If you do not know an
answer, do not fabricate one, but make every attempt to find the answer
We now live in an age where it is more commonplace to cover-up a mistake as opposed
to admit to it. Inevitably, all hell will break loose when the cover-up is discovered.
Instead, admit a mistake early on, correct it, and earn the respect of your coworkers.
Give credit where credit is due. Remember this, nobody wants
to work with someone they fear will wrong, cheat or defraud them.
There are other areas I could have gone into with this article, such as "persistence"
and "leadership,"but they would fall outside of the scope of improving social
interaction. I could have also covered such things as "gossip"
and "finger pointing" but, instead, I was looking for those basic
elements for people to improve themselves, not others.
Early in my college career I learned, "We enjoy life through the help and society of
others." True words. Like it or not, we must interact with other
people on a daily basis. The tips I have described, while admittedly are
simple, can greatly facilitate how we interact with each other, thereby making
our companies a better place to work
Look, its really not that complicated; just use your head, loosen up a bit, treat
others as you would have them treat you, and try not to stick your foot in your
Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor,
Florida and has 30 years of experience in the field. He is available for training
and consulting on an international basis.