Social interaction

Tips on how to improve the daily life are omnipresent on the internet today. And although most of them can be quite helpful, they are by no means easy to implement, not to speak of keeping them up as a daily habit. This is especially true for situations in which we find ourselves interacting with other people, be it friends, family or total strangers. Nevertheless, having a positive influence on others and making some self-improvement while doing so is something worth striving for.

From my personal experience, these 7 habits are the most rewarding in social interactions and should be given an honest try.

1. Make mistakes and talk about it

A while ago, an article in the Time Magazine stated that facebook makes people depressive, because everyone tries to present him-/herself in the best possible way on this platform. If you do not have the luxury to go on vacation two or three times a year, if your job is lousy and underpaid as your relationship with your partner is nonexistent, you might get the impression that the world is having a giant party for which you have no invitation.

Accordingly, we all try to present ourselves, on- and offline, the best way we can just to ensure others that we are not the ones left behind. But. whenever you get to look behind the facade of someones life, you almost instantly feel better, because people who really live an exuberantly happy live are rare. Most of us deal with everyday problems and, even more important, we fail at these problems more often than we are ready to admit. When you look at the history of mankind, you see that most of it is revolving instead of resolving problems. Why on earth should everybody be perfect all of a sudden? I think, we have to change our view on defeat and failure to arrive at a new sincerity about the personal situation. This requires that we move away from a fixed mindset in which personal weaknesses are predetermined and unchangeable.

If we understand that failure is a part of everyone's life, and has been a part of the lives of the most successful people in history, we might be ready to see a mistake as what it is: a change to improve oneself, and, if we are ready to share our problems, a source of mutual encouragement.

2. Don't condemn what others think and do

More often than not, we define who we are and what we are about not only by the values we stand for, but also by what we don't like. This is o.k. as long as it serves to make a point, as for example saying something like “I don't eat animals, because ...” can explain a good deal of what you as a person are about and how you position yourself in certain contexts. But the person next to you might take a bite from his/her burger while you say this.

To live with the freedom of the person next to you can sometimes be hard, but it is also the essence on which our Western society is built. Efforts of persuasion can be stressful at times but they are also worthwhile. Certainly, telling people what to do never produced a better society in the history of mankind, it just produces people who do as they are told.

Thus, while my own standpoint on certain topics can be pretty adamant, I recently tried to understand better what others find so convincing about their own opinions and tastes. Essential for such an approach is the inherent belief that everybody has a good reason to think in this or that way and is not just stupid, because s/he does not share the own opinion. Yes, you're right, this should be a no-brainer. But take a moment to think about how many times you brush off, at least tacitly, other people's opinions whenever you discuss something on which you have been decided long ago.

Sometimes, simply accepting the position someone takes on can lead to new friendships and a better understanding among colleagues, friends, and family members. This does not mean that you have to adopt that position as your own. It simply means that truth is something very personal and subjective and it might even be helpful to be confronted with other viewpoints to find out about your own reasons for why you think in this or that way.

3. Smile

Some people say that smiles can be infectious and I believe it is true. When you see someone smile right at you, you cannot help but feel uplifted and encouraged to start a conversation or make contact in some other way. While most people are aware of this positive effect the facial expression can have, they seem to ignore the fact that the opposite is also true. When your face looks like you are rather to be left alone, people will avoid contact without you even noticing it.

I know what I'm talking about, because I seem to have one of these faces that means trouble. During my time at the university, I had several persons a week (each week!) approaching me and asking whether something was wrong with me or if I had had a bad day. Those were people I knew and they knew me well enough to approach me no matter what I looked like, but I sometimes wonder how many people I did not get to know, just because my default facial expression was rather uninviting.

The problem I had to face here was the difference between inside and outside: While I was perfectly good-humored, my outside appearance sent a different message to the world. Scientist estimate that 60-90% of all human interaction is nonverbal, which means, in the moment you say something to someone, it might already be too late to give a first impression and there is nothing we can do about it. The only thing that we can do is 1. to be aware of the fact that the first contact is already made before someone speaks and 2. to be aware of our outward appearance. And that means not only style, like hair and clothing, but also the way we present ourselves to the world in the way we look at each other.

Remember, your facial expression is the only way for another person to know what is going on inside of you.

4. Don't fight for things you cannot change

I love political discussions. And I love to be dogmatic about my way of seeing things. Those two combined means I have spent a lot of time on internet and live chats on different topics of foreign and domestic policies, our economic system in general and whether or not a war can solve problems. Today, I know that most of the time was wasted: From the moment on in which my opinion on some topic was clear and it was also obvious that the opinion of my counterparts in the discussion would not change in any direction, the whole conversation was nothing more than idle image cultivation.

There is nothing wrong with having an opinion on topics that matter for you personally, be it politics, sports, education or whatever, but you should carefully pick your fights and make sure that something can be gained for either side in the conversation. Otherwise, you will soon find yourself wasting much of the time you probably don't have to impress people you probably don't even like.

5. Make honest compliments

One of the main topics people have in conversations is to find the flaws in other people's characters. Moreover, we seem always to be ready to detect when people are not doing their job in the way we think they should. This kind of behavior is often an outcome of a fixed mindset, which suggests that all people are more or less born this way and there is nothing one can do about it than talking oneself into a rant.

Well, aside from the fact that constructive critique could actually change some of the characteristics we identify as negative, because nobody is just born this or that way: why does our mindfulness for the work of others only function when we find something to criticize? When was the last time you actually told someone that s/he was a nice person or did a good job?

A while ago, I made the decision to tell everyone I met every positive thought I had about him or her. A bank employee taped my banknote after some vending machine had torn it in half and I told her she did a very good job – when I left, the smile on her face looked like it would last for the rest of the day. A trainee in a bike shop found some used spare parts to repair my bike so it cost significantly less than I thought it would. I told him how satisfied I was with his work and tipped him half of the money he saved me. He looked like he just won the lottery, but it was even better than that: He knew, he had earned some extra money because he did the right thing and invested more time and effort into the work than he was committed to.

6. Encourage people to start something new

Only the best of us can run solely on intrinsic motives. The others might need a good word every now and then to start or keep on with a positive life changer. Probably most of us had an experience at some point in life where enthusiasm and determination were crushed by some grinch who usually says things like “are you sure you are good enough for that?” or “that sounds pretty risky!”

To make no mistake here: it is perfectly o.k. to bring the potential risks of an undertaking to a good friend's mind, but the difference between constructive and devastating critique is simply this: in a constructive critique you pick a specific feature of a plan, explain why it might not work and make suggestions on how it could work. If you ever meet someone who just says that something is impossible, you should move on.

Among the reasons why people are reacting in this way when a friend or colleague is talking about new plans are mainly these: Envy (yes, the ugly green one) and the own fear of change. After all, a friend who starts something new might soon behave different, have less time to hang out and so on. But rather than holding each other back from trying new undertakings, we should encourage each other and take motivation for our own plans from new activities in our sphere.

7. Lead by example

Most of you would probably agree that there is no better way of teaching something than by doing exactly what is required of the other. If I tell my son to go outside more often and say that only to regain control over the living room and the TV program, the bias in my position will not slip his attention (note: treating children and teenagers as people who are just not as smart as you are is probably the best way to destroy the relationship for the future).

Seeing someone following his/her own directives instead is the best example for integrity that can be given and one should never underestimate the power of being a good example. I hear people talk a lot about authority lately, especially in connection with setting up online businesses and blogs. Usually, this authority is broken down to knowing something, instead of doing something. And while it is important to know what you are doing, taking action is the ultimate prove that you have enough confidence in what you say to actually make your theories become reality.


How to Win Friends & Influence People
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The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking
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