Consider this scenario. You’re interviewing a potential new employee, and you can tell they’re anxious. In this Covid era, maybe when you started your zoom interview, their child was on their lap because there were issues trying to find childcare. Maybe they have been out of work for a while and they are trying to show that they are calm, but really need this job. Or maybe it’s a new college graduate and they’re just nervous because they have not really really interviewed a lot, or they know they have a lot of student debt to pay and need to get a job.

Or maybe it’s just someone who looks up to you, like your son or daughter, and they’ve done something where they’re not sure how you are going to react.

We all live in those moments when we’re nervous about a situation. And we really would like someone or some thing to come along and relieve that anxiety. As a leader, how you help people feel comfortable?

  1. Find something in common with the person. Ask them about their hobbies, their family, the movies they enjoy or the music they like. Find out if they like sports, or cars. What books do they enjoy reading? What restaurants are their favorite? Ask them non-threatening questions about something other than why they are there.
  2. Be Vulnerable. Briefly tell them your story. In that, they may find themselves in it. Allow them to ask questions about it. If your story has failures in it, share those. This allows the person on the other side of the table see you as a real person instead of just someone they must try to impress for something they need. Vulnerability is sharing your reality. It is creating a safe space where the other realizes they can be open, honest, and vulnerable as well. Just don’t rage against “the man” or the “the system”. That just makes you come off as an angry old bird. Share what you learned through your failures. This doesn’t make you weak. It shows your resilience and strength, and makes you real, instead of a “them”.
  3. Don’t sit behind a desk. This creates a barrier between you and the other. If you have chairs in the office or room, use those. This keeps distractions away from you as well.
  4. Have a relaxed posture. That person needs to see you calm and relaxed. They do not need to see you with arms crossed or standing next to the door.
  5. Be prepared for the conversation. Take a minute, or 5 to look over information about them if you have it. In fact, start your day by spend 30 minutes looking over information summaries of the people you will be meeting if they’re new to you. Then take 5 minutes prior to them arriving to refresh your mind on who you’re seeing. This will allow you to have a cursory knowledge of who they are and better facilitate #6.
  6. Pay attention to THEM. Don’t look at your phone or your watch. Know as much about them before they arrive so you can dedicate your attention to them. That makes them feel important, that they are worthy of your time. It may freak them out a bit, so be prepared, but give them the attention they need to share their story and feel like they are being heard.

My wife just had surgery, and her surgeon was a no-nonsense, old school doctor. He could have used some training in soft skills, including looking through this list. We’ve all been in those situation ourselves.

How you treat people is important, especially when they’re new to you. Try to make people around you feel comfortable, wanted, and safe. And you will make their day and leave a lasting impression on them.

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