People often say to taste the sweet you need the salty; to understand true love you need heartbreak; and to succeed you need failure.

In other words, the opposite of what is supposed to occur is sometimes exactly what one needs to achieve the objective.

This point is critical when it comes to connecting with someone. As any good salesperson knows, the way to connect with someone is to remember that the most important person in the world is them. People love talking about themselves and if you can make them feel like they are the center of your attention, then you've gone a long way in garnering their trust and favor.

But exactly how do you get them to pay attention to you?

This is where the secret sauce comes in-my friend Fred Teng, who is a master connector and social animal, coined this term at a breakfast the other day. And now I'm outing it for him.

"Soft conflict."

In other words, the way to get someone to pay attention to you is not by showering them with adoration and "yeses" but by creating a little conflict and tension-just not too much. Doing so puts someone on alert and turns what could have been a pretty dull conversation into one that's more lively and colorful. And that forms the basis of a much stronger relationship.

You witness this in television news interviews all the time. A guest who isn't challenged on his or her views comes off as milquetoast and isn't memorable. Throw in some counterpoints and suddenly the interview turns into a debate where the guest looks smart (or dumb if he or she doesn't come across well) and the viewer is engrossed. I'm sure there's some sort of neurological explanation for why these tension points feed the brain but for now, let's just call them "moments" that carry a far greater impact than a nice, polite conversation.

Why does this foster a stronger connection?

For one, voicing a disagreement with a person's opinion actually forges some common ground. Rather than drone endlessly on about the weather or kids, two people can find something to take a stand on. Now, this doesn't mean you ought to start railing against each other's views on gay marriage, but a dissent here or there around a topic is a welcome relief. Just make sure you deliver it with a smile.

Second, most established and powerful people are rarely challenged. They're often surrounded by "yes people" who are afraid to disagree for fear or losing their jobs or being kicked out of the inner circle. So when they meet someone who knows how to speak honestly and voice an opinion that's different from theirs or others while still possessing a certain modicum of respect, then that is again, a welcome relief and refreshing.

And finally, conflict and tension in any relationship is actually good for creativity. No successful partnership works when two people agree all the time. Usually when that happens, it's because one person is afraid to disagree with the other in which case that's called something else: a dictatorship.

Being able to challenge each other can boost productivity and set a path neither party would be able to achieve without the other. The problem is few people can manage conflicts well, which is why founders often leave startups. Ask any venture capitalist and he or she will tell you that co-founders fighting is one of the top three reasons a startup fails.

So do me a favor, don't act like Donald Trump and get everybody angry, but at the very least, the next time you meet someone new, don't be afraid to pose a challenge.

Published on: Jul 22, 2015
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