We form impressions of each other's personality within seconds of meeting--and knowing that fact can make approaching a new person incredibly nerve-wracking.
Quick: Smile! But not too broadly. Introduce yourself--but not so fast! Time's up.
Fortunately, there's a simple psychological strategy for combatting the anxiety associated with meeting new people. The trick? Don't think of them as new.
Instead, you'll want to do what speaker and author Nicholas Boothman calls "assume rapport." In other words, talk to the "new" person as if he or she were your cousin or your uncle--someone you feel happy talking to and you can be yourself with.
Boothman, the author of "How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less," has spent years coaching business people to be more effective, more relaxed communicators. Assuming rapport, he told Business Insider, is a skill that anyone can learn and deploy within the first two seconds of making someone's acquaintance.
"It's just a really great way to make someone feel comfortable with you," he said. "Just talk to them like you've already known them."
That doesn't necessarily mean dishing about the details of your romantic life, which would likely be off-putting.
The goal of assuming rapport, Boothman said, is to "find common ground," or to uncover what's similar between you two. It can be something as simple as the fact that you drive the same car or you're wearing the same brand of shirt.
In fact, research suggests that finding common ground is a solid strategy for getting people to like you. According to the "similarity-attraction hypothesis," we tend to gravitate toward people who are just like us in some capacity, and especially when we share similar attitudes and values.
Boothman gave an example of how he could have assumed rapport and found common ground with me during our phone conversation.
He'd initially asked if we could postpone our phone call by 15 minutes because he was running late. Once we got on the phone, he could have asked me: "Are you ever late? What does it feel like?" Assuming I answered in the affirmative, we would immediately have had something tangible to talk about, that would likely lead into deeper topics of discussion.
(Boothman said he declined to use this strategy because he figured he'd already held me up, though I was curious to know whether it would have worked.)
Boothman mentioned Oprah Winfrey as an example of someone who's really skilled at creating "me-too moments," or opportunities to say, "You're kidding, I feel exactly the same way!"
Yes, Winfrey is a professional talk-show host, and yes, assuming rapport is probably harder than it sounds. But the point is that the connections between you and others are likely there already. It's just a matter of being willing to uncover and capitalize on them.
"The moment you find common ground," Boothman said, "you have a relationship."