Some people seemingly just have a natural, innate ability to put everyone who interacts with them at ease. And while you might be just a little bit jealous of that characteristic, you too can get to a place where you're making people more comfortable around you, even if you think you just don't have that personality trait. Yes, your demeanor, mood, manners, and more can all potentially influence how approachable or easy to talk to you might come across to someone, but if you say any of these surprising things, you can put anyone at ease, so sometimes the things you say are just as important as your tone, smile, and body language.
"In the absence of information, it is human nature to fill in the gaps," Dr. Laura Linebarger, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and the co-founder of Resolute Recovery, LLC, tells Romper in an email exchange. "We make up our own stories about what is happening between us and other people all the time. The problem with this is that unless we check our facts, we're usually inaccurate. This can lead to false conclusions, misunderstandings, and self-filled prophesies. In my own life and with my clients, I encourage what I call 'saying the obvious.' There are many things that run through our brains that we think are evident about a given situation or even about how we're thinking or feeling. Each person has a different way of thinking, pulls on attention, and uses their personal history to make sense of things. When we say what we think is obvious, we're adding to the shared reality between us and another person, making it more accurate. We're more likely to be understood and get our needs met."
Some of the more surprising things you say, too, can help people better relate to one another and, as a result, can help put people at ease, just like stating the obvious can. If that's your aim, trying these questions and conversation starters could be a good way to start and are something different than questions about work or where you're from. They can also put people at ease, in some cases, because they put your empathy on full display. From what to say when you meet someone to how to help someone, saying these sorts of things will help them feel like they can talk to you.
1. "Here's A Fun Fact About Who I Am. Can You Share A Fun Fact About Yourself?"
"Being your authentic self shines brighter and is genuine," Dr. Alisha Griffith, an autism parenting expert, certified coach, speech language pathologist, trained educator, author, and audiologist, tells Romper in an email exchange. A conversation starter like this one helps people to get to know the real you and let's them talk a little bit about themselves. That way, you two are more connected, plus, they might be a bit more at ease talking about themselves, because that's something that a lot of people really like to do.
2. "Did Anyone Else Have A Hard Time Finding Parking?" Or "I'm Definitely Cheating On My Diet With This Doughnut"
Questions and statements like these are things that just about everyone can relate to from time to time. Emmi Buck, the director of communications at Essential Oxygen, tells Romper by email that these comments show that you're not scary or threatening and that you're human, just like anyone else.
3. "I Can See You're Really Struggling With That."
"Because it looks at the other person's distress with empathy instead of judgement, this phrase validates the other person," Linebarger says. "Any struggle brings out fears — insecurity, shame, inadequacy — and when someone else sees our difficulties, we feel better because we're understood."
You're not making them feel like they're incapable, doing something wrong, or otherwise falling short, and that empathy can help them put their guard down rather than continuing to feel on edge.
4. "What's Going On In Your Life Right Now?"
People like to talk about themselves and their lives, but there are only so many times that you can ask questions about where they're from, what they do, and other general baseline questions that probably don't change all that much. But asking questions about what's going on right now, what they're doing that's different, or what's exciting or challenging in their lives means they're talking about something new.
"Smile and take a deep, calming breath, and then ask the person easy to answer questions about their life, and actively listen to their answers," Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT, a licensed professional counselor, tells Romper by email. "Track the conversation, and ask clarifying questions if you get confused [or] off-track. Be attentive, look them in the eye while they are talking, and show true interest in what they have to say."
5. "I Get Really Nervous Speaking In Front Of Groups Of People."
Statements like this, in which you disclose that you're not perfect or fearless, makes you more approachable and relatable, for sure. "It gives you permission to be human, with flaws," Griffith says. "It's a connecting factor, especially if 'everything' or 'anything' that occurs during the conversation doesn't go as planned. Mostly, because you released the need to be perfect, the rest will just flow."
6. "I Really Wish I Could Do What You Wanted/Come To Your Party/Solve The Problem For You."
You might feel like you're not adding much to the conversation or making any sort of difference, but this will put a friend, family member, or acquaintance at ease because it shows that this matters to you and that you care.
"Tone is important as it can convey the sincerity of your intentions or can make the other person feel as though you're blowing him or her off," Linebarger says. "A sincere wish eases the tension of 'saying no,' while giving more information to the other person. The result usually helps to fend off shame or guilt for both people."
7. "Have You Ever Thought Of It This Way?"
"The key to using perspective phrases with other people is to frame it as a question," Linebarger says. "You might have a great view to offer someone else but it is only one way to look at it. Statements are an indicator of fact while questions leave room for creativity." So while phrasing this as a statement might make them wary or defensive, a question will put them at ease and make them feel like you're working with them to reach a solution. And feeling as though you have someone standing by your side is certainly a surefire way to make you feel more at ease than you would be otherwise.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.