Anybody can get nervous. From the fresh-faced graduate, just out of university, to the seasoned manager who hasn’t been on the applicant’s side of an interview in thirty years, you can never assume that someone is stress-free (however put-together they may appear). It’s our job to get the best of people and help them put that in front of a client; here’s a quick guide on ways you can ease them into that first meeting.
There is always a balanced middle ground to be found with eye contact. Too little, and you appear disrespectful or disinterested – too much and you border on psychopathic. It’s important to show attention to whom you are speaking to, particularly on that first greeting. It’s always useful to remember that when someone else is speaking, displaying focus on them can demonstrate how interested you are in what they have to say, and how much you care. Then, you can mix things up, by breaking off eye contact if you begin speaking about a new topic, before re-establishing it as you bounce the conversation back to them with a related question. This little technique will always provide a nice balance that is still weighted towards more eye contact rather than less.
Whatever you do, though, remember to blink! There is little more disconcerting than a wide-eyed stare, and this can also come across as trying too hard.
Don’t finish their-
If you’re looking for a specific answer or in a rush, it’s easier to do than you may think. It can be so frustrating for the other person, though, when they are trying to say something, but someone keeps cutting in. It can foster a sense of resentment and make people feel used so, however tempting it may be to try and speed things up, always hear out what someone is trying to say in their own words.
Active listening in general can really create an atmosphere of teamwork, and by listening to and engaging with the actual words someone uses, you can show that you are not just replying with canned responses to what you expect them to say, but creating a partnership where both opinions are valued. Never assume you know where a conversation is headed – if you truly are telepathic, keep it a secret, or the government will be tracking you down…
Get rid of Distractions
Imagine if your candidate got their phone out in the middle of a meeting. Even if it just started ringing, they would probably be very embarrassed. It may seem small, but just checking the time on your phone can imply there is somewhere you would rather be, and can cause candidates to subconsciously speed themselves up in an effort to placate your desire to be elsewhere – when this happens, you will end up missing out on getting the absolute best out of them, as they will never be able to fully take their time.
Likewise, making good use of quiet and tidy meeting rooms is a huge bonus. Arriving whilst having another conversation or answering an email on your phone, though, can ruin their benefits. Instead, take a moment before you enter to ensure that you can devote your full attention to someone as long as you are in the meeting room with them.
I’ve already mentioned it further up, but the overall techniques of Active Listening are vital to building strong relationships. Key points to remember are:
- Listen to understand, not to reply: So often, we fall into the trap of only waiting whilst someone else speaks before we can continue with what we were saying. Place more value on what you have to find out, than what you already know.
- Engage: Repeating key words or phrases can demonstrate you are engaging with precisely what the other person is trying to say.
- Throwback Thursday: If you can relate back to previous conversations in the future, it’s a great opportunity to build rapport. Take note of if someone mentions they are attending a key event or taking part in an activity between this meeting and the next; when you ask how it went at the next meeting, they will know you pay attention and care about them.
- Ask Specific Questions: People often love to talk about themselves, and even if it’s just for five minutes at the start of a meeting, giving them that opportunity can help them feel far more at ease and personable.
The Infamous Handshake
It’s your first impression, a moment of physical contact in an increasingly digital world, and one of the most commonly debated pieces of interview technique in the world. Just like eye contact, it requires a keen attention to balance. As a rock climber and pianist, and someone who was informed at the age of six: “The Handshake makes the man, son. Nobody will respect you if you have a weak handshake”, I grew up subconsciously crushing the fingers of everyone I met (Toxic Masculinity alert!). It wasn’t until my best friend’s boyfriend told her behind my back that I was clearly trying to “establish dominance”, that I realised I should perhaps tone it down a little.
Common errors include the vice technique (often apparently demonstrative of insecurity), the wet fish (an unfortunate affair closer to a clammy slap than a handshake), and the Trump Handsaw (a very conscious attempt to establish dominance), and it can really be difficult to gauge. Indeed, research suggests that even extending it past three seconds can induce anxiety. With all these pitfalls, the best thing to do is keep it simple, and remember these top tips:
- Firm, not Hard: Imagine you are holding a child’s hand near a busy road. You want to give a sense of security, but not hurt them.
- Keep it Brief: It’s a shake, not a dance.
- Maintain Equality: Don’t overthink things by patronising some people with a weak handshake or trying to impress others with a strong one. With a reasonable strength there should be a middle ground that you can use when meeting any person.
- Eyes Up: Eye contact in the handshake is pivotal – see above!
Overall, it’s most important to leave your ego at the door. Whenever you meet someone for the first time, if you use these tips, you can make them feel like the most important person in the building at that time, and ease them into a situation where they will be able to present themselves as such – at their best. From there, it will be far easier for you to present them to clients.