When having to network through a room filled with new people, it’s easy to be filled with anxiety at first. Do you look okay? Are you interesting enough? What if you’re not at all impressive? What if nobody even remembers talking to you? And what about at work? Are people just polite by listening when you speak, or are those forced laughs? Do your friends even value you properly?
There’s a simple trick that puts all these concerns to rest: take the spotlight off yourself and switch your attention to the people around you, and everything changes. They’re all just as vulnerable as you are, and if you can make them feel that they’re interesting, engaging, funny or any other strong character trait, you’ll benefit just as much as they do.
Think about the best compliment you’ve ever received, or a time you felt your sense of humour or take on life was really appreciated. You probably remember how that made you feel – but, more importantly, you remember the person or people responsible for it. They’re part of a very positive memory – you probably like them and trust them, and would like to see them again, even if you spent just five minutes in their company. ‘Compliments build people up and make them feel more encouraged,’ says Joel Shapiro, a psychologist at Crescent Clinic in Johannesburg.
Positively boosting other people makes them remember you, and people who remember you can be powerful allies. It’s also good for your social life: people are far more likely to think of including you and inviting you if you’ve contributed towards them feeling more positive about themselves. They’re also more likely to forgive you when you slip up and support you when you need it.
Related: How to Increase Your Social Circle
And it’s not just your social life and career that can benefit. Showing empathy and ‘bigging a person up’ is also beneficial to your mental and emotional wellbeing. In her TED talk, ‘How to make stress your friend’, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal talks about how caring for others has even been related to increasing life span.
1 BE KIND
We often come down hard on ourselves. As Millennials, we are an overachieving generation – we feel so much pressure that we find ourselves dealing with quarter-life crises! One way to help you feel like you’re not a completely lost cause is to compliment others. ‘Millennials have forgotten about the benefit of the C+. Everyone is rushing for the A+ model and often we judge that model by external factors,’ says Shapiro. ‘Compliments are good to get but don’t rely on them to build you up. Spread the love and you will probably get love back – but don’t get to a place where you find yourself relying on it.’
2 CHECK YOURSELF
Being able to affirm somebody else and take the focus off yourself takes a lot of courage and self-confidence, says Shapiro. It’s not something that’s possible if you’re threatened, insecure or in competition with those around you. It’s only when you’re self-assured and know who you are that it comes easily. Then you’re not competing with anyone, which allows you to step back and see and appreciate other people more fully, generously and clearly than when you’re thinking about how you measure up against them.
Related: Be Your Own Best Friend
3 MAX THE GOOD VIBES
There’s a lot more to it than simply saying something ‘nice’ or handing out a hollow compliment. To truly affirm others you need to engage with them; you need to make an effort. Don’t just laugh at someone’s social-media feed and move on: ‘like’, ‘favourite’ or repost. Or go the extra mile and leave a positive comment, making it more personal and enhancing the feeling of endorsement and contact. If you know a colleague has an important presentation, boost her confidence by saying, ‘I’ve seen you make presentations before and always find them interesting.’ When a friend makes you laugh, tell her how funny she is; when family members remember you, let them know you’re aware of how thoughtful they are. Small things like these make a huge difference – for the giver and for the receiver.
4 BE AUTHENTIC
Insincere flattery can be seen light years away and usually backfires terribly. Instead of being seen as positive and affirming, you’ll be seen as plastic and untrustworthy. Dish out loads of fake compliments and they quickly become cheap, leaving you looking like a brown-noser. ‘It’s important that you’re genuine with what you’re saying,’ says Shapiro. So when you start to make the conscious decision to give out more positive affirmations, make sure you’re not just doing it to look good!