As a single woman, I often find myself sitting opposite a perfect stranger, trying to make magic happen over a martini. And while many of my fellow singles bemoan the horrors of dating, I look at it as a chance to explore what makes another human being tick. I just do what works at parties -- kick the conversational ball in the air and invite my partner to kick it back.
It helps that I'm not shy, and that I'm happy to share a self-deprecating detail if it'll get a laugh. But it still surprises me when I've spent a lovely but unremarkable evening with someone and he sends a message the next day about how we instantaneously "clicked."
When I picked up the new book "Click: The Magic of Instant Connections," I knew that the co-authors, psychologist Rom Brafman, Ph.D., and his brother, Ori, an entrepreneur, had my number. The best-selling authors of "Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior" claim to have uncovered the mystery behind how people connect instantly.
According to their theory, the recipe for clicking contains five ingredients: proximity, vulnerability, resonance, similarity, and a safe place.
In other words, you're more likely to click with someone if you're in her immediate vicinity, disclose something personal, tune in to her emotions, have something in common, and share a frame of reference (via your church, your culture -- anything that separates you two from the rest of the world).
Wired for Connections
As you might have guessed, some people are wired for instant connection. The Brafmans refer to these folks as "high self-monitors," borrowing a term from personality researcher Mark Snyder, whose work in the 1970s explored how some people adjust their verbal and nonverbal communications based on the situation and who they're with.
High self-monitors have an uncanny ability to tune in to nuances in conversation and tone, to tap in to and complement (not just mirror) other people's emotions.
"They create the conditions for clicking," Ori says. "They make us feel comfortable and have a way of drawing us out."
Because they tend to gravitate to the center of social networks, natural clickers are surrounded by more people, and so their relationships tend to flourish -- as do their careers. One study of M.B.A. students found that high self-monitors switched jobs often, because they were given more opportunities and more frequent promotions. "They may not even be the smartest ones in the room -- but they know how to make relationships work," Ori says.
If clicking is a social language, high self-monitors may be native speakers, but there's no reason we all can't become fluent -- to connect with more people and find more opportunities in our lives.
Test the waters: High self-monitors are social chameleons; low self-monitors are the exact opposite. Take the colleague who barges into a meeting complaining about the broken printer, though everyone else is on pins and needles after a recent round of layoffs. The first thing a high self-monitor does is assess the situation: She observes the body language and tone of the people around her before she acts. Sage advice: Enter a room slowly.
Meet someone where they are: The high self-monitor not only pays close attention to the other person, but complements that person's mood, which builds trust. Ori tried this himself and was surprised to find that it improved his marriage. As the chattier spouse, he might have normally just charged in and started talking whenever he and his wife, Hilary, were together. But then he began assessing where she was emotionally. If she was quiet, instead of asking her why she wasn't talking, he'd just be quiet, too. "The intimacy seemed to deepen between us from just that one simple thing," he says.
Ask questions: According to Ori, "When we're meeting new people, we're worried about what we're going to say, how we appear to them, and so on." But he's found that by focusing on making someone else comfortable, you shift the pressure off yourself. This may mean taking the lead in asking questions -- almost as if you're the host of a talk show and that person is your guest.
Find something in common: We tend to think the bigger issues (religion, politics) matter most when it comes to real connection -- yet lasting relationships have been founded on far less. One student survey done by clinical psychologist Donn Byrne, Ph.D., at the University at Albany in New York, discovered that students were just as likely to rate someone as attractive when they agreed on the small issues (music, hobbies), as well as on the big ones (family, values).
Dare to disclose: When you chance a little intimacy, perhaps by sharing something that you're currently struggling with or a personal anecdote, you make yourself vulnerable and give the other person something to respond to. It should come as no surprise that Rutgers professor Jennifer Gibbs and her colleagues at Michigan State University and Georgetown found that Match.com members who made an active choice to share personal info were more likely to have a successful dating experience.
When you create the conditions for clicking, say the Brafmans, the goal isn't to imitate someone else but to be more fully you with the people who come into your life. "We can all learn to be more greatly attuned to each other's emotional states," Ori says. "It's human nature to connect, and there's nothing more authentic than that."
© 2013 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. All rights reserved.