Tips and tricks for connecting with others: Tip 1 – Be a friend not a foe

If you want to have harmonious, productive relationships, it pays to invest in building a reservoir of good will or an ‘emotional piggy bank’ that will hold you in good stead with others when and if challenges arise. Here’s why…

Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of a difficult, emotional conversation. For many of us, these situations can take everything we have to resolve artfully. I believe that most of us would have fewer difficult conversations, and that these conversations would have better outcomes, if we worked on connecting with people, building trusting relationships from the outset.

Neuroscience tells us that people categorise those they come in contact with as ‘friend’ – it’s safe for me to be around you, you are not about to hurt or threaten me; or ‘foe’ – I’m not really sure about you, or you are likely to threaten me some time in the future.

When people see us as ‘friends’ they are more likely to be relaxed and engaged with us; being more open to our ideas and more expansive with theirs. In turn, we will be more likely to classify them as ‘friends’, treating them in a relaxed, open and engaged manner. In other words: trust breeds trust and positivity breeds positivity.


Sadly despite our best efforts to connect with others, sometimes things get hairy and heated. The trigger for these types of events are often incidents where others feel they have been treated unfairly or disrespectfully. In these instances people interact with us as though we were a ‘foe’ and this triggers a flight or fight response within them.

In flight of fight mode the blood that normally goes to people’s brains to help them think, rushes to their arms and legs so they can literally run away from the source of the threat (you!). Unfortunately in this state they are more inclined to short cut conversations or focus on problems rather than solutions. They may also find it hard to control their emotions which complicates things further, because their behaviour is now likely to threaten you, throwing you both into a negative spiral.

Here are two examples that illustrate how our perception of people as ‘friend’ or ‘foe’ changes the way we react to them.

Example 1 – There are times when those around us neglect to say “Hi” (for various reasons). When we experience this behaviour from someone we classify as a ‘friend’, some of us are able to rationalise what has happened with thoughts like “They didn’t see me.” or “That’s unusual, I hope everything is OK with them.” Unfortunately, in this instance, many of us will have a threat response (particularly when dealing with those we see as ‘foe’). In this state we are likely to think “Boy that guy is rude. He didn’t even look up and say hello when I came in”.

Example 2 – If I leave my phone behind and my boss points this out, I’m likely to think, “Thanks! That’s helpful.” On the other hand, if I don’t have a great relationship with my boss and he or she says “Nova you have left your phone behind”, chances are I will be more likely to interpret this statement negatively, moving beyond the facts of the situation to a more emotional interpretation. For example, believing my boss is always on my case for forgetting things and being disorganised.

It takes time and effort to consciously build trust and understand what you need to do to keep others feeling connected with you rather than threatened. But given the pay off, I believe the benefits are well worth it. After all, who doesn’t want to have great relationships, as well as fewer/less emotionally charged and potentially destructive interactions with others?

More on how to achieve this soon…

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