Remember how you felt on day one of your first teaching job? You might have been overwhelmed with so many people to meet and interact with, let alone your students. As a principal, can you remember the feelings you had standing in front of your staff or meeting parents for the first time? Have you ever attended a state or national professional conference on your own?
If so, you’ll likely recognize that some people interact in crowds of unfamiliar people more easily than others. Perhaps that’s simply a difference between extroverts and introverts. But as you closely observe people in various settings of unfamiliarity, you’ll notice that some seem to welcome interaction and conversation. They seem to be more open than closed.
Every principal can benefit by acquiring that skill set and learning how to click with people. There will always be a stream of new students, parents, staff, and community members to connect with. To help, I developed an acronym, Concise Little Initiatives (to) Connect (with) Kids (and adults), with ideas and strategies that can help everyone, introverts as well as extroverts, resonate more openly and build stronger professional relationships.
You can accelerate your ability to click with people by focusing on five strategies:
- Identifying similarities
- Addressing proximity
- Recognizing vulnerabilities
- Sharing environments
Before I give presentations, I like to roam about the room and ask people where they’re from. When I can identify with an attendee’s hometown and then connect the dots with a person we may mutually know, we quickly begin forming a click. An identification of the left-handers, or those with gray hair, green eyes, same birth month/date, pet preferences, etc., creates an instant click. People click when they discover that they root for the same sports team.
When you’re in situations where you’re meeting new people, focus on identifying similarities. Your initial conversations will begin to flow more easily, and you’ll share and discover interests, hobbies, shared experiences, and more.
If you want to click with a conference presenter, sit in the front row, not the back. Likewise, teachers will develop clicks with you more easily if they sit near you during staff meetings.
I clicked more freely with those teachers whose classrooms were near my office. That was because we had more opportunity for spontaneous, casual conversation compared with those on a different floor or farther from where I spent most of my time. To compensate, make sure you have a regular, equitable amount of contact with all your constituents in closer proximity to their work and learning space.
When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you reveal who you really are. Likewise, when you learn how to observe and read others’ psychological cues, you can identify and respond more effectively to their needs.
If a student or adult doesn’t smile, make eye contact, or socially interact freely, perhaps it’s because they feel unsafe. You might form a special click if you provide a gentle word of encouragement, a warm handshake, and special attention.
You can’t resonate or click with people if you aren’t intentionally focused on doing so. Put away things that might distract you, such as a cell phone, laptop, etc. Make eye contact, listen, ask good questions, and blend with and adapt to another’s rate of speech. Read others’ body language, and ensure that yours is appropriate and respectful of personal space.
Observe people who seem to be able to “work a room.” Learn from those observations.
Misery loves company. The challenges we mutually encounter provide opportunities to accentuate clicks.
When others see and feel your concern, empathy, determination to overcome adversity, and resolve to improve a toxic culture, you’ll click as part of a defined shared community focused on success.
Open individuals know some strategies that help them form a click—that magical moment when a connection forms that leads to better relationships, better results, and stronger teams. For more on this, I recommend two books that will positively influence your professional development—for yourself and your teachers: Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do, by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, and How to Click with People: The Secret to Better Relationships in Business and in Life, by Rick Kirschner.
The authors offer tips that will help both teachers and principals improve their ability to identify and develop the initial click, creating those special moments that develop and grow into incredible relationships. Their research emphasizes that you can choose to click, or not. Remember, you’ll click with people under these circumstances:
- They find you to be attractive. Groom and dress your best for success every day.
- They sense that you’re charismatic. Smile and strive to be charming.
- You show them respect. Learn others’ names and use them regularly. Addressing them by name is the first sign of recognition, acknowledgment, acceptance, and respect.
- They share your interests. Identify your similarities.
- You are willing to stand out from the crowd.
As a principal, you also need to click with your superintendent. To do this, try applying the concise little initiatives I’ve described. For example, at meetings, don’t sit in the back of the room or at the far end of the table (proximity). Identify shared interests (similarities). Recognize common challenges (environment) and respond with a smile, wink, or nod when the superintendent addresses sensitive topics (recognize vulnerabilities). These initiatives will help you resonate. They are important little ideas that will expand your leadership potential.