Oprah Winfrey has an incredible talent for connecting with others. With over 37,000 interviews over the course of her five-decade career, she has never failed to build quick connections with everyone she has met. This was instrumental to honest, if not raw, conversations where people opened up to share their personal stories, thoughts, and ideas with Oprah — and the world.
Oprah’s ability to connect may be priceless, but for anyone in business, having a similar skill is worth millions.
The ability to quickly forge connections and build relationships is a key skill in business. The degree to which we have honed this skill is an indicator of our likelihood of success across many instances in life. It’s true in our personal lives, and it’s also the case in instances such as a manager making a promotion decision or an angel investor making a funding decision.
The good news is that it doesn’t mean you’re doomed if you lack that effortless charisma that some, like Oprah, seem to have. Because there’s something else Oprah has that can help everyone quickly connect with anyone: the “talk show trifecta.” This involves three wildly subtle tricks that anyone can use to psychologically lower walls and build strong connections.
Even with Oprah’s charismatic nature, which affects a cathartic vulnerability, she never stopped using the “talk show trifecta” to build a connection with everyone she interviews. The result is that she connects more quickly, more deeply, and more effectively with everyone she speaks with. And anyone can use them.
1. Reduce personal barriers by eliminating physical barriers
You’ll notice that there’s one thing missing in every Oprah interview: a barrier between her and her guest. Whether she has a guest on her set or she visits their home (where many interviews have been filmed), she never places physical barriers, such as a table, between her and the person she’s speaking with.
Though this may seem like a trivial detail, it has a major subconscious impact. What we may not realize is that subconsciously, having a physical barrier separating two people creates a psychological divide and leads people to be more guarded with one another. Remove the object and you effectively help remove their unconscious guards.
The result is that people are more open, interviewees beam with candor, and Oprah connects with her guests, helping them connect with her audience of millions.
2. Build a connection through Platonic touch
Talk show hosts almost always welcome their guests with a handshake or even a quick hug. But Oprah famously makes a habit of multiple Platonic touches throughout her segments. It’s through her multiple, friendly (if not motherly) touch-points that she helps to take down barriers and build connections.
Psychologically, physical touch is very powerful, according to the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley. That’s because there’s a lot of information that our subconscious mind receives from something as simple as physical touch, including a simple handshake, says the American Psychological Association. Even a pat on the back or a high-five can have positive effects on us psychologically.
Note that this isn’t easy, and there needs to be zero chance your touch could be considered anything other than Platonic. Oprah has a tendency to touch guests multiple times during interviews, but it helps that she’s, well, Oprah and on camera. There’s little to no chance for her touches to be considered anything but friendly. So while physical touch is very powerful, do limit it.
3. Give the other person your full attention
People are so distracted these days that it’s becoming increasingly rare to get someone’s full attention. When we do, we feel as though we are heard, understood, and appreciated. And when we get someone who is fully engaged, most will take the opportunity to also fully engage.
Oprah is a master in the art of active listening — a key leadership skill — and it is one of the techniques that helps her build connections very quickly. No matter who she is interviewing, she always acts as though they are the only people in the world. She maintains strong eye contact, faces towards the person, and leans into conversations.
By giving the other person her complete attention, she makes them feel heard, and more importantly, it makes them feel like what they have to say is important. In return, it leads them to speak more candidly.
Sure, building strong connections is easier said than done. But it’s also easier than many think. While our nerves can be our deep-seated enemy, everyone is thinking the same thing. In fact, Oprah says that everyone she interviews — including Beyoncé — asks the same three-word question. We all have reservations (if not fears) that can consume us when meeting new people, but if we can eliminate the physical and psychological barriers and be fully engaged, we can build strong connections quickly, just like Oprah.
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