Social Salsa

02/17/2015 10:52 am ET | Updated Apr 19, 2015
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Recently I spent a few weeks in California, partly for work but mostly intended for rest and relaxation and to celebrate my brother's 50th birthday. Throughout life, one of my absolutely most favorite activities has been meeting new people. To me, the world is a massive library and each person is a charming book waiting to be encountered, selected, read, understood and shared. Everyone has a story to tell and a lesson to impart, if you're willing to listen and unguarded enough to travel beyond the surface and sometimes superficial introductions.

I met many cool, complex, and kind people during this short trip, most of them leaving a unique lasting impression. But what I was greatly fascinated by was the way some special souls were like a breath of fresh air, having the ability to dance to the deepest aspects of our emotional and rational dimensions while others were like irritating intruders that were part of the environment, yet made no effort to connect or positively interact.

Being socially intelligent, or a master at Social Salsa as I like to call it, may be natural to some, but the good news is that the behaviors associated with leaving a likable impression can be identified, measured and learned -- so it's less about personality and more about a choice to put an effort into being a pleasant person that others enjoy being around and miss when absent.

So what are some of the traits of people who have a healthy level of self-awareness, 'get' others and dance into our hearts? Here are the most central Social Salsa steps:

• You may have just met them, but through their initial interaction, they give you the impression that you've known them for years because they're open and engaging and share aspects of their life openly and without reservation.

• They aren't afraid to initiate conversation.

• They don't strike a pose in the corner, acting aloof and unapproachable.

• They're as curious about you as you are about them.

• When in conversation, they listen with an open mind and heart, without interrupting.

• They remember details shared and will ask/follow up when you next see them.

• It's not only about them -- they give you a space to carve out and share who you are.

• They're dependable and genuine.

• They're secure and confident.

• They laugh with you, not at you.

• They may use sarcasms but in a witty way, not in a whipping way.

• They demonstrate compassion and empathy.

• They provide value to the group through their knowledge, experience or kindness.

• They are thorough, consistent and patient.

• They don't judge or jump to narrow minded conclusions.

• They agree and add to the conversation rather than constantly disagree with ideas and opinions.

• They go out of their way to engage in acts of kindness and generosity.

• They're conscious about including everyone present so that people don't feel ignored or left out.
• They present information without needing to persuade.

• They have an accurate pulse of the environment, understanding differences amongst people.

• There's something different about them. Perhaps a unique hobby or way of life which they enjoy talking about.

• They are emotionally intelligent, upholding a balanced composure, regardless of what's going on around them.

• They compliment more, criticize less and express gratitude willingly.

• They don't get defensive and are open to constructive criticism.

• They are loyal to family and friends through words and action.

• They don't demote your opinion/principles/preferences to promote their own. Instead of saying, 'forget Paris, it's a drag! You need to go to Rome to enjoy a great city.' They would say, 'Paris is wonderful, but I think you'd also enjoy Rome.'

• They may use appropriate touch as a way to show closeness and kindness.

• They commit and deliver on promises made.

• They are enthusiastic and excited when engaging in present activities and about future plans. Not like a wet blanket on your soul.

We have the ability and need to communicate and connect; after all we're social beings and as Aristotle said, 'Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.' However that doesn't mean we should stop learning and developing as social participants. Most people plateau at the basics of interpersonal communication, which is likely to be the cause of poor relationships, misunderstandings, shallow associations and loneliness.

Like dancing, in conversation we may sometimes talk off rhythm, be awkward, miss certain steps, respond tastelessly, steal the lead too soon, step on toes, be too stiff or compete when we should be collaborating. So don't just stop at being a Social Salsa beginner; advance your moves to higher levels so that you can inspire and impress others by connecting to them in a more pleasurable way.

Remember, learning more is living more. Over to you...