The Hidden Rules of Communication: How to Create a Lasting Impression

Vanessa Van Edwards

An interview with Vanessa Van Edwards, author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People and founder of Science of People.

By Ron Sandison

1. Share a humorous social awkward moment from your childhood.

In second grade I used to carry around a book of jokes. I didn’t have many friends and I really wanted to be funny. I had the idea that this would help me make friends. So, every day at recess when someone sat near me on a bench I would pull out my book of jokes and read them one. My favorite I still remember: Why was 6 afraid? Because 7, 8, 9.

2. How can you win the social game and standout?

By reading and understanding the hidden rules of behavior and communication, your goal in socializing is not to talk with every person in the room but to connect with people who share your common interests and values and make them feel important and valued. Take time to listen to others before sharing your ideas. Slowdown in conversation—there is an African proverb, “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

3. What inspired you to write your bestseller Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People and how can this book help people with autism who are socially awkward?

My wish to be better with people inspired me to write Captivate. I have been told by many readers with Asperger’s and autism have used my book and methods to break free of their own awkwardness. This is incredibly inspiring to me and pushes me to further my work and research.

4. How can young adults with autism make a killer first impression?

By first impression we decide if we like someone, if we trust someone, and if we want a relationship with someone within the first few seconds of meeting them. The power of our first impression lies not in what we say, but how we say it. The Triple Threat enables us to make a killer first impression by creating trust with our audience. Our hand gestures, posture and eye contact create the Triple Threat. Followed by our smile as the opening line.

First, using hand gestures in communication creates trust.

The most popular Ted Talkers used an average of 465 hand gestures in their presentations. Temple Grandin, Simon Sinek, and Jane McGonigal topped the hand gesture charts with over 600 gestures in their Ted Talks.

Researchers found that job candidates who use more hand gestures in their interviews are more likely to get hired. Since hand gestures have such an impact on first impressions, when you walk into a room or are waiting to meet someone, keep your hands out of your pockets. The easiest thing you can do to improve your first impression is to keep your hands visible.

Second, good body posture—back straight, expanded chest, and head tilt up—when you have good posture people view you as confident. I call this the Launch Stance:

. Keep your shoulders down and back
. Aim your chin, chest and forehead straight in front of you
. Keep space between your arms and torso
. Make sure your hands are visible

Third, eye contact—use eye contact to build trust—in the average conversation, people typically hold eye contact 61 percent of the time. Next time you’re talking to someone, try to objectively evaluate where you tend to fall on the spectrum. (Editor’s note: Eye contact can be very difficult for autistic people. See this blog post.)

Some things to keep in mind:

. Notice their eye color
. Don’t look over their head to scope out the scene
. Hold eye contact for 60 to 70 percent of the time

5. What does a great conversation consist of?

Great conversations has spark. In the brain, sparks are marked by dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when we feel pleasure and this greatly aids memory and information processing. When dopamine is released in our conversation we remember both the conversation and the individual or persons we were talking with.

You can create spark in conversations by asking fresh questions and pushing hot buttons. These hot buttons are topics, hobbies, or activities that lighten up the person you are talking with. You know you hit a hot button when their eyebrows raise or they say, “interesting!” Bingo! Try to talk more about that. We are attracted to people who give us mental pleasure, who push our hot buttons, keep us mentally alert, and learn our names. Make sure not to use social scripts. If you keep using social scripts, you will be stuck in small talk forever.

6. How can a young adult with autism break free from boring social script lines?

First, we have to break free from social scripts. The typical questions of “what do you do” and “where are you from?” are so boring! It keeps people in their typically socially scripted answers. I encourage you to use slightly more positive and exciting versions of these questions. My favorite is “Working on anything exciting recently?” or “Do you have anything exciting coming up next weekend?” These always get great answers—just make sure you have your own exciting answer ready to share.

Asking these kinds of questions (along with a strong handshake and eye contact) will help you make a great first impression and spark interesting conversations.

7. Why is it important to spark good feelings in a conversation?

Good feelings make us remember the conversation and the person. When people talk about themselves it gives them pleasure. You can get people talking about themselves by highlighting their strengths. Highlighting in conversations:

. Listen with purpose—always searching for good.
. Be the high point of every interaction by giving people a reason to remember you by making them feel good and want to be the best version of themselves.
. When you expect the worst, that’s exactly what you get so expect the best in people.

8. How can you avoid the “Not Me!” trap and replace it with the “Me too!”?

Once you are in conversation, your goal is to have as many “me too” moments as possible. This is when they share an answer or you share an answer and you find a commonality. This creates threads that tie you together. They build bonding and loyalty. When you are listening, try to find and highlight these moments. Say, “Oh I feel the same!” or “Me too!”

Ron Sandison

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website or email him at

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