Learn to listen by spreading rumors
People long to be heard and understood, especially in their most emotional moments. Professional hostage negotiators understand this need so much that many have a rule for it: Talk only 20 percent of the time, listen 80 percent of the time. The better you can learn to listen, the more people will want to share with you—and fortunate for us all, active listening is one of the most fun skills you can build. Here’s a group listening game that comes from improv comedy (a pastime, like negotiation, that’s built on trust and hearing). Make a circle of three or more people. Turn to the person on your left and make up an outlandish rumor—something like, “Hey, I just heard that Beyoncé is a man!” Now the listener’s job is to first validate your rumor, and then add to it: “Yes, I heard that too! I also heard that Jay-Z is two men.” The initial listener now becomes the speaker, and spreads a new rumor to the person on his left (and so forth until you get bored or tired). This game is doubly-awesome because its success relies only on active listening and positive validation, two fundamentals of both improv comedy and strong relationships. (Related: Here are the most trusted companies in America.)
Unveil personality with two truths and a lie
Don’t be fooled by the “lie” in this game’s name: the classic classroom ice-breaker is all about establishing common ground, which is a crucial foundation for building empathy and deeper, trusting relationships. If you’ve never played, it won’t take you long to learn: Simply make three statements about yourself: two true, one false—then challenge the other players to guess which is the lie. In a way, Two Truths and a Lie is like Small Talk: The Game, which is part of the beauty of it; unlike the average conversation, this game puts all participants on an equal playing field. Everyone playing must share an equal amount of information about themselves and, more importantly, must be honest with each other for the game to work. We already know that small talk goes a long way in building relationships—so, why not what speed things along for everyone by trading the truth right away? (Related: Here are the seven magic phrases that move any conversation forward.)
Share and share alike with FarmVille
Hey, I’ll water your crops if you feed my pig. Sound fair? Good. The idea of reciprocity—“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”—lies at the core of social games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars. Players ask favors of each other in the pursuit of shared goals, which researchers believe lead to feelings of trust and responsibility between players. Even better: free, in-game acts of kindness can translate to real-world feelings of trust, more out-of-game communication, and greater likelihood that players will help each other out in real-life situations. This is just one of the many incredible benefits of video games on your brain.
Synchronize goals with 30 seconds of mimicry
It’s time to take this relationship to the next level: I’m literally going to scratch your back while you scratch mine. Try and copy my hand movements exactly, scratching the same spot on my back that I scratch on yours. This exercise is not so much about reciprocity as it is about synchronization: two or more people, mirroring each other’s actions in order to better understand each other. Suddenly, an individual experience becomes a shared experience, and empathy grows. Mirroring like this happens in hundreds of invisible ways every day: We match our best friend’s gait when we walk together; a mother’s heartbeat synchronizes with her newborn’s as she holds him; a crowd of fans watching sports together makes the same facial expression when their team scores. To simulate the power of synchronization without getting too touchy-feely, pick a partner and play a 30-second mirror game. For half a minute, stand up and move your limbs around in slow, unpredictable motions while the other person tries to mimic you exactly. When 30 seconds are up, switch roles and try to mirror them. Push through the awkwardness (that’s part of the shared experience) and you will find yourselves suddenly much more at ease with one another. If not, try again after one of these magic phrases that instantly build trust.
Set your hormones to ‘trust’ with free falls, blind leads, and high-fives
If you have ever been to summer camp, couple’s counseling, or an insufferable corporate offsite, chances are you have been asked to perform a trust fall. The idea is trust reduced to an art: One person, the faller, crosses her arms over her chest, closes her eyes, and falls backward into the waiting arms of one or more catchers. The thinking is that if the faller trusts her catchers, she will fall freely, not attempting to right herself in midair (note: this only works if both people know how to play the game). And while this game does indeed help build trust by forcing reciprocity between the faller and catchers, there is another, simpler element you can steal for your own trust-building arsenal: physical touch. Studies have shown it only takes as little as six seconds of touch between two people to increase the release of oxytocin (sometimes called the “trust hormone” or “cuddle hormone”) in both persons’ bloodstreams. The effect is easy to achieve with high-fiving and hand-shaking, or with a game the Improv Encyclopedia calls “fingertips”: Touch all ten fingertips to a partner’s, then have her close her eyes. Lead your “blind” partner around some obstacles, keeping constant fingertip contact. After a minute, switch roles. Feel ridiculous together. Trust more.