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The Secret to Improving Your Student’s Confidence and Network

The gleaming lights of the Apple store cascade above all other stores. The promise of cutting-edge tech and a near cult-following give Apple an advantage, but the unsung hero of their success is their culture, particularly their staff. Every customer who walks into the Apple store is bombarded with smiling faces, cheerful greetings, and action-oriented service. This is thanks to, you guessed it, the 10-foot rule. That is, whenever an employee comes within 10 feet of a customer, the employee greets the person with a cheerful hello, or simply makes eye contact, smiles, and nods his or her head. Recognition is powerful, and we don’t get enough of it in the age of cell phones and wearable tech. The secret of Apple’s customer service is also the secret to effective impression management. Students can adapt this 10-foot rule to any environment for better connections, better first impressions, and more social capital.

If you dare, walk through a high school or college campus and try to make eye contact with someone under twenty-five… it’s near impossible. Every eye on campus is glued to anything but human beings. As concerning as this phenomenon is, it creates an opportunity for those students trained in the art of impression management. Any student who looks up, smiles, nods, makes eye contact, takes a big risk and utters a simple “good morning” is miles ahead of the game. It’s so easy and so rewarding to acknowledge the other human beings around you. Let’s talk through some of the benefits.

First, students who practice the 10-foot rule have better connections with peers, teachers, campus visitors, board members, janitors, college admissions reps, and so on. I like to remind my students that they have no idea who is on campus that day and what influence they have. In high school, I saw this awkward-looking man milling about in the hallway before class. He was leaning up against the wall, trying to blend in with a sea of ego-driven high school boys. I met his gaze and offered my firmest nod. To my surprise, he sauntered over to me, stuck out his hand, and explained who he was. It turns out he was the newest (and youngest) board member. He wanted to spend the day with a student and get to know the school a bit better. He followed me from class to class, ate lunch with my friends, and allowed me to usher him back to the administration building where his “de-brief meeting” would be held. He thanked me kindly, and I turned for the stairs as he walked into the glass-walled conference room. When my foot hit the fourth step, I heard my name and whipped back around. He invited me to join the meeting. Imagine a 16-year-old student in a high school board meeting, advising on agenda and budget issues. It was glorious, and all because I dared to apply the 10-foot rule. In short, better connections mean better opportunities, which leads me to my second point.

“10-footers” build more social capital than “non-10-footers”. Social capital, a crucial component of our unique executive functioning skill program, is the aggregation of quantity and quality of relationships. There’s a quote from Maya Angelou that goes, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.” “Wall-flies” and “too cool for schoolers” don’t make people feel welcome. They make people feel out of place, intimidated, or, at worst, threatened. “10-footers,” on the other hand, make people feel welcomed, valued, and confident. Being the bright, welcoming, smiling face automatically boosts social capital for “10-footers.” When they ask to borrow a pen from a student that sits next to them in chemistry class, the answer is yes. When they have to ask for an extension on the English paper because of a family emergency, the answer is yes. Teachers volunteer to write recommendation letters for them. Students volunteer to help them. It’s a magical method of passive investment in social capital.

Lastly, I want to address another crucial component of impression management: confidence. I tell students that confidence is a muscle that can be developed over time with progressive overload. Progressive overload is the theory behind every strength and endurance training program. The idea is simple: add just a bit more weight this time, so your muscle breaks down and builds back stronger. Even if it’s a 1% improvement, that improvement compounds over time. The tricky part is finding a 1% booster that is easy, obvious, repeatable, and rewarding. For me, push-ups fit the bill in the physical realm. Push-ups are scalable. They can be modified for any skill level. Most importantly, I have the opportunity to do push-ups hundreds of times a day. For a 1% confidence booster, nothing works better than the 10-foot rule. If your student is on the shy side, the 10-foot rule is modifiable. Tell them, “you don’t need to introduce yourself yet if you are uncomfortable, but you can smile, right? Can you meet their gaze? Can you nod?” All we’re looking for is a 1% improvement.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please encourage your student to test drive some of these ideas and let us know the results. Nothing brightens the mood in our office like a student success story. It’s our mission and our mantra.

For more ideas on impression management, confidence, and skill-building, please check out our other posts. If you think your child would benefit from one-on-one support, reach out to our office today to learn more.

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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