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How to Be Popular

Photo by Lucia Holm

Over the past few days, I’ve attended a few social gatherings at which my interactions with other people provided me with a few new revelations. During these interactions I started to notice a peculiar social pattern; that a significant percentage of people are not that good at being social.

After one particular dinner engagement with my partner and another couple, I went home feeling completely uninspired and insignificant. Even after having spent 2 hours with this couple, I am fairly certain they still don’t know anything about me aside from the obvious surface details; my name is Tina, I am Asian and I live in Seattle. They have no idea what I do for a living, what my expertise is, how I spend my time, or where I am from. They were either completely uninterested in me, or they just have underdeveloped social skills.

Later, when I was analyzing the dinner engagement situation, I started to realize why I avoid spending time with certain people in my life, even some friends whom I like and respect. The answer is – they focus too much on themselves, and show a lack of interest in me.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If someone doesn’t show any interest in you, why would you want to spend any of your precious time with them? I’m sure there are countless other things you would rather be doing.

I have a friend whom, despite her many outstanding qualities, will derail a social gathering by talking about herself the entire night without directing a single question to anyone else around the table. She dominates the table’s conversation by constantly initiating topics that revolve back to the theme of how brilliant she is. It actually is true, she really is brilliant. However, this gets annoying really quickly and obviously makes the others around the table very uncomfortable. It also has the net result of her getting left off of future engagement invites.

The interesting lesson here is that by observing how the behavior of others make us feel, we can tweak and improve our own social skill set. In this way, we can ensure that people leave their interactions with us feeling great, and looking forward to the next time we connect. Just imagine if all meetings ended like this, wouldn’t they also be more enjoyable for us?

Why Should We Care About Being Liked?

Being likable isn’t just a quality that some of us are lucky enough to be born with, but a learnable skill that is necessary for survival. In cavemen days, if you didn’t get along with your peers, you would either become an outcast and risk being eaten by a tiger, or they might have simply just smashed your head against a rock.

In this day and age, being likeable has huge advantages: the joy of genuine friendship, help and support from other people, personal favors, professional perks, job advancements, and believe it or not – a statistically lowered chance of being sued.

Professionally, being a friendly and likable person is vital to your success. In the workplace, you can forget about equality, in the sense that, people are usually bias towards people they like, not necessarily towards people who are better at their jobs. If you have a corporate job, think of the last time you did your year-end peer reviews. Did you not consciously or unconsciously make a co-worker whom you liked sound particularly good or maybe even better than they actually are? And if there was a co-worker you didn’t like on a personal level, did you not find yourself being extra critical of them on their professional evaluation? I’ll be honest and say that I have been swayed in both of these directions.

The same is true with a manager’s view of his or her employees. Yeah, they speak of equality and fairness, but when it comes down to it, how much they like people on a personal level will tend to ‘color’ their perspective on a person’s professional capabilities and accomplishments.

Put yourself in the position of a hiring manager. Let’s say you’ve narrowed a pool of candidates down to two individuals who are identical in experience, skill, education, etc. and the only difference between the two is that you find one to be more likable than the other. Which one are you more likely to hire? Obviously, you hire the one that is a better “culture fit”, which is an HR term for “more likable”.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Blink“, medical patients are a lot less likely to sue a doctor for a malpractice injury due to negligence if they like the doctor. Shocking, but it makes sense. Here’s a snippet from the book:

“Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care and something else happened to them. What is that something else? It’s how they were treated, on a personal level, by their doctor. What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly. ‘People just don’t sue doctors they like,’ is how Alice Burkin, a leading medical malpractice lawyer, puts it.”

It sounds backwards, I know, but in some professional situations, your social skills matter even more than your technical skills.

Tips for Being Popular

After carefully analyzing the social skills of individuals whose company I enjoy versus those I don’t enjoy as much, I came up with a few simple points that the first group was overwhelmingly better at compared to the second group.

Even though some people are natural born leaders and attract others to themselves through their undeniable charisma, it doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to be left in the dust. The following techniques are learnable, and as long as we are aware of them and are willing to improve, they can help us in becoming that person that people enjoy interacting with.

  • Ask Questions – People love talking about themselves (myself included). Have you noticed that some people are really great at listening and asking probing questions, and that an hour can pass before you notice that they’ve had you talking about yourself the entire time? Have you ever noticed how you start to feel an unexplainable fondness towards this kind of conversationalist? Use this technique yourself and ask questions to learn about the other person you are engaging with. If they are a new acquaintance, ask simple questions about their experiences and living arrangements. And if they are a close friend, ask for updates on things going on in their lives. Referring back to details from your previous conversations shows that you have been listening, and that you care enough about the person to remember them.
  • Be Interested – Look for things about the other person that you find interesting or different and ask them questions about these things. When we find qualities or experiences about other people that make us curious, we can’t help but to look interested. Direct the conversation towards topics you are interested in by asking open ended questions about that topic. This will draw the other person in without feeling like you’ve just hijacked the topic.
  • Authenticity – Be yourself, but not completely focused and absorbed with yourself. We are all incredibly sharp at picking up unauthentic remarks and gestures.  Once we do, trust is damaged and we start to guard ourselves from the other person.
  • “The 10 Second Rule” – It can sometimes be painful to have to wait until someone finishes a sentence. I’m a natural interrupter, and it conflicts with my desire of becoming a better listener. So, to avoid interrupting, or even jumping in immediately after the person takes a quick breathe of air (when they actually have more to say), I use the 10 second rule. I will count to 10 slowly in my mind when the person takes a pause. You’d be surprised how much people open up when you give them enough space to speak. In reality, I actually use the 30 second rule, but started with 10 and moved to 30 with some practice.
  • Be Friendly – Happy, warm, and friendly people make us feel good. You can’t help but to like them. When the situation is appropriate, give people hugs, smile widely at them, and show that you are happy to see them.
  • Connect on Commonalities – We all like people who are like us, or people who possess qualities that we want. Every close friendship has some form of commonality that the individuals share and that bounds them together. When you’re interacting with people, look for commonalities you share, a hobby, an interest, a habit, professions, cities lived in, books read, etc. and then ask them questions about it.
  • Look at Them When Speaking – This may sound obvious to some, but you’d be surprised how many people do not look at the person they are talking with. The worst you can do is to look around the room when someone is talking to you – it’s disrespectful and very discouraging for the speaker. It says to the speaker, “I’m really not interested”.
  • Remembering NamesRemember people’s names and use their name when you speak to them, but don’t overuse it. Whenever meeting someone new, I will repeat their name in my head until I get a chance to store it in my phone when they are not looking. I keep a notepad file in the phone for this purpose. Interestingly, usually by the time the name is recorded in my phone, I’ve already remembered their names through the repetition prior to recording.
  • Be Helpful – Look for opportunities to help other people. If your friend is planning a wedding or moving to a new house, ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Offer your help and let them know that you are there to support them when they need it.
  • Be Open – True friendship and intimacy, in any relationship, is built upon mutual acceptance and understanding. But sometimes, due to differences in personal values (ie. religion), people close themselves off from trying to understand others who are different from themselves. This can cause a tremendous amount of conflict and pain, especially amongst family members. If you find yourself at a point at which you disagree with another person’s values, practice compassion and openness. Accept that person and support them regardless of your differences.

* Which qualities do you notice in the people you like? Got any tips for developing better people skills? Share your thoughts and other ideas with us in the comment section. See you there!

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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86 thoughts on How to Be Popular

  1. I really liked the 10 to 30 second rule. I sometimes feel like I have a lot more to say, when people start talking about their ideas… and it’s usually hard to backtrack and say the original thoughts after we’ve moved on. That’s why I like having conversations with my boyfriend, who tends to listen very intently. :)

    Some of my tips include:
    Even though you don’t agree with someone, you should at least acknowledge their feelings, and let them know that they are accepted. Sometimes people just mow over other people’s opinions or feelings, without letting them know that they are allowed to having such an opinion.

    Hope that helps! I loved this one, it’s so important. I’ve seen it in action for jobs and interviews countless times.

  2. i really loved this! thank you!

  3. I always ask questions, and somehow, when I run out of questions, it all becomes awkward. And I realize I don’t seem to like to talk about myself at all… Any suggestions?

  4. Susan

    This is a great post! It really rings true.

  5. Mark

    Social events such the Museum of Flight? :)

    I find that I naturally have a “10 second rule”, but it doesn’t work as intended in group settings, because everyone else follows the “0.1 second rule!” I’m also guilty of running out of questions too fast.

  6. Sheena

    I definitely talk a lot, but I am aware of it. When I catch myself in the act I always try and direct the conversation by asking questions of others. I think I will definitely give the 10 second rule a shot. By the way, I stumbled upon your blog yesterday and I think it is great! Thank you!

  7. Kate

    This post perfectly expresses why I’ve become disenchanted with certain groups of friends over the past year. I’m so tired of spending time with self-absorbed people. I wish I was brave enough to send them over here :)

    Not that I’m perfect – the 10 Second Rule is one I need to practice following, definitely.

  8. @mavis

    I think you should focus on becoming more comfortable with talking about yourself. A conversation is a two-way street and the situation you’re describing might just be the other person picking up on the vibe of your uneasiness with talking about yourself, hence no questions coming back at you.

  9. Hi Tina,
    I enjoyed your post.

    I’m a corporate manager and I confirm you that for me it’s also true that I’m more prone to choose a person with which I interact more easily.

    Altough the questions which I post are:

    Is it correct to act so ?

    Is it only due our laziness that whe act so or has it also objective pros ?

    As a manager shouldn’t we only look at the objective results that person brings ?

    Or are the social skills, as long as they’re so hardly be measurable, beeing overlooked ?

    Looking forward for your answers


  10. Hmmm…. does the 10/30 second rule actually work well?

    I don’t know… ‘cos usually I just rely on my sensory acuity for this (you more or less know when a person has stopped speaking). Sometimes long pauses can be pretty awkward…

    I guess it’s not so much a 10 or 30 second rule… rather I feel that frequent interactions would help one to better calibrate and hone his/her social skills…

  11. Hi Tina,

    There is nothing more annoying than someone who just keep talking about themselves for the whole night. Great communicators are great listener instead of speaker.

    Personal Development Blogger

  12. @Alexander

    Yes, it is difficult to quantify the social skills in a formal corporate review setting. But it doesn’t mean that it is not important, or any less objective than technical skill sets required for a job.

    An employee could have outstanding technical smarts, but have terrible communication or people skills. This can make them less effective in a team setting, or even make it difficult for other people to work with them.

    So in a way, we really cannot single out any one of these competencies (technical vs. interpersonal) and look at it in isolation.


  13. @Mark

    Were you at the Museum of Flight? How come you didn’t come up to say hi? :)

    That event wasn’t too bad. Amazonians tend to have interpersonal skills (many of them anyways).

    You said, “I’m also guilty of running out of questions too fast.”

    I should add that we don’t need to carry on long conversations with everyone, just people we care to learn more about, or family. And there’s this dynamic of energy, where if the other person is feeling awkward, we could feel it, and that affects how we communicate with them.

    I agree that it can get challenging in a group setting. I’m pretty quiet in those settings. I do much better engaging in one-to-one conversations.

    And sometimes, people are just not interested in answering questions. So there are settle clues that we have to pick up and adapt accordingly.

    In any event, I think if you really wanted to, you could make someone talk for hours. I’m sure. :)

  14. These are definitely great tips and I think they work in a lot more than just social settings. For example, I teach English as a second language and a lot of the things on this list are exactly what I think makes a good ESL teacher – many of them make a good impression on students, like showing an interest and asking questions about their lives and cultures, remembering names (especially difficult foreign ones), and connecting on commonalities. And obviously when you’re talking to people who use English as a second language, the 10 (or 30 … or 60!) second rule is definitely a good one as they might need longer to translate their thought into an English sentence.

  15. Mark

    Absolutely, all depends on the situation. :)

    Yep, I was at the party on Saturday. But you’re talking to Mr. Shy With Strangers, so, it probably felt silly to start a conversation with, “hey, are you from the Internet? Me too!” :)

    Anyway, I’ve only been following your site for a couple of months, but I enjoy your writing!

  16. Dori

    Great post! and we are on the same page right now. I have also been noticing more my interactions with other people and trying to take their negatives and turn them into positives for myself. Just this weekend I walked away from a conversation with someone who wouldn’t let me get a word in and kept describing her worries and complaining about different things in relation to her kids (and bragging as well). It was just so negative and such a downer. I have kids too and I just kept thinking….I have to remember to not complain so much to other people or express my silly worries.

  17. I am constantly amazed that when you give people enough room, they will fill it with something about themselves. The hardest thing I have had to fight against is the “one up” response. I like the 10 second (or 30 second) suggestion. What a great way to slow down and give people more room.

  18. Dhananjay

    Hi,I liked this article so much that I joined the face book fan club and also opened an account in Delicious site just for this and now I am going to give it my digg also.Thank you very much for writing something so simple and yet so powerful.

  19. I love the 10-second rule idea! I’m totally an interrupter jones, too. And yes, it’s *so* painful sometimes to wait to talk.

    I have a question. Sometimes I find that other people are so good at the asking questions thing that I spend a lot of time talking about myself in answering those questions. I try to end my statement by asking, “How about you?” or something similar, but sometimes it comes off as deflecting away from me. Thoughts?

  20. I must say those are some excellent tips, Tina. I have a tendency to dominate conversations. Butting in is a nasty habit that I still struggle with. I’ll just have to remember, “10 seconds, Eric, you can do it. Just 10 seconds.” :-) Eric

  21. @Holly Hoffman

    I have a question. Sometimes I find that other people are so good at the asking questions thing that I spend a lot of time talking about myself in answering those questions. I try to end my statement by asking, “How about you?” or something similar, but sometimes it comes off as deflecting away from me. Thoughts?

    There are no perfect answers, because there are so many variables. Everyone is struggling with their own social, interpersonal and communication skills.

    I experienced this with a girlfriend a few weeks ago. She asked great questions, but every time I took a small pause, she would jump in and quickly asks another question. I was frankly getting tired of speaking and wanted to eat my meal.

    Anyways, if you answer their question completely and are not rushing yourself, I think it’s perfectly fine to end with “How about you?”. That’s not really deflecting, since you’ve said all there is to a question. If the other person doesn’t give you a few seconds, than you’d have to quickly add that before taking a pause.

    Alternatively, you could be totally authentic and say, “Oh gosh, I’ve been talking about myself this whole time, I want to learn more about you. Tell me about your life is like?” :)

  22. I love the idea of the 10 second rule.

    Stumbled. ;-)

  23. Sara

    I have a certain friend who has major social anxiety. Ironically she’s very social and has lots of acquaintances and social friends in the community. But she always drags me to parties as her crutch, where she proceeds to be shy, ignore most people, only talk to those whom she knows, and my biggest pet peeve, never introduces me! She’ll talk to the one person she knows best for 10 minutes before I finally have to interrupt and say, “Hi, I’m Sara…” I love her but it drives me so crazy I don’t want to go out with her anymore. She’s very sensitive so I’m not sure how to tell her. She always acts embarrassed and notices when I introduce myself, yet she doesn’t change. So frustrating! Ok, Tina, thanks for letting me vent. I just made this all about me, uh oh. ;) Great post, and it strikes a chord…how refreshed do we all feel when we meet someone at an outing who has great manners and knows how to be social?

  24. Hi Tina,

    The book you refer to (How to Win Friends and Influence People) is one of Dale Carnegie’s greatest works. I remember a specific story where Carnegie attends an evening event and has this conversation with one person that lasts for hours. He had one thing in mind – to listen.

    He didn’t say much of a word during the whole night and the person he was speaking with just thought he was such an amazing person by the end of the evening.

    You’ve got two ears and one mouth, so you may as well listen twice as much as you talk.

    I’ve written on this topic before:

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