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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. Coming away from a social gathering should make you, and everyone involved, feel good. Nothing is worse than leaving and feeling insecure and unpleasant. Polishing social skills is always good, thanks for the reminder!

  2. Hi Tina

    Having been looking at introversion/extroversion deeply of late, I think that unfortunately our social norms are more geared to being extroverted.

    I think that it is sometimes difficult for an introvert’s positive qualities and ability to share to shine through in our environment.

    I feel that one needs to be open to people’s different ways of communicating and connecting.


  3. Great post and topic.

    Hmmm, maybe it comes down to simple return on investment (ROI). If I want people to be interested in me, I need to be interested in them. Ask them questions about themselves and “maybe,” in return, they’ll ask about me. If they don’t, that’s OK too. If someone is not interested in me as a spiritual being then maybe I should not waste time trying to get to know them. However, I can ALWAYS learn something from anyone! If I just start out by constantly talking about myself (after all, I’m not much but I’m all I think about), there’s still only a slight chance they will even care. However, if I ask them about themselves first, then they ask about me, well I’ve been more efficient really. I think… haven’t I…

    “One upping” is one way I can tell when I’m being selfish or self-centered in a conversation. If I find myself waiting for my chance to speak as opposed to listening, I’m being selfish. My brain works really fast, at least compared to my last one. Sometimes I have a thought come in while someone is talking that I think they just HAVE to hear. It’s going to completely change their life and they’re going to worship me after they hear what I have to say. That’s when I remind myself I’m being selfish, that if its “that” important it will come back to me. So I let it go and go back to listening. Usually this happens so fast I only miss a few words of the conversation.

    I’m also having a hard time at the moment remembering names. This ability comes and goes so I try not to be too hard on myself about it. This also reminds I’m conversing selfishly, worried about how I look, or just plain not paying attention.

  4. I bowl with a group of women, it has occurred to me recently they really don’t give a fig about me as a person. I didn’t feel well for a couple months, my sisters were pushing me to go to the doctor. My bowling friends were more concerned that I wasn’t drinking beer.

  5. Tinu, Luv the question “Should we care about being liked?”

    The logical answer is no, but our emotional being doesn’t always allow that!
    Also what others think holds us back often

  6. I’ve made the same observations too. In social gatherings, I find that I’m the one asking questions and interested in what the other person is doing. But it is seldom the other way round. After the gatherings, invariably, I will have information about the other party but realized that the other party has not asked me anything about myself.

    Also, since I find it difficult sometimes to physically explain to strangers what I do, I just don’t bother with volunteering any info. I bet I am not doing things right because I “ought” to be also marketing myself or my sites in the offline world.

  7. What Evelyn has written resonates with me too and I have just decided to rejoin the offline world.

    it is worthwhile, I went to a toastmaster meeting on Wednesday and there were several people who were very interested in what I do will join a discussion group I am setting up- a good start I thought. I would take the “ought” and only do it if it is fun and makes you happy. I came home happy, reassured and had a great confidence boost about my speaking skills- which i felt were very rusty, need some oiling.

  8. Tina, you touch here such an important point. Many people are ego-centered; no, maybe they are not bad people, but, yes, ego-centered. So you barely exist if you don’t follow their “rules”, they don’t listen to what you have to say, they always want to be superior.

    But we are people, we are not numbers. Your post is rich in ideas… We go to so many places to meet people. And it would be wonderful to be enriched anytime we interactuate with them. But very few are willing to listen.

    And in Internet it is the same. Please, we are people. We all must learn to listen properly, every day. Most people are wonderful people and deserve respect.

    There are some posts which make reflect. Yours is one of them. Thanks, Tina.

    Juan Bielsa.

  9. Great points–I especially like the idea of remembering to use people’s names. I’m always impressed when someone I don’t know very well remembers my name.

  10. Jenna

    I don’t think it really means people have bad social skills if they don’t act interested in other people
    take it from someone with a boat load of social anxiety and panic attacks.
    i’m lucky if i can even talk to someone for ten seconds

  11. Gil

    I have a genuine interest in helping people change the world think about our world. My job involves a great deal of acrobatic balancing and knife throwing discourse on science, religion, philosophy, and one other equally important but more difficult subject — comedy. I say what needs to be said then slowly walk away. If someone is intelligent and/or crazy enough to actually listen to me, then by God, that’s more than enough for me.

    My following on Facebook consist of only two die-hard fans: my mom and my 9 year old son. The rest, I can truly say, are genuine friends who stay just for the heck of it. Then again, maybe they really care. I once tempted them to leave with a coupon for a free cheeseburger. Nobody took the offer. I would if I were them. I love myself but i also love Burger King Whoppers.

  12. Hi Tina,
    These are truly great tips.
    Insensibly, I still do things such you mentioned above like do not look at the person I am talking with.
    Thanks for reminding, Tina.

  13. @mavis
    I would suggest when asking questions, to listen for areas/interests you have in common. Conversation may be easier and less awkward if you find something to discuss you’re passionate about. Additionally, silence is not a bad thing. I used to feel responsible for the silence in any conversation, like even on the elevator! My inner critic tells me they’re looking at the back of my head… hope my hair looks ok… but as my self-esteem and self-worth improves, I’ve come to enjoy the silence. I was making it awkward.

  14. A very enjoyable and useful post. Thanks.

    Reminded me of my ‘youth’ (I’m not an’ ol’ codger now mind you) when I was much more concerned about being accepted and liked. I had two very good friends, both very insightful women, who noticed this and remarked gently about it.

    Eventually I sat down and considered ‘What do I want?’ and ‘Just how much do I like myself.’ I put the logical, reasoning part of me to rest for this and allowed whatever turned up in my mind, to turn up…

    It was cool. I realised that whatever other people thought of me, didnt alter the fact that I’m a unique human being (as is everyone else) and this ‘life’ is mine to share as I will, with whoever I will. I’m the most important person in my life. When I’m gone I can’t experience it any longer. I relaxed better at that moment than I had for years.

    I also want to say ‘thank you’ for a post you have on problogger. I read it recently after beginning my first blog. I was wondering how to do what I was only imagining can be possible. Your post is very inspiring and the warm regard for both your own work and that of others is obvious. Wishing you all the best!


  15. Andy

    Hey Tina,

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now, but I’ve never posted a comment… I’m not really sure what to say, so I’ll just say.. thanks.

    Your posts have helped me organize my thoughts into actions. When I started to read your blog, I was working for a large company. Stress was a part of my everyday life (mostly due to a conflict at work w/ my management, and also due to not having a creative outlet). I felt trapped and worked up.

    Now, I’m working for myself doing IT consulting. Things couldn’t be any better. I’m starting to write (privately for now) to journal my experiences through this big transition in my life. I hope to be an inspiration to the folks I encounter, as you were to me.

    This post validates what I’ve encountered over the past couple of weeks while I’ve been out networking with people. Most people have at least one negative social trait that they can work on. For me, I need to work on interrupting people less. I’ll definitely work on the 10 second rule.

    Anywho, thanks again!

  16. It’s like the modern day How to Win Friends. I love it! I have found that probably the single biggest thing that enhances every interaction is the simply SMILE. It works wonders and we all have the tool!

    One thing I realized a while back that helped me was the following: The quality of your relationships is a direct representation of your level of GENUINE energy and excitement for others’ goals and dreams.

    That has taken me a long way.

    Thanks Tina!

  17. Terrific guide. Eye contact is important, but difficult for those of us are either really shy, or really observant. My lazy eyed friends are cool and all, but I rarely give them my full attention when speaking.

  18. Wonderful post, I have just found this site. I am glad you brought up ‘be interested’. My mantra for social engagements is ‘To be interesting, be interested’.

    The most interesting person at the party is one who just tilts their head and listens. Afterwards you think, ‘I can’t even remember what they said they do?’

  19. I totally agree with this article on “ALL” points. I’ve seen too many people who lacks social skills (I was before).

    There are heaps of benefits when your social skills are up to par. You don’t have to be Mr/Ms popular. Doors open when you have some social skills. It’ll change your life. In fact, I personally think it is most important aspect in self improvement.

  20. sincerely i hav to start from the tip 1.Eventhough I found these steps myself earlier, failed to bring them in action ,may be due to lack of inspiration.But,now i feel that tina is side to me and talking to me which i cannot stop listening to …

    sorry yaar iam talking about myselfff..errrrrrrr..

    hei readers i wish this article is very helpful for all of us

    “i like u all”……………………..kanha

  21. I love this article! Sometimes I get too excited that I realized that I have been the one who did the talking all the time. I learned to listen more and asked questions to get to know the other party. However, I like to say that sometimes some people are very closed up in the first meeting. Like you said, they might be new too and possess underdeveloped social skill.

  22. Kery

    Those were great tips and obviously well-researched. You even recommended the classic and valuable Dale Carnegie. Well done!

    Just a personal note to add that perhaps a few fellow readers can identify themselves with. One thing I can do better at is listening and asking questions, and I have found that simple calmness really helps in doing that. But it’s amazing how quickly that calmness can be derailed.

    Too many people I know, through their work or their life situation are wired. I mean that even when they should be at rest and relaxed, they’re not and that can quickly affect ourselves if we’re trying to respectfully communicate with them. The key is, I think, to put ourselves among other people who are more like ourselves, or who at least can relax. (Difficult in this part of Europe as many people here, nice people, are well on their way to becoming workaholics. It is new to them and little do they understand where they are headed.) I suppose, there is also the example effect; I am always hopeful that maybe they will notice that I am calm and wonder why. I have always remembered with great fondness the calm people in my life and I think I have learned from their calm example.

  23. I’m naturally polite (LOL) and i do wait for a person to finish speaking.. I mean, even when I speak and someone interrupts me, I let them continue. I wonder, what do you guys do when someone interrupts you while speaking – do you interrupt back?

  24. Yes people like people who like them
    Even before being liked, at least the other person can learn a sign of self-respect is to respect others and a reliable way to do that is to ask the other person a question that enables them to talk about something that matters to them. The rare thing is to ask a follow-up question related to the part of what they said that they seemed to feel most strongly about on the topic.

    In addition to the wonderful insights and tips you offered is to find the sweet spot of mutual interest, speak to it and see how the conversation can flourish for you both.
    (I am so grateful that someone in my audience told me about your thoughtful blog!) – another new fan

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