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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. Hi Tina,

    You are quite right in that being social is a skill that needs effort and technique to be successful. I believe that, sometimes, we just lack the time and opportunity to speak deeply with people, and so when we get the chance, we just get weird and speak all about ourselves.

    Often I find myself doing exactly that and, do you know what? It requires discipline to stop and ask the other person about his or her needs.

  2. CSJ

    Its amazing reading this blog, it has highlighted all of my HORRIBLE faults, and now I’m realising that maybe a softer approach to my conversational skills is required ;-). The one up approach is in my head all the time, I guess I need to over compensate for something (probably lack of education), but its never really held me back socially. Its just that the common points to this blog have made me more aware now, of where I was going wrong. Made for an excellent 5 min read, and something I’ll blog about in the future no doubt, thanks.
    CSJ @ID7

  3. What a great write-up! Thanks!

  4. Shannon – you had a question about interrupting people who interrupt you.. When they’re close friends/brothers/cousins I tell them off for not having manners. When they’re just people I know, I stand politely, listen (or at least look like I do) and wait for them to finish. If they’re boring, I end the conversation and look for someone more fun to talk to. Hahahah.

  5. Ani

    I’ve noticed, often a little too late, that during conversations I don’t ask the other participant(s) enough questions. The thought really bugged me for a while, and I thought people must think me a selfish speaker- but only because I’ve always considered myself slightly awkward in conversation, and talking about myself is all I knew how to do. I’m the type of person that worries about keeping conversation going, but I’ve realised talking just about myself sometimes just makes it worse! I’m glad this article seconds my thoughts. I’ve recently begun focussing on being the question-asker, and it really does bring up results, although I’m still new to it all.

    One thing I’m actually surprised I find slightly difficult is to be open-minded, even though I thought I was? I’m not rude or even marginally disliking of people of different religions/backgrounds/cultures, but thinking about it, I realise I’ve gotten to know most of the people who fit into different categories- what about all those people I don’t know? Even though it’s only very small, there is a prejudice there, a judgement before I get to know a person. Is that just a natural reaction to meeting new people?

  6. Hi Tina,
    I really love this entry and have made a PDF copy of this post at
    http://jasper.site40.net/doc/the_popularity_factor/the_popularity_factor.pdf

    Thank you!

  7. Your article about a social engagement and you felt left out that the people were too much into themselves is interesting.

    I didn’t read your tips on being accepted socially. However I know that it’s best just to be yourself and I wouldn’t sacrifice myself to being popular. I think people who try to be popular often do and I’m a middle-aged woman so it seems silly at this age. If it’s well-liked and being a friendly nice person that’s find but trying to be popular that’s for high-school as far as I’m concerned.

  8. Hi Tina,

    I like 10 second rules, I’m also a natural interrupter. :)

    The hardest thing is to listen with your heart, with full attention and interest.

    Pretending that you are interested will be discovered soon since naturally we can read body language.

  9. Mr Nils

    I don’t know… Just asking questions won’t always do the trick. It’s just as important that they are the right questions for that particular person.

    As someone said, and which is also true for me, I don’t always like talking about myself or about some parts of my life. For instance, I happen not to like talking about my work because almost no one can relate to it.

    So if you could help me find ten questions anyone will be happy to answer, that would be extremely helpful for me :D

  10. May

    I’m socially awkward at times because I do NOT like to talk about myself. Any suggestions? Should I just do it. I don’t know how to talk about myself. I’d rather feed them questions all night but then i leave feeling unknown and they leave feeling unreciprocated (or clueless and happy)

  11. @May

    As with anything, you get better at things with practice. The more you do it, the better you get. Practice talking about yourself. (at home, in the shower, with other people)

    Also, what are the reasons why you don’t like talking about yourself? Ask yourself that question and write in a journal all the answers that comes to mind. Be honest. Once you have the answers, then go ahead and work on them.

    I suggestion, practicing the art of self loving. :)
    http://thinksimplenow.com/happiness/the-secret-to-self-loving/

    @Mr Nils

    Authenticity is hugely important in social interactions. The problem with giving a list of ten questions, is that one may start to ask the questions as if crossing off a list without really listening to the person or appear authentic.

    The point of this is to be interested in the other person who you’re interacting with, and asking naturally progressive questions about them to learn about them.

    Watching their reaction is important. If they seem like they’re not interested in talking about something, you can tell if you watch for it in their body language, at which point you move on to something else. Even if they hated their job, the act of talking and complaining about it, will help them feel that they are expressing themselves, which helps them.

    Remember to ask open ended questions (ones that doesn’t lead to a yes-no answer), and probe with related questions on a topic.
    “What do you do for a living?”, may be followed up with, “Oh, tell me about that? What is being a [insert occupation] like?”

  12. Hi Tina,

    How wonderful it is to have found your blog! There is no turning back for me…I LOVE IT! I notice we share a lot of the same beliefs about life and love etc. I esp. feel you on the how to find true love one…maybe i should comment separately… :) this was really nice to read…very helpful! I forwarded it to a number of friends.

  13. The only bad thing I can see coming out of the 10second/30 second pause is sometimes it can create an ‘awkwardness’ that dreaded silent pause feels like an eternity.

  14. Great article Tina.
    People love to talk about themselves.. so to be a good conversationalist… just keep asking querstions. By the end of the night they will think you are the coolest, nicest person, and not know a thing about you.

    It’s all in Dale Carnegies classic ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People’

    Highly recommend it to all for improving your social skills

    Tim from Smile-Therapy.com

  15. Alex

    Things that I like to see in people is them is for them to look at me while they are talking to me.And most importantly to pay ATTENTION! But what about being funny? It seems like if as I am not then people just slip away. Do you think humor is a key factor or can you live without it for now? I’ve learned it is necessary though. I’ll put this to the test for now:)
    Thanks for the tips Tina.

  16. sandy

    these are lovely tips, thank you for sharing. :)

    i was a bit hesitant reading them. i have a friend who seems to do all of these things. in fact, he does them so automatically, it’s as if he was brought up on this list.

    but for some reason, i still walk away feeling drained and icky. it’s as if when he does these good things, they’re done TOO well that they crossover into simply being creepy.

    i’d love to read more if you can talk about the ‘forced’-ness aspect of applying these social skills, how you can tell if someone’s forcing it, and how to deal with a person making you feel uncomfortable/manipulated by good manners. :)

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