The secrets of being likeable

I originally posted this as an answer on Quora where it was pretty well-received, so I thought I’d post it here too.

Do you want to know the secrets of being likeable? Then we’ll need some help from the experts.

What we need is the FBI.

Specifically, we need Robin Dreeke’s book It’s Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone.

There are some simple techniques you can use to build rapport quickly. But remember the overarching principle: people like people who are interested in them, and who are similar to themselves. The way you get people to like you is to make them feel better about themselves.

Anyway, without further ado, here are Dreeke’s ten techniques from It’s Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone:

1) Establish artificial time constraints
You know that awkward guy who walks up to you at a networking event, and just hangs around? All the while you’re just thinking, “Who are you, what do you want, and when are you going to leave?”

Don’t be that guy. Dreeke says:

the first step in the process of developing great rapport and having great conversations is letting the other person know that there is an end in sight, and it is really close.

So at a conference you can go up to someone and say, “I’m just on my way to grab another drink, but I wanted to ask you real quick — what did you think of that last speaker?” Boom: clear reason to talk, false time constraint. Easy.

2) Make sure your body language is in sync

This isn’t that goofy technique of mirroring someone, crossing and uncrossing your arms in time with them. What this actually means is that your body language is in sync with the image that you want to portray: that is, friendliness, openness, warmth. So SMILE.

Dreeke:

When you walk into a room with a bunch of strangers, are you naturally drawn to those who look angry and upset or those with smiles and laughing? Smiling is the number one nonverbal technique you should utilize to look more accommodating. In Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People it is principle number two of six.

3) Speak slowly

People who talk too quickly are seen as nervous, jumpy, perhaps naive and puppy-like. Talk more deliberately and slowly. NOTE: that’s not the same as dull and monotone. You can still sound enthusiastic and upbeat even at a slightly slower pace.

Dreeke reckons this has a big impact on someone’s perception of you:

When individuals speak slowly and clearly, they tend to sound more credible than those who speak quickly.

4) Ask for help

Here’s Dreeke again:

Think for a moment about the times in your life when you have either sought assistance or been asked to provide it. When the request is simple, of limited duration, and non-threatening, we are more inclined to accommodate the request. As human beings, we are biologically conditioned to accommodate requests for assistance.

Bonus: our brains HATE to hold two conflicting ideas in our heads at the same time. So by asking someone for a favour, they’ll like you more. It’s difficult to rationalise doing a favour for someone you don’t like, so the brain takes the easy way out, and just decides that they like you now.

5) Suspend your ego

It’s not about you. It’s about them.

Repeat that: it’s not about you, it’s about them.

People don’t remember what you said, but they remember how you made them feel. So don’t win people over with your incredibly witty stories and life history. Make THEM feel great, by showing interest in their story, what they have to say. A real conversation isn’t just two people waiting for their turn to speak. It’s a genuine engagement and interest in the other person. And it’s more fun too.

Here’s Dreeke again:

Those individuals who allow others to continue talking without taking their own turn are generally regarded as the best conversationalists. These individuals are also sought after when friends or family need someone to listen without judgment. They are the best at building quick and lasting rapport.

You can even make it a game. EVERYBODY has something interesting about them. When you’re talking to someone new, try and find out what that thing is.

6) Validate others

It’s not about you. It’s about them. Remember that?

People remember how you make them feel. You can validate them by listening to their story and showing genuine interest. One great way to do that: ask real questions. If a person, in the middle of a great story, mentions something you want to ask more about, don’t interrupt. Instead, wait until they finish the story, and then say, “A couple of minutes ago you mentioned [blank]. I wanted to ask you more about that…”

That does a couple of things: 1) it allows them to tell their story, like they wanted to, and you didn’t interrupt their flow; and 2) it shows that you were genuinely interested and listening, because you remembered something they said and wanted to come back to it. Very simple, and very powerful.

7) Ask How, When and Why

This is a pretty simple one. Ask open-ended questions, that give the other person lots of room to speak. So in the example above, you might say: “You mentioned a couple of minutes ago that once your business got funding, you started to make some key hires. I’d love to know: how did you do that? How did you find great people that you wanted to hire?”

8) Quid pro quo

Quid pro quo just means making it a two-sided conversation. It’s most important when the other person is either introverted and guarded, or has become aware that they’re dominating the conversation. You need to pick up the ball here. The easiest way to do that is to offer something personal about yourself: “I hear what you’re saying about needing to use your network to find great people. I know the couple of times I’ve hired people from jobs boards it’s been really frustrating, and for a long time I thought I was the problem, that I wasn’t good at interviewing or something. I really worried about it for a long time, until I started to find people via word of mouth referrals instead.”

In this example you’ve offered something about yourself, and also been a little vulnerable about your own failures in the past, which makes you seem normal and human too.

9) Give a gift

If you’ve read Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini you’ll know all about the principle of reciprocation. People hate to be in debt to others, so if you do something for someone, they’ll want to repay the favour. This plays out in conversation too. Here’s Dreeke:

When someone does you a favor you most likely want to reciprocate with gratitude. Great rapport builders and conversationalists use this desire proactively during every conversation.

So if you compliment someone (a favour), they’ll thank you, and be nicer to you (reciprocation).

10) Manage your own expectations

You’re not going to be everyone’s best friend. Not everyone will instantly take a shine to you. And some people are just surly, miserable individuals. No matter. Remember Marcus Aurelius:

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I’m not as pessimistic as Marcus. I would change this to say “Some of the people I deal with…”, but the point still stands. All you can do is try to make sure that people come away from each interaction with you a little better off: feeling better about themselves, feeling like somebody listened and was interested, or feeling like they made your life better as well.

And have fun!

Further reading:

 

The false dichotomy

I know it’s tempting — indeed, fashionable these days — to view corporate jobs as “shackles”. Corporate workers are “drones”. There’s a perception that you’ll work 9-5 for 50 years, with two weeks vacation per year, and then retire, having never really lived. And that the only way to be happy is to quit and start your own company, or become a digital nomad, freelancing and travelling the world. It’s an idea popularised in The 4-Hour Work Week, and propagated by pretty much every online self-help writer ever since.

But it’s not true. It’s a false dichotomy.

If you are one of those in a corporate job, you’ll never see life as worth living if you frame it that way. Your life is the sum of all the small moments — so why are you carrying a cloud of negativity and anxiety around all day with you?

Look, if your job really sucks, and you hate it, and need to get out, then do it. Make the change.

BUT there is happiness and meaning to be found in work. Great colleagues can become life-long friends. You can take pride in doing the work that is in front of you, and doing it well. You can dive into your profession and seek to learn everything there is to know about it, develop your expertise, and then leverage that expertise into a better working situation (e.g. starting your own company, consulting, better jobs at other companies).

And don’t buy into the fallacy that corporate jobs suck, and remote, digital nomad jobs are amazing. That anyone working a normal job is a drone, and anyone doing their own thing is a groundbreaking entrepreneur.

I’ve met lots of entrepreneurs and remote workers — myself included — who are utterly miserable and lonely when they have to work alone.

I know scores of people who have worked in an office job their entire career, and take immense satisfaction and pride in their work, have meaningful relationships and a great family life. They’re happy people.

Yes, it’s more common to find happy entrepreneurs and miserable corporate types. But that’s not a predestinated fate. It’s what you choose to make of it.