Harris O’Malley insists that it’s easier than you think to become one of those guys who can meet and comfortably chat up new people.
How many times have you wanted to meet somebody but you were convinced that there was no way they’d like you? Or have you ever wished you could find a way to join a group of cool people and fit in like you’ve always belonged? Ever wish you could be one of those people who can just make friends the way other folks breathe? The sort of person who can just sit down with someone and have them feeling like they’ve known you for years, even though you’ve only just met? It’s actually easier than you’d think…
We’ve talked a lot about charm and charisma before, and what it takes to be a more fascinating, magnetic person. The key that underlies it all, to building a rapport and finding that connection, is simple: you have to be able to make people feel good. It’s called “the reward theory of attraction”; simply put, we like people who make us feel gratified and rewarded when we’re around them. If a relationship brings more pleasure than discomfort, then we find ourselves drawn to them and want that relationship to continue.
So let’s look at some of the secrets to making people like you.
1) Use Positive Non-Verbal Communication
I can’t stress enough how important non-verbal communication is when it comes to making a positive connection with somebody. The vast majority of our communication isn’t conveyed through our words, but through our bodies, our tone of voice, even the speed at which we talk. In fact, when our body language and our words are at odds with each other, it’s entirely possible to make people incredibly uncomfortable with you and want to get away from you. While your words may be positive, your closed off body language will be incongruent with what you’re saying and leave people feeling uneasy and confused. Many men, for example, have been creepy by accident because while they may have had the best of intentions, their body language made them seem intimidating or even threatening and left people feeling uncomfortable.
So the first key is to not give someone – especially women – the full frontal experience; that is, to standing toe to toe with them. Facing a stranger square on can feel intimidating; it can come across as though you’re trying to box them in. Instead, you want to angle yourself slightly away from them, which feels more accommodating and friendly. It sends the message that you don’t want them to feel cornered, as well as opening your body language.
The next key is to watch your head positioning. Yes, I realize that this seems like a nit-picky idea, but the tilt of your head actually communicates more non-verbally than you’d think. Tilting your chin up at someone gives the impression that you’re looking down your nose at them, which will convey a sense of arrogance or even disdain for the person you’re talking to. Tilting your chin down ever so slightly gives a feeling of being equal and approachable. Similarly, a slight tilt to the side communicates friendliness and gives the impression that you like them. Consider practicing these in the mirror; notice how different an innocuous phrase can seem when you’ve tilted your chin up vs. down. Keep in mind: this is a subtle tilt; you don’t want to look like you’ve broken your neck or you’re trying to pull your chin back through your face.
Third: slow your roll. A lot of people speak far too quickly under normal circumstances – myself included. It may be regional – people from Manhattan, the outer boroughs and New Jersey, for example – it may be an extroverted trait, or it may simply be that your brain runs faster than your mouth and you’re forever playing catch-up as your thoughts rocket along. Speaking for myself: I start talking faster the more excited (or nervous) I get; when I get on a roll, I can give the Micro-Machines guy1 a run for his money.
The problem is that when we speak quickly, it feels as though we’re trying to put one over on the person we’re talking to; we can’t dazzle them with our brilliance, so we want to baffle them with our bullshit. Think of a used car-salesman; you’re not sure how, but you just know he’s trying to scam you, so you instinctively don’t trust him. Deliberately slowing down your cadence makes you sound calmer and less anxious – and, more importantly, like you’re not about to sell them on your brilliant get rich quick scheme.
And smile, dammit.
2) Get Them Talking About Themselves
Cold hard truth: we’re all narcissistic to some degree. Even when we may not feel like we’re the hottest thing since World War III, we do like to believe that our inner lives and thoughts are fascinating. Just take a look at our social networks as we fill our days with Facebook status updates, Instagraming everything and tweeting about every aspect of our lives. We’re playing to an audience, even if that audience is just the people from high-school that we’ve reconnected with because we wanted to see if they were still hot and/or single.
But believe it or not, there’s a reason for this beyond everyone being profoundly self-involved: as it turns out, talking about ourselves literally makes us feel good. Scientists have found that talking about ourselves activates the same pleasure centers of the brain that are associated with food and money. So in short: we are our favorite subjects because goddamn it feels good to talk about ourselves. And since this fits in with the reward theory of attraction, getting people to talk about themselves is a valuable part of getting people to like you.
The tricky part is keeping the ball rolling; it’s easy to trail off – or worse, make someone feel uncomfortable about dominating the entire conversation. You have to be an active listener, taking what they say and bouncing it back by asking the right questions. You want to keep them positive; if someone tells you about the wacky mishap that happened on their date, and you mention that this is the sort of thing that would totally turn you off, you’ll have effectively punished them for disclosing a part of themselves. You want to ask questions that encourage them to keep talking about it, especially ones that help illustrate the scene. How did it go down, what did you do, how did you feel, what did they say?… these are questions that encourage your new friend to fill in the details and paint an even more interesting picture of their lives.
Can’t think of any questions besides the standard “Who are you/what do you do for a living?” Try a simple cold read to prompt them. It doesn’t need to be accurate – although most cold-reads are designed to be almost universally applicable – it just needs get them started talking. All it takes is a slight prompt and your new friend will take it from there.
3) Ask For Help
One of the most popular tools in the pick-up artist toolbox is the opinion opener, asking strangers to give their opinions and advice about subjects from jealous girlfriends to 80s songs to whether men or women lie more. Part of the reason why it’s so popular isn’t just because it’s a low-stakes way of starting a conversation but because it almost immediately hooks people’s interest. We love giving advice to people.
The sneaky part is that in asking for their advice, we’re also prompting them to warm up to us.
You see, humans are very bad at understanding why we feel the way we do. We believe that our actions are based on our feelings or beliefs; we don’t like this person, so we won’t have anything to do with them. But more often than not, it’s actually reversed; our behavior actually forms our beliefs. It just feels like we’re in control. In short: free your ass and your mind will follow.
This is known as the Benjamin Franklin effect, after Franklin’s legendary technique for turning his bitterest rivals into his closest friends.
Franklin would simply ask them for a favor – usually loaning him a book from their library. He would return the book later with a simple thank-you note… and the next time they would meet, his rival’s attitude would have changed so profoundly that they would often be close friends for the rest of their lives. Franklin was taking advantage of an effect known as cognitive dissonance – the tension between the man’s attitude (“I hate Ben Franklin”) and the fact that he just did a favor for a man he disliked. Our brains don’t like the tension; we prefer to at least feellike we’re being ideologically consistent. And since he couldn’t change the behavior without inventing a time machine and retconning his own existence, he his attitude changed instead.
So by asking a stranger for their help – getting some advice to settle a disagreement, wanting to know where they got those boots, what they think about the brand of phone they’re using – we’re asking them to do something nice for us. Since doing nice things for people usually means we like them, it follows that they must like us because they’re doing us a favor.
This can be an incredibly powerful technique. Use it wisely.
4) Validate Them
Another key psychological component to building rapport with someone is to remember that we instinctively like people who like us. Being liked makes us feel good, after all. So one of the easiest ways to indicate that we like someone is to let them know we think they’re fascinating and that they have a lot to offer. So we help encourage that feeling by validating them as we talk. After all, validation from others can be incredibly powerful. The key isn’t just to flatter then incessantly (which does work, even when people think you’re full of shit, amazingly enough) but to give a subtle boost to the ego, a reward of your approval because they’re awesome.
So imagine that you’ve got your new friend talking about themselves and they tell you about an experience they had while traveling that totally changed their perspective on something. A way of validating them would be to say “Woah, that’s interesting. I never thought about it that way before”. Or when they’re talking about the lead-up to the trip, saying “You know what, that’s really cool. I’ve always wanted to do something like that.”
Obviously, you don’t want to be a kiss-ass; the feeling that somebody’s brown-nosing you is going to trigger suspicion, which is the last thing you want, so the validation needs to be given sparingly and – and this is important – sincerely. Don’t just bullshit ‘em, let them know you dothink that they’re interesting or that you’re impressed by what they’ve done.
Pro tip: validation can be incredibly powerful when you’re bantering with somebody. When you’ve been trading playful shots back and forth, a sincere “No, I legitimately think you’re cool/admire your taste/what-have-you” can rock somebody back on their heels.
5) Have Stories
Want to impress someone and make them think you’re fun to hang around with? Have stories to tell. Storytelling is a primal part of social cohesion, a way of bonding that’s been a part of the human experience since we developed language.
Sharing a little about yourself is a powerful technique, one that inspires trust and reciprocity from the people you’re talking to. When somebody’s been afraid that they’ve been talking about themselves too much, being able to share a little about yourself – especially an amusing or entertaining story – is a way of giving back and letting them know that you’re comfortable with them.
It’s also a way of giving insight into your life, which is crucial when you’re looking for a potential relationship. After all, the idea of what life would be like with you is going to be an important part of what people are looking for in a partner. Plus: telling stories is a way of subtly bragging about yourself without being obnoxious about it. It’s a way of showing, rather than telling; you can tell someone you’re spontaneous and fun-loving, or you can talk about the time you talked your way into the Fitz and the Tantrums concert at SXSW when you didn’t have a badge and there was no way you should’ve been able to get in.
Personally, I advise having a couple of stories ready to go – ones that you know well enough that you can drop into the rhythm of conversation at a moment’s notice. This isn’t to say that you should be workshopping your comedy routine on strangers – they will always know when you’re putting on a performance – but simply have some stories that you know well enough that you could tell them in your sleep ready when the time arises.
After all, when you’re with your newfound friends, you’re going to want to entertain them. And then they’ll be sharing some stories of their own, while getting another round in.
And before you know it, that person’s going to look up and realize that they feel like they’ve known you for years… even though you’ve only just met.
Originally appeared at Paging Dr. NerdLove