The Iron Lady and Marilyn Monroe had one thing in common: they were both determined to succeed and didn’t mind if that meant people didn’t like them for it.
While Margaret Thatcher famously said: ‘If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing,’ the actress confessed: ‘I live to succeed, not to please you or anyone else.’
But most of us don’t have the same values as the late former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher or the star of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and want people to like us.
After all, people who are well-liked are more likely to be hired, and earn higher salaries than their equally-qualified but not as popular counterparts, a study found. Popular people are also more likely to be happier at work, at home, and less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, the report, Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review, revealed.
Our likeability may even affect our health, US-based academics, Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy B. Smith from Brigham Young University and J Bradley Layton from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill claimed. It even went so far as to say that the least popular people are almost twice as likely to die than their popular colleagues and friends.
So how do we make people like us? Some people think they have to be the life and soul of the party, cracking jokes every two minutes while others believe their colleagues will love them if they take on extra work or agree with every word they say.
The good news is we don’t have to do any of these things to become popular. Experts say there are some psychological tips we can all use to make people like us – and they’re so subtle, no one will even know we’re doing it!
‘If the intention is to like and be liked, these tips can do the trick,’ says life coach Becki Houlston, who specialises in dealing with stress and anxiety.
‘They’re very tiny tweaks to our behaviour, but they help us to form a rapport with people, whether it’s a prospective boss who’s interviewing us, a date or our children’s new teacher.
‘It’s not the same as manipulating people in a devious way. These tips work because we have good intentions and we’re coming from a positive place.’
Be a copycat
Life coach Adam Zargar suggests we practise ‘mirroring’ which means copying the way someone is sitting, standing or even speaking, without being too obvious.
‘If they lean forward, do the same,’ explains Adam, ‘and if they’re speaking slowly, then slow down your speech. They’ll feel there is something in you that they like because they will see in you their own reflection.’
Adam, whose company UAE Coaching is based in Dubai, explains: ‘Mirroring is a way to bond and build understanding, and a powerful tool which we often use instinctively. It’s a way of saying: “I am like you. I feel the same.”
When researchers at New York University studied mirroring in 1999, 72 men and women were set to work on a task with a partner. At the end of the study the people who had liked their partners the most were the ones who had been unknowingly mimicked.
Adam adds: ‘Even if we have never met someone before, we can trick the subconscious into thinking we have things in common, purely by mirroring.
‘Practise with people you know, like your spouse or a friend when you want to build a greater rapport. If you use mirroring at an interview, your interviewer will think they’ve met you before, or believe they like you more than other candidates.’
Get Your Needs Met
We all recognise the needy person at a party or in the office – they cling to us and laugh a bit too long at all our jokes, leaving us keen to shake them off.
‘These people come across as desperate and instead of attracting people, they repel them,’ says life coach Talane Miedaner. ‘But they’re clingy because they’re not getting their needs met.’
According to Talane, there are hundreds of emotional needs. More than 36,000 people have taken her free Emotional Index quiz on her website – www.lifecoach.com – and the top five emotional needs are to be liked, to achieve, to be loved, to be heard and to be appreciated.
‘Once we get our needs met, we’re no longer a clinging vine, and people will be attracted to us,’ says Talane, author of The Secret Laws of Attraction, The Effortless Way to Get the Relationship You Want (McGraw-Hill).
‘Look at the most popular girl in the class. She doesn’t need any new friends, yet she’s the one everyone wants to be friends with. When our needs are being met, we’re authentic and that makes us much more desirable.’
Talane suggests we get our needs met in different ways. ‘If your emotional need is to be approved of, ask one of your parents, siblings or friends to write you a letter explaining what they appreciate about you,’ she suggests. ‘It’s a very subtle shift that will make you more attractive in the long run.’
Learn to Listen
According to Becki many of us think we’re good listeners but we’re really having a conversation in our heads because, at best, we’re busy thinking what to say next or, at worst, we’re thinking about something entirely different!
‘While our friends are chatting to us, we often drift off and think about what we’re having for dinner that evening or we remember something we forgot to do at the office,’ she says. ‘We think we’re appearing to be good listeners because we’re quiet and not saying anything.’
Becki describes being listened to as ‘the greatest gift we can give another human being’ because it makes us feel important.
‘Being heard and listened to is the foundation of our self-worth and self-esteem,” she says. ‘When we really listen to someone and hear what they’re saying, we build strong bonds of trust. It’s true that a problem shared is a problem halved. That’s why talking therapies are so successful.’
Make Small Talk
Talk about neutral subjects like the weather, movies, the arts or travel, suggests Adam Zargar.
‘What we call small talk isn’t as small as it seems,’ explains Adam. ‘Think of small talk as a kind of “grooming” process, which all animals who live in social groups practise.
“Dogs choose to sniff each other, whereas we humans prefer small talk to put other people at ease. It actually paves the way for moving on to weightier or deeper issues. Without small talk, you may never get to the big talk.
‘When you master small talk, you master rapport-building. Small talk is the social glue that connects you to others.
‘But you can also use small talk to seed ideas. For example, if you need a colleague to do something they’ve been putting off, you might tell an anecdote about how you resist going to the gym, but how great you feel once you’ve been.
‘Your colleague’s mind will be primed with the concept of getting things done, so when you discuss work with them, they will be more receptive.
‘Small talk is also an ideal base for humour, and once you get people laughing, you develop a connection and shared understanding that will help you build strong relationships, both personally and in business.’
Understand, don’t Judge
Becki Houlston says that when we judge a person, we’re not looking any deeper than our thoughts at that moment.
‘We’re metaphorically putting them into boxes without understanding them,’ says Becki. ‘We’re making a snap decision and saying a person is either good or bad. There’s no middle ground. We’re not making any effort or investing any time to understand them at all.
‘For example, a colleague might be difficult at work one day. If we were to make an instant judgement, we’d assume they were being deliberately uncooperative or lazy.
‘But it might turn out that their mother is gravely ill and they’ve been at her bedside all weekend. Knowing that would change everything. In fact, we’d praise them for even making it into work.
‘When we judge, our judgement is only as broad as our experience – it’s based on what we see and what we know and we can’t know everything all the time.
‘We make the other person feel they’re not good enough and they won’t want to spend any time with us if we make them feel like that.
‘Instead, give them the benefit of the doubt and try understanding them, rather than judging them, and they will love being around you.’
Cut the Gossip
Tittle tattle, gossip, bitching – whatever we call it, it isn’t done with love and care, says Becki Houlston.
‘Gossips usually talk about other people in a nasty way because they don’t feel good about themselves and they have low self-esteem,’ says Becki.
‘They pass on juicy information about other people’s lives to make themselves appear or feel more interesting.
‘But no one feels comfortable around a gossip, even if they’re your friend, because you know that one day they might well be talking about you in this way.’
Instead, Becki urges us not to encourage gossips.
‘Once they see you’re not interested, they won’t gossip to you,’ she says.
And if we’re told something confidentially, we must keep the secret, she adds.
‘If you’re trustworthy, you will know all the news first anyway because people will confide in you. You will know the truth about what’s happening, without the gossipmonger’s spin on it. People will love you for keeping their confidences.’
We can make people relax in our company by just asking some questions about them, Becki explains. When people are socially anxious it switches on their sympathetic nervous system: the ‘flight or fight’ mode.
‘But just showing a friendly interest in a person at a party will switch on their parasympathetic nervous system, which will relax them and make them calm,’ says Becki.
‘Instead of talking about yourself, ask how their children are, or what kind of a day they’ve had. By asking questions, you’re telling that person that they matter enough for you to be interested in them.
‘These people will always seek you out or want to chat to you because we all want to be with people who make us feel good and safe.’