Making friends as an adult is hard.
There are so many things to consider — from where to meet new people in the first place to how you spend time together. And what happens if you really like them but aren’t sure whether they’re keen on you?
Several recent psychological studies suggest there are a few simple ways to make yourself more likable — something that can come in handy for everything from friendships to job interviews. Here are a few of our favourites.
Reveal, don’t conceal
It’s tempting to shy away from probing questions because you don’t want to overshare or reveal too much personal information.
As it turns out, people might actually see you in a more positive light if you share that information than if you withhold it, according to a study from Harvard Business School. The researchers looked at how revealing versus concealing information affected two scenarios: potential dates and potential employers.
Study participants were split into two groups — half were prospects for dates, and the rest could choose whether or not to date these individuals. The dating prospects then got split again — half were “revealers” who admitted to engaging in some unsavoury behaviour, like fantasizing about doing something terrible. The other half were “hiders” who did not volunteer this information.
When the volunteers were given the chance to pick who they’d rather date, 79% of them chose the revealer.
The researchers replicated the experiment in a job interview scenario and came to similar conclusions. For this experiment, the participants had to respond to the question, “Have you ever done drugs?” They could say yes, no, or choose not to answer. Then potential employers got their pick of the candidates. Overall, the employers were more interested in hiring the people who’d answered ‘yes’ than the people who’d chosen not to answer or said ‘no.’
Other research backs up this idea. A large review of multiple studies from the American Psychological Association found that people who engage in what they called “intimate disclosures” tend to be liked more than those who disclose less about themselves. The same study also found that people tend to share more personal information with people whom they initially like. And people tend like others as a result of sharing personal information with them as well.
Share something personal
Along the same lines, disclosing something about yourself that you don’t share with most people can increase intimacy.
A 1997 study by State University of New York psychologist Arthur Aron — the subject of a viral New York Times article called “Questions that can make you fall in love with a stranger” — is a classic example of this. Aron essentially showed that two people who were willing to feel more connected to each other could do so, even within a short time.
For his study, Aron separated two groups of people, then paired people up within their groups and had them chat with one another for 45 minutes. While the first group of pairs spent the 45 minutes engaging in small talk, the second group got a list of questions that gradually grew more intimate.
Unsurprisingly, the pairs who asked the probing questions felt closer and more connected after the 45 minutes were up. Six months later, two of the participants (a tiny fraction of the original study group) even found themselves in love.
Compliment them — but not too much
The words you use to describe others can mean a lot. Some research suggests that people subconsciously associate the words you use to describe other people with your own personality, a phenomenon known in psychology as spontaneous trait transference. This applies whether the words you use are kind or cruel, so choose wisely.
Although compliments are generally good, be careful how you use them. Some studies have found that when it comes to winning people over, lavishing them with positive comments pales in comparison to giving negative feedback first and positive feedback later.
University of Minnesota researchers tried this out in a 1965 experiment. They had 80 female college students work in pairs on a task, and facilitated a situation in which those students would “overhear” their partners talking about them. (In reality, experimenters had told the partners what to say.)
In the first of the study’s four scenarios, the comments were uniformly positive; in the second, the comments were all negative; in the third, the comments changed from positive to negative; and in the fourth, the comments shifted from negative to positive. Overall, the students liked their partners best when their comments shifted from negative to positive, suggesting that people like to feel as though they have persuaded you in some way.
Bottom line: If you want people to like you, don’t be afraid to share things about yourself. And be complimentary, but don’t overdo it.