How To Make People Like You: 6 Science-Based Conversation Hacks

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Eric Barker  -  

So you want to know how to make people like you? It’s easier than you think.

A while back I posted about how to master conversation skills. Here are 6 more research-backed tips:


1) Encourage people to talk about themselves

It gives their brain as much pleasure as food or money:

Talking about ourselves—whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money, researchers reported Monday…

“Self-disclosure is extra rewarding,” said Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir, who conducted the experiments with Harvard colleague Jason Mitchell. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “People were even willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves,” Ms. Tamir said.


2) To Give Feedback, Ask Questions

If you use questions to guide people toward the errors in their thinking process and allow them to come up with the solution themselves, they’re less likely to feel threatened and more likely to follow through.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

It’s not you searching for problems; it’s him searching for gaps in his thinking process. You want people to look for assumptions or decisions that don’t make sense upon further reflection…The more you can help people find their own insights, the easier it will be to help others be effective, even when someone has lost the plot on an important project. Bringing other people to insight means letting go of “constructive performance feedback,” and replacing it with “facilitating positive change.”

Here’s more on feedback.


3) Ask for advice

Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, persuasion expert Robert Cialdini and many others have all recommended asking for advice as a powerful way to influence others and warm them to you.

Wharton professor Adam Grant breaks down the science behind it in his excellent book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

New research shows that advice seeking is a surprisingly effective strategy for exercising influence when we lack authority. In one experiment, researcher Katie Liljenquist had people negotiate the possible sale of commercial property. When the sellers focused on their goal of getting the highest possible price, only 8 percent reached a successful agreement. When the sellers asked the buyers for advice on how to meet their goals, 42 percent reached a successful agreement. Asking for advice encouraged greater cooperation and information sharing, turning a potentially contentious negotiation into a win-win deal. Studies demonstrate that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance, and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence peers, superiors, and subordinates. 


4) The Two-Question Technique

Ask them about something positive in their life. Only after they reply should you ask them how they’re feeling about life in general.

Sounds silly but this method is based on research by Nobel Prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahneman.

A positive answer on the first question will lead to them feeling more positive about their life in general when you ask the second question.

Via Thinking, Fast and Slow:

The same pattern is found if a question about the students’ relations with their parents or about their finances immediately precedes the question about general happiness. In both cases, satisfaction in the particular domain dominates happiness reports. Any emotionally significant question that alters a person’s mood will have the same effect. 

More on this powerful technique here.


5) Repeat The Last Three Words

I’ve posted before about the incredible power of active listening and how hostage negotiators use it to build rapport.

What’s the quick and dirty way to do active listening without training?

Social skills expert and author Leil Lowndes recommends simple repetition.

Via How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships:

…simply repeat—or parrot—the last two or three words your companion said, in a sympathetic, questioning tone. That throws the conversational ball right back in your partner’s court.

It shows you’re listening, interested, and lets them get back to telling their story.

You’ve got to be slightly savvy about this one but it’s surprisingly effective.

Surprisingly effective?

Yes, it is.

It is?

Research shows repetition is effective in negotiations as well.


6) Gossip — But Positively

Research shows what you say about others colors how people see you.

Compliment other people and you’re likely to be seen positively. Complain and you’re likely to be associated with those negative traits you hate.

Via 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

When you gossip about another person, listeners unconsciously associate you with the characteristics you are describing, ultimately leading to those characteristics’ being “transferred” to you. So, say positive and pleasant things about friends and colleagues, and you are seen as a nice person. In contrast, constantly complain about their failings, and people will unconsciously apply the negative traits and incompetence to you.


Want more?

Here are the previous five conversation hacks.

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Related posts: 

What are the four things that kill relationships?

“Nice guys finish last.” Really? What does the research say?

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How To Live A Happy Life: Louis CK Explains The Science

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Eric Barker  -  

Yes, this guy knows the secret to happiness.

You’ve probably already seen the following video.

It got about 7 gazillion views and for good reason — it’s very funny.

It also sums up what the research says is the most powerful (and easy) way to become happier.

Louis CK? Scientific research? Jokes about rotary phones? Huh?

Buckle in, I’ll explain.


“Everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy.”

Louis CK says that, then he drives it home with this anecdote:

I was on an airplane and there was internet – high speed internet – on the airplane. That’s the newest thing that I know exists. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go, “Open up your laptops. You can go on the internet.”

And it’s fast and I’m watching youtube clips – it’s amazing – I’m in an airplane!

And then it breaks down. And they apologize, “The internet’s not working.” The guy next to me goes, “This is bullshit.”

Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago.

The world is changing quickly. To succeed in a world like this you need to adapt to all that change — and fast.

The problem is that while “adaptation” is a good thing, it’s also pretty much the same as “taking things for granted.”

Taking things for granted is the opposite of gratitude.

And gratitude is one of the few things that nearly all the research shows is part of how to live a happy life.

You want evidence? I’ve got gratitude studies for days: It will make you happier. It will improve your relationships.

Louis CK knows this. And your grandparents know this.

They tried to tell you. You didn’t listen.


“When I was a kid we didn’t have…”

Growing up you complained about something trivial and heard a version of this story from Grandpa:

When I was your age we didn’t have (fill in amazing modern thing). All we had was (really pathetic substitute that makes you feel guilty). We had to (short anecdote about how difficult life was that, frankly, you can’t relate to at all). And we were happy!

All this story did was make you roll your eyes.

But here’s the rub — as Stanford researcher Laura Carstensen explains in her TEDx talk (around 3:15), more often than not, older people are happier people:

Grandpa’s “we had to walk to school uphill, both ways” anecdote was a poor way of saying “show gratitude for what you have.” Don’t take it for granted.

And the research shows this is one of the reasons old people are happier.

An appreciation of remaining time leads older people to be more grateful for what they have, Carstensen and other researchers say. And being thankful is great for mental health. Studies by Robert A. Emmons, a psychology professor at UC Davis, show that people who focus on what they are grateful for have better emotional well-being, especially a positive mood, compared with people who focus on the negative or neutral information.

Research shows taking time to feel gratitude can prevent you from taking things for granted.

Via The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does:

Several studies support this notion, including one from our very own lab, which revealed that people who persist at appreciating a good turn in their lives are less likely to adapt to it

So how do you work this into your busy life? It’s frighteningly easy.


The Technique

  • Put a notepad and pen by the bed.
  • Before you go to sleep each night, write down three things that happened that day which you’re thankful for.
  • Then write a sentence about why each happened.

That’s it. Really. It takes a few minutes. And it works.

This technique has been proven again and again and again. Here it is, explained by its originator, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went wellWriting about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.

The military even teaches Seligman’s gratitude techniques to soldiers.

And it has worked for me.


I’ve Tried It Myself

Yes, it’s kinda silly. (And before anyone goes in my bedroom you better believe I hide that notepad.)

But after doing it for a few days it was obviously working. How did I know?

It’s really the simplest thing in the world: I was devoting more time to thinking about things that make me happy.

Yeah, you might do that occasionally too, but are you setting aside a time every day for it? Didn’t think so.

Research shows that savoring — really taking the time to appreciate good things — is one of the secrets of the happiest people.

Good things were just more accessible in my head because they were getting dedicated time every single night. It was like deliberate practice but for happiness.

More importantly, I started to see patterns. Some things were always on the list, like seeing friends.

It was easy to take this list of good things from the past and make it a to-do list for things I should try to schedule for the future.

I was basically teaching myself how to live a happy life.

Daniel Nettle jokingly refers to this as “Pleasant Activity Training” but research shows it works.

Via Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile:

This staggeringly complex technique consists of determining which activities are pleasant, and doing them more often.

Again, it’s stupidly simple. But as Jennifer Aaker explained in my interview with her, people just don’t consistently do it on their own:

…people who spend more time on projects that energize them and with people who energize them tend to be happier.  However, what is interesting is that there is often a gap between where people say they want to spend their time and how they actually spend their time.  For example, if you ask people to list the projects that energize (vs. deplete) them, and what people energize (vs. deplete) them, and then monitor how they actually spend their time, you find a large percentage know what projects and people energize them, but do not in fact spend much time on those projects and with those people. 

You need the list. And then you need to get it on the calendar:

Taking an inventory about where you’re spending your time is revealing. And then once you identify the activities and people with whom you want to spend more time, calendaring your time thoughtfully becomes critical.  When you put something on a calendar, you’re more likely to actually do that activity – partly because you’re less likely to have to make an active decision whether you should do it – because it’s already on your calendar.

Want to know how to live a happy life? Write down the three things every night. Give it a shot.

Here’s more of the research on happiness, and for those of you who are really busy, here are 7 things that can make you happier in 7 seconds.

And keep listening to Louis. He knows what he’s talking about. Show gratitude. Stop taking things for granted.

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Related posts:

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Here are the things that are proven to make you happier 

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Is being busy the secret to happiness?

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Eric Barker  -  


Dan Pink points to an interesting new research finding — the happiest people are those that are very busy but don’t feel rushed:

Who among us are the most happy? Newly published research suggests it is those fortunate folks who have little or no excess time, and yet seldom feel rushed.

This really clicks with me. I love blogging but I hate being under time pressure to get it done.

I’ve posted before about how we’re happier when we’re busy. Jeremy Dean over at PsyBlog does an excellent job of distilling the important part of that same study:

This tension is very nicely demonstrated in a recent study by Hsee et al. (2010). When given the choice, participants preferred to do nothing, unless given the tiniest possible reason to do something: a piece of candy. Then they sprang into action.

Not only did people only need the smallest inducement to keep busy, they were also happier when doing something rather than nothing. It’s as if people understand that being busy will keep them happier, but they need an excuse of some kind.

Having plenty of time gives you a feeling of control and anything that increases your perception of control over a situation (whether it actually increases your control or not) can substantially decrease your stress level.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

Steve Maier at the University of Boulder, in Colorado, says that the degree of control that organisms can exert over something that creates stress determines whether the stressor alters the organism’s functioning. His findings indicate that only uncontrollable stressors cause deleterious effects. Inescapable or uncontrollable stress can be destructive, whereas the same stress that feels escapable is less destructive, significantly so… Over and over, scientists see that the perception of control over a stressor alters the stressor’s impact.

But heavy time pressure stresses you out and kills creativity. Low-to-moderate time pressure produces the best results.

Via The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work:

If managers regularly set impossibly short time-frames or impossibly high workloads, employees become stressed, unhappy, and unmotivated—burned out. Yet, people hate being bored. it was rare for any participant in our study to report a day with very low time pressure, such days—when they did occur—were also not conducive to positive inner work life. In general, then, low-to-moderate time pressure seems optimal for sustaining positive thoughts, feelings, and drives.

Finding “Flow” is a balance. Check out the chart below. Too much time pressure puts you in the upper left area instead of the upper right.

Your reaction to being too busy and under time pressure might be to want to do nothing. But that can drop you into the bottom left corner. And this actually makes you more unhappy than anything:

surveys “continue to show the least happy group to be those who quite often have excess time.” Boredom, it seems, is burdensome.

So stay busy. Set goals. Challenge yourself but make sure you have plenty of time so you feel in control of the situation.

This is how games feel. And games are fun.

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Related posts:

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