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May 21, 2008

i have another question

this one might not be as resonant. did you ever have a time in your life where you tried specific strategies to befriend people or make yourself more likable? "Smile More", "Apologize More", "Touch People When You Speak With Them"? If so, can you remember what they were and how your attempts played out?


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Comments (94)

"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

I'm the quiet guy in the corner of the room.

Posted by: Andrew at May 21, 2008 1:36 PM

I remember when I was about 18 making a conscious decision to slow down. Particularly with regards to conversation/interaction with other people. I felt I was often over-eager to be involved in conversations and I think I decided I came off sounding self-centered and overly chatty. The slow-down allowed me to think through my responses/arguments/decisions more too. All in all I think it was a good move, I still have to remind myself to take it easy sometimes.

Posted by: sam at May 21, 2008 1:46 PM

"Pray More" was always on my mind. Recently it's been "You can sleep when you're dead" and I've used that for anything from taking on multiple freelance projects at once to going to parties instead of sitting at home.

I'm always that guy that's up for anything at any hour of the night or day. Has it worked out for me? Yeah, I think so. Until the point where I get out of college and get a real job and won't have to prove anything to anyone.

I guess it should be more of "I'll sleep when I graduate."

Posted by: Mike at May 21, 2008 1:49 PM

Some time ago, I started talking to people I just met as if we had been friends for some time. Breaks the awkward getting to know you phase. I've noticed a difference when meeting those that are normally socially uncomfortable, and it created an immediate relief and comfort level.

(Does that make sense?)

I'm normally the person strangers talk to in the street when they have questions.

Posted by: Koko at May 21, 2008 2:17 PM

I used to be a software engineer, and in 2005, I became a personal trainer. It's a long story. I have a computer geek body, and I really like to eat, and I'm painfully aware how VISUALLY ORIENTED the industry is... so yeah... I was a bit worried how I was going to pull this off. I'll add that I'm Asian... not the Bai Ling or Gong Li or hot anime chick kind... more like the Pikachu kind.

Despite my concern about my lack of a sixpack, at some point, I went, f*ck it, just have fun with this. And I went blonde.

WOW!!! I was in shock! Did you know? People respond REALLY REALLY well to blondes! It was like I suddenly added a huge sign over my head that said, "TALK TO ME!" Strangers were friendlier, they initiated conversations, and all in all... it was good for business. WEIRDEST OF ALL... blonde babies smiled at me more! I'm usually good with Asian and Mexican babies, but now the little tow-head babies were responding better to me, too. I'm guessing I look more like their mom now.

So to answer your question, I now regularly do the blonde thing to make myself more "likeable". Not always... I actually prefer red... but it doesn't give me the same results as blonde. However, I do think the key here is "approachable", rather than "likeable". Something about blonde, I think, might be more friendly, less intimidating.

Anyways, like I said, it's all in good fun.

Posted by: Christine Burke at May 21, 2008 2:45 PM

I've always been a friendly person, perhaps it was my midwestern upbringing, but usually this was limited to a friendly smile when passing someone on the street (no teeth, of course. The toothy smile seems to be reserved only for those I truly know. What? Am I afraid strangers are going to steal my fillings? Anyway ...)

Some time in my mid-20s, I decided that I really adored people who not only said "hi" when passing me on the street in the morning, but were also thoughtful enough to say "how are you?" (and actually wait for an answer). I realized I wasn't doing nearly enough to be that kind of friendly and engaging person.

So I made a concerted effort to start saying "hi, how are you?" instead of just "hi" or "hey." I particularly enjoy doing this to people in service positions, who aren't used to being seen as human beings at all. Eventually, I didn't have to deliberately remember to say it, it just came naturally.

Also, around the same time, I was dating a guy who had "huggy" friends — within his group of friends, everyone hugged everyone upon departure. For no reason at all!

Now, me and my friends would hug whenever one of us would go on vacation or be away for whatever reason for a long period of time, but this was generally because of my fear of flying at the time, and fear that it might be the last time I saw them. I hugged them. It wasn't necessarily an ingrained reaction.

So I decided that I, too, would one day have huggy friends.

I don't know if it was my visualization of said future or that I just happened to fall into a great group of tactile and generous friends, but when I moved back to Indiana, I found my huggy friends.

And now I go for the hug, always, with friends, even if they aren't a part of the huggy cult just yet.

Posted by: beenit at May 21, 2008 2:51 PM

For a while I tried the whole "shut up and listen to people" route, but it didn't work for me: I think people thought I wasn't talking because I was being snooty.

Posted by: daniel at May 21, 2008 3:02 PM

Hug people.
While you talk to them, when they don't expect it.
Just start hugging, for a second and don't say nothing.

It played out brilliant!

Posted by: MC Winkel at May 21, 2008 3:08 PM

At some point, I read or realized that when someone asks you a question about something, they really want someone to ask that question of them. So I started ending answers with "... how about you?" or something.

Posted by: Rich at May 21, 2008 3:26 PM

I haven't actually tried this yet, but I'm about to start.

I've introduced myself as 'Ted' forever (my license says Theodore, but I really can't pull that off). Lately, though, I've noticed that people aren't understanding me. "Hi, I'm Ted." "Huh? Tad? Todd? What?" It's started to happen almost every time I meet someone. I think I'm swallowing the sound somehow, not saying it clearly (my own name!). In those stressful, first-impressional moments I'm already back-peddling awkwardly; "No, uh, Ted. Like... Eh. With an E. Yeah."

So I'm going to start trying Theo. It's harder to mishear. But it's scary. Ted didn't do anything wrong.

Posted by: Ted (Theo?) at May 21, 2008 5:33 PM

I'm terrible at remembering names, so when I meet someone I consciously make an effort to say their name several times--at least once upon learning it and once upon parting ways. If I don't make an effort, I'll usually have forgotten their name halfway through the conversation, but if I repeat it a few times I'm usually okay. Then if I see them again I'm careful to greet them using their name. For best results, lather, rinse, and repeat.

Recently I read a bit of advice for introverts that suggested acting, at parties, as though you're the host: try to get around and greet everybody, ask everyone if they're having a good time, try to introduce people, and so on. I tried it recently at a big party where I knew almost nobody, and it actually worked great. I felt much more comfortable than usual and met quite a few people.

I guess these aren't techniques for making myself more likable, as I've never really doubted my likability, but rather techniques for combating my introversion and showing people--rather than waiting for them discover on my own--that I'm a fun guy. Which is maybe the same thing.

Oh, but when I was in high school I discovered two very important self-confidence techniques: Looking people in the eye (and not staring at the floor when, say, walking between classes), and smiling. Those two simple things changed my personal outlook entirely.

Posted by: Jordan at May 21, 2008 5:34 PM

I've always given things away. When I was a little kid, it was food. Then I'd do people's homework. I've always been a good student. I'm finishing highschool, and now it's money and drugs. maybe don't post this. It's still food and homework, too. When it's money, you have to pretend it's a loan and then pretend to forget, or you'll hurt someone's pride. When it's food, you have to insist you don't want it or they'll feel guilty. I've always kind of bought my friends this way, artfully giving things away. It never seemed shallow until I explained it to someone. It still doesn't, really.

Posted by: benny at May 21, 2008 5:44 PM

My strategies:
- Balance the use of your tongue and your ear and never let either one go unused.
- Use good eye contact and appropriate posture (sometimes a slouch is appropriate)
- Subtly match the body language of the person you're talking to.
- Dress to match the occasion
- Bring a prop that can stir conversation (this could be a fun keychain, a camera, a game, a card trick, a good tie, nice shoes, etc.)
- Prepare a mental list of interesting things that have happened to you in the past week.
- Ride others enthusiasm: if a topic excites someone ask them about it and follow that conversation.
- Avoid gossip. Gossip (even negative gossip) is a great bonding tool for people who know each other, but it's boring or dangerous with new people.

So far they seem to work for me.

Oh yeah and If you're gonna drink alcohol, learn to ride a low level buzz. It really can work as a social lubricant, but after too much you're only bonding over drinking rather than conversation.

Posted by: Colin at May 21, 2008 5:50 PM

likewise koko, i dunno what it is, but i tend to be the person people approach.

i have this notion of just talking to everyone as if they were the same person, i mean i do tailor the topics of waht i a talking about depending on the person, but the way i'm enthused and motivated is pretty consistant.

its good to just be yourself, so however you come out, then thats it....no need for change to be liked by someone else.

Posted by: jeremy at May 21, 2008 7:00 PM

"Smile more" is an interesting strategy I've tried to both increase my happiness and my likability.

I've experienced that both of them work, surprisingly well, depending on the type of smile.

What I would describe as the "like me smile" has virtually no positive benefits and, due to the failure to garner the expected response, often would increase my dissatisfaction.

The "I like you smile" however both increased my happiness and favorable responses from others.

The first time I became aware of the difference was trying to elicit smiles from girls. I found that smiling at them often resulted in neutral or less than favorable response, but that when smiling about something that made me happy before I recognized them, and then sharing that smile often got a great response. Initially I thought this was due to a "people like happy people" phenomenon. I have since come to believe that the difference is visible in the smile itself. The result of the "I like you smile" is due to generously sharing happiness, instead of the "I want you to like me smile" which can be seen as saying "You make me happy. Do you approve of that?"

In light of all that, I found the recent article by Errol Morris about a smile very interesting: tinyurl.com/6a8wuz In it he interviews someone who explains the physiological differences of the two types of smiles.

Posted by: Christopher at May 21, 2008 7:43 PM

All those "touch people more" and "say their name several times during the conversation" remind me of things salespeople do and--ugh, you know? I'm not trying to sell anyone my friendship.

I found that if I accepted every single invitation that came my way--said yes to everything, stuff that I didn't think I was interested in or that I wouldn't do otherwise, like go dancing or take a cooking class--that I was soon inundated with new offers of friendship and, bonus, was renewing older friendships that had gone somewhat stale. All I had to do was say yes. I realized that the offers were always coming my way, I was just so used to turning people down (for whatever reason) that I didn't even notice when I was doing it anymore.

Posted by: Brenda at May 21, 2008 7:56 PM

Maybe since adolescence, parties always have always made me feel wound up. Sometimes the energy would let me be more talkative and outgoing, but s ometimes it made me feel awkward, asocial, and too nervous to enjoy myself. to varyiing degrees in my life, this tendencey has made me more introverted.

Finally, at 36, I've hit on something that's made everythign a lot better. I came to the simple and beautiful realization that I don't need to make friends. Having good friends and a wife have helped me with this, and now I feel fine j even if I'm not contributing to conversations or in the thick of things. Basically, I decided that I don't have to hhave a good time when I go to a party. This knowing has let me have much better times than I used to have and to feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin. Not trying to be social has removed all my anxiety and made me more social. KiKind of crazy how simple it iturned out to mbe, but al all things happen in their own time.
Sorry about any typos. My interface is acting really weird.

Posted by: D at May 21, 2008 8:04 PM

In high school i remember a friend specifically told me to smile more, so for the following month i started every greeting with this way too painful smile and say "hi everyone, how are you on this shiny happy day?" for a month before they all said it was too creepy, and came up with their own improvement ideas. i left that group and kinda wanted to be alone, so i started acting like a dick to everyone, which somehow got me a lot more friends.

Posted by: Chuck at May 21, 2008 8:21 PM

This is a good "How geeky are you" question. In college I found a book about how to have conversations. Initially, I thought it was a lame concept, so I picked it up to laugh at it - and actually got a lot of interesting tidbits from it. So I bought it and read the whole thing.

One major piece of advice out of it was "When you talk to other people, ask open ended questions." In other words, ask questions that have something other than a "Yes" or "No" answer. A simple yes or no answer forces you to come up with something else to talk about once the other person has answered the question. An open ended question forces them to talk more and can lead down all kinds of roads and open new avenues for conversation. It allows for better conversation flow AND makes them like you more since they get to do what most people love to do, even when they claim they don't - talk about themselves.

I have since internalized this and still use it to this day. I have zero talent or tolerance for small talk but, when I find myself in a situation where it's just too awkward to avoid it, this little strategy has helped immensely not make me look like a completely anti-social dweeb. It also eventually helped me when I was a reporter and needed interview quotes.

Posted by: Rob Z. at May 21, 2008 8:30 PM

I remember in high school realizing how much more intimate a conversation is when you use there name. "Let's go to the park" seemed to blasé when compared to, "Janet, let's go to the park."

But I think most surprising, is that it felt most intimate/meaningful when I used a person's first name when instant messaging with them. Saved that was always reserved only for the high school girlfriends/crushes.

Posted by: Mark at May 21, 2008 8:40 PM

“Meghan, come over here.” I looked up and spotted Eileen Derby with a group of girls standing over by the stonewall at the side of the school. I had just gotten off the bus and was looking for my friends before the first bell summoned us to our classrooms.
The gaggle of girls were standing in a circle gaping at a popular magazine, Bop or Tiger Beat most likely. I was surprised to see such a gathering because Eileen and I usually sought each other out before school started, to chat. We were used to people like Michaela and Kristy ignoring us and even going so far, as to have conversations with their jackets over their heads, blocking us out.
I went to a small private Catholic school, consisting of one class per grade, with about thirty kids per class. Most of the girls I went to school with were all about exclusivity, even by the second grade. On my first day of school, I went up to Kristy and told her that our parents knew each other and that we were friends when we were two at Westchester Hills, a golf club in our town.
Michaela stepped in and promptly informed me that even though I had met Kristy when I was two, that she and Kristy had been friends at Westchester Hills since they were three and that because my parents joined a different club and a far inferior one at that, she implied, that she had been friends with Kristy longer and therefore, I had no claim regarding friendship or even friendliness from either of them.
Eileen was new the year I started as well. Being the outcasts, who were smart, we became friends. Eileen was clever, athletic, competitive, short and blond. We were similar in almost every way, except that I was a brunette. We were best friends. But we were also friends with Tiffany Lew, who, oddly enough, was standing with this group of girls. I noticed Jen, the hanger-on, Kelly, the quiet nerd and Mahdiyeh, who was also an outcast, due to the fact that she was the only Iranian Muslim at the school aside from her brother.
Curiously, I approached them. They all seemed to be in a good mood. It was a beautiful spring day. The weather was mild and the air smelled sweet with the flower blossoms of the nearby nursery scenting the air. I walked over, pleased with such an interesting prospect at an inclusive conversation.
“Hi,” I exclaimed brightly.
“Hey Meghan,” Eileen grinned. “Do you remember last Saturday when we were reading this article about Joey McIntyre and you said that the New Kids should totally break up and Joey should go solo?”
I hesitated, “Oh yeah,” I stammered, trying to recall when that had happened.
“Didn’t you say that Jordan McKnight was totally gross and that he stole the spotlight all the time from the New Kid that really deserves it?”
“I guess so, yeah.”
“And you never lie right?”
“No,” I said feeling uncomfortable and slightly hot.
“Didn’t you also say that you were so great at singing and dancing, better than anyone in the whole school, and that it was a joke to have auditions the other day for the school play because anybody who knew anything, would give you the role of Annie.”
“What? I never said that.”
“But you said you never lie.”
“I try not to.”
“Well, tell me. How could we have had a conversation about this article when it only came out yesterday?”
I stared, dumbfounded but she had more, “If you lied about reading the article, then you must have been lying about not saying you were the best in the school and making fun of everyone else for being so bad. You’re a liar and you think that you’re better than everyone else, don’t you?”
The girls started laughing in an anxious way, eager to see how the scene would play out. I stood staring at my best friend who had just made a fool of me; desperately trying to comprehend why she would trick me so cruelly and heartlessly. My mind was blank but I was vaguely aware that they were all staring at me, waiting for me to defend myself. I felt so stupid, so blindsided. I had lied about reading the article.
However, it was wholly possible that at one point, I had read an article similar to it and made remarks about it in the same vain, at some point. I trusted Eileen. I couldn’t read her intentions as she bated me into the conversation. I didn’t understand that she was doing herself good socially, while sacrificing me for revenge, as I later put together.
About two weeks earlier, our third grade teacher Mrs. Gallagher announced that the third grade play this year would be Annie. The whole class would participate but there would be auditions for the key parts. I had been performing professionally for about three years and Eileen and I were in a kids’ playgroup together outside of school- Broadway Babes. I had been doing the playgroup longer than Eileen and was thus, more prominently featured in the production for which we were rehearsing.
For the audition, we both sang songs that we had been learning at the playgroup. I sang, I Sing the Body Electric. I have no idea what Eileen sang but I got the part of Annie and she got the part of Miss Hannigan.
With a slow sinking realization, I nearly threw up when I looked at Eileen and I saw only her sheer joy at my humiliation. She laughed wickedly and pointed at me while calling me a liar. “You think you’re better than everyone else but you’re nothing but a liar.”
I had nothing to say. From that day on, if I was ever unsure of past events brought up to me in a crowd of people, I always demurred, saying that I couldn’t quite recall what had happened, having learned my lesson to never get caught in a trap like that ever again. I would rather people dislike me and think of me as being honest than ever be proven a liar through a coercive trap.

Posted by: Meghan at May 21, 2008 9:51 PM

I was once told that if you smile slowly, you appear more trusting

Posted by: B at May 21, 2008 9:53 PM

My entire life I've been very opinionated and cynical. Not exactly an open, happy, generally friendly type of person. I'm nice when you know me well, but i'm just terrible at meeting people.

It was fine in elementary school. I'd been friends with people forever; I knew them well, and they knew me enough to know that I wasn't just an annoying little kid.

But then when I was twelve I went to a new school. Some of my friends from elementary school came with me, but mostly, I was all alone. I had friends in school, but none in any of my classes. I'd never felt so desperate in my life. I'd never had to actively seek out friends before. Before, we had been paired together at table clusters and because our parent were friends or because we both liked pokémon. But now I had to actually look for my own friends.

It was really difficult, but I managed. It was probably the most awkward time of my life. I don't believe in acting fake or being nice even if you don't mean it, but I made an effort to show the nice part that was still part of me. I made some friends, but I still had some trouble.

Two years later, I befriended this guy who's one of my good friends now. I'd never met anyone like him before. He always believed in looking at the bright side of things. He didn't overlook the faults but he always looked at the good parts first. He was willing to give everyone and everything a try, and that really made an impression on me. I also liked him a whole lot, and I wanted him to think I was a good person, instead of a cynical little bitch. Nothing ever came of it (he's gay), which is certainly all for the better and I'm extraordinarily happy about that now, but the fact that I liked him so much made me a better person. I still love him a lot and he's really made me recognize that not everything is as bad as it seems, and to give everyone a chance.

Posted by: citysnidget at May 21, 2008 10:49 PM

Whenever I talk to someone - girlfriend, friend, family, or really anyone else, I use their name a lot. Not so much in annoying way, where I use it nonstop, but enough to help me connect to what they are saying. Also, enough to let them realizing I'm connecting.

The other big one is just to listen to people. If I know my friends are going through a hard time, I always ask them what's wrong, or let them know that they can talk to me no matter what.

Yeah, those two "strategies"...

Posted by: Ryan at May 21, 2008 11:02 PM

I've been thinking about this all week. My general ideas for myself have been sort of along the lines of what sam said (2nd post), just try to chill a little, don't try to be the center of attention, think about things before saying them, but I also realize that worrying about what people think of you can really hinder your interactions with those people (one of the examples ze brought up was 'apologize more'...my instinct when I worry about people liking me is to apologize like crazy, which of course just annoys them).

The thing I find is that people like you when you act naturally, and you can't act naturally if you're worrying about their opinion of you. So I suppose the trick is to stick to the basics: be happy, be peaceful, be respectful. And let it ride.

Posted by: Louis at May 21, 2008 11:03 PM

I'm the sort of person who only ever has one or two friends, and generally, I like that. It's not that I don't know how to interact with people, I'm just not that sociable. My Grandmother used to worry about me being a "loner" and suggested I go to church to meet people. I think she just wanted me to go to church, now I think of it. In any case, every time I actually do manage to go out and socialize, I make a conscious effort to smile, make eye contact, and take a genuine interest in other people's lives. I'm not sure I've ever successfully made a friend this way. I've made acquaintances with whom I get along, and I'm told I'm fairly well liked by people, but the truth is all my good friends (and my husband) were met through kind of cheesy circumstance. Speaking of my husband- I worked with him, but we never really spoke. One day he asked about my tattoo (always a conversation piece) and we started talking off and on. One day, at the end of the shift, I stopped him as he was leaving and said "Look, I've taken a shine to you. Aren't I shiny enough?", to which he replied "Of course, you're plenty shiny". The rest is history. To me, it seems the best friends find each other, shy or not. Whenever I try to make myself more broadly appealing, I just end up making friends with people I really don't have anything in common with.

I would like to add that I think a lot of people try these methods because they're ashamed of being introverts. It seems there is a stigma around introverts. It's nothing to be ashamed about if you prefer to stay home on a Saturday night or dread going to social events- even parties. I say to introverts: be proud of your social lives (or lack thereof). Thanks for letting me ramble. I'll stop now.

Posted by: Hillery at May 21, 2008 11:20 PM

I'm pretty sure I was in grade four. I wasn't popular or overly liked, and I was pretty sure everyone hated be because I wasn't cool. One day, I decided that from then on, I would be cool. I put on my super cool denim jacket and jeans, let down my usually-ponytailed hair, and put lip gloss on. I walked cool, I talked cool and acted as cool as I could. At the end of the day, I asked my one good friend what she thought of my dramatically altered way of being, and she told me she hadn't even noticed. It took a while for that to really sink in, but I am reminded of it every time I feel the need to act cool for people.

Posted by: Jaime at May 22, 2008 1:10 AM

After reading the book "The Game" by Neil Strauss, I have changed substantially as a human being. I'm definitely more confident, more outgoing and generally happier. I think that the techniques described in this book really teach one to become better integrated into a part of society that he/she may not otherwise feel comfortable in.

Posted by: patrick at May 22, 2008 2:15 AM

Well the first time I consciously decided to change the way I am with people and actually tried, was on a nerd camp when I was 16. Before, I wasn't that talkative, and was really shy and quiet in school. I had my own little gang of friends so I didn't really try to make friends with the rest of my school year. At the camp I decided to be myself but my best self. I became a lot more hyper and loud and talkative and I made a lot of cool friends. The following years at school were so much nicer because I could actually make friends and start conversations and feel comfortable around people.

The funny thing is, is that all my relatives say I'm more like I was before I started school, before I became withdrawn etc etc.
I was a pretty crazy child and school took three years to break me. I used to be ringleader in expeditions to escape from school.
I think I needed some space from the people wh knew me, to actually remember who I was, or remove the social conditioning if you like.

Posted by: amy at May 22, 2008 3:33 AM

When I was in my early 20's, I began to consciously try to have a positive attitude. I've always been a very content, generally happy person. But because I'm very laid-back, I often find myself slipping very comfortably into apathy. I guess I was really going for not only a positive response to life, but an exciting response to life.

I began to recognize that slight switch in my brain that was going for the negative, or the bored, the "nah, I'll just stay at home" response. I forcibly would change it into "YES, I'll do that, I'll go there, I'll eat that, I'll talk to strangers ... etc".

At first it did feel a bit superficial and forced, but soon I felt the positive response was my natural response, and it did really change me. It worked brilliantly. I think I've done more, and had a much better life - just because of that slight switch in consciousness.

Posted by: Annie at May 22, 2008 4:44 AM

Two things really...

To control that nervous energy I get sometimes when I meet someone new...being overly nervous/energetic puts the other person on edge.

Taking more of an interest in others. Obvious? Yeah, but still, everyone needs to do it a little more. Sometimes, just listening and then responding to their words about what they said...not tying it in with something about me.

Posted by: The Invisible Man at May 22, 2008 6:11 AM

Not too long ago I tried doing something like that yes. I've tried smiling more like said above, which usually has a good effect. But also simply being more interested in the other person, I used to talk about myself at lenght once I had a conversation going. I taught myself that asking a question about them, or something that interests them is usually appreciated.

Eventually I started talking less about myself and asking more and more questions, until I found that asking too many questions is also not good. So the key was in the balance between asking questions and talking about yourself.

I can't really describe how to achieve that but I think it's mainly aquired through a lot of practice. Talk to people, even if you don't know them, starting a conversation isn't that hard, you just need the balls for them. ( And sadly sometimes I still don't have them. )

But by trying I found a new best friend, which was something I didn't really expect. So yes, my efforts did work out in a way. ( and they still are )

Posted by: Guido at May 22, 2008 9:23 AM


"Be like Kaylee." I'd always wanted to be like the Kaylee character from Firefly, silly as that might sound - cheerful and friendly, optimistic, kind. She was my attitude role model almost the instant I stepped out of high school, as I felt she embodied not only the better qualities in me, but also the qualities I wanted to have.

As to the success of this, well ... I adopted the Kaylee stance whilst living in Iowa, where this sort of thing was something of a public standard. When I moved to Connecticut, my attempts at this sort of friendliness were met with outright derision and scorn. What was average in the Midwest was too much on the east coast, and it makes me feel a little more alone.

Posted by: Carin at May 22, 2008 10:44 AM

I had been introduced to a magnet school in my awkward teens. The other kids I wanted to hang out with were very clear to me. I dressed like them, listened to their music, hung out with them, learned all their in-references and favorite pop-culture allusions - all to no avail, I was always an awkward outsider.

So, far too late, when the next generation of kids came to the school, I figured out what I did wrong. I hadn't been through that first year with the popular group, wasn't a part of their pride, and trying to force my way in by being like them was a horrible, horrible mistake. While embarrassing, this turned out to be the best lesson I ever learned about being myself, and being kind to those coming up behind. It's a strategy I've kept to most of my life, and has worked out pretty well.

Posted by: bw at May 22, 2008 10:48 AM

It's funny you ask. I'm going through something like this now. I tend not to make eye contact when I talk to people (no clue why), so fro the last few weeks I have been tryng to change this about myself (so that maybe others wont think I am the freak that I am). After a life time of glancing around the room, to force your eyes to stay in one place is quite a mental and physical challenge. I'm kinda hoping this wont make people think i'm so odd, but who knows, we'll see where it leads. Wish me luck!

Posted by: Senseless Babble at May 22, 2008 11:16 AM

Make eye contact: often when I feel shy I sort of "look around" people since I find eye contact kind of uncomfortable. The results are good when I do: people connect very quickly. But I still find it hard with people I don't know very well.

Strange one: when I was in HS I was very ... nice. I grew up in a home where kindness and sweetness while not practiced, was definitely endorsed. At some point, in the outside world I remember feeling like I was missing out on the racy jokes/sarcasm etc. since I made such an effort to be nice, so I weirdly appropriated more of an edge on purpose. At first, people didn't seem to like this "new and improved me", plus they didn't get the sarcasm because they weren't expecting it from me. Was this conscious effort at becoming less sweet a good thing? Juries out... :S since I'm definitely less sacchariny than I was. But probably more real once the purposeful attempts at sarcasm became genuine. (Erm...)

Posted by: ingrid at May 22, 2008 11:45 AM

Trust people. They can sense it; it makes them feel responsible, and also helps them trust you.

Trust me.

Posted by: Kashif Syed at May 22, 2008 1:03 PM

Within the past couple of years, I became conscious of how much I was unconsciously complaining and cut it down to only conscious complaining. I attracted fewer complainers. People became happier to see me. Now I am happier - can't complain about that!

PS: Ted/Theo: Ted DIDN'T do anything wrong, he just needs to enunciate better. Try moving the sound, "Ted" to the front of your mouth instead of letting it get swallowed up by your throat. I don't even know Ted, but I like him a little better.

Posted by: jeano at May 22, 2008 4:43 PM

In my junior year of high school, my father noticed that I wasn't making eye contact with people very much. I told him that it made me feel uncomfortable, so he told me to look them at the bridge of their nose. Problem solved! Nobody knew I wasn't making eye contact, and over time I overcame whatever it was that prevented me from looking people in the eye.

Now, years later, I have a son with Autism, and I'm teaching him to make eye contact. I guess the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree.

Posted by: Jemaleddin at May 22, 2008 4:59 PM

This is so interesting because I was just thinking about this the other day.

When I was in junior high I tried to mimic people I liked. Whether I wanted to be their friend or I "liked" them.

I wasn't popular but my cousin was. She was dating this guy I thought was completely hot. She seemed very comfortable with herself and wore clothes and said things I wished I could but would never dare.

I wore shirts that clung to my neck because I just didn't feel comfortable wearing anything more revealing.

Anyway, I wasn't even in the same realm as this guy (obviously as time has gone on I have a completely different perspective). I remember one basketball game I sat there mimicking the way he sat, where he put his hands, etc. Thinking he'd see how similar we were and we'd be together forever.. He had no clue I even existed, and the only thing I knew about him was that I thought he was hot. This may startle you, but the attempt was not a success.

I find it entertaining that I was so absolutely clueless about the way men and women interact. In all truthfulness I am still slightly embarrassed by that behavior and would likely never tell anyone.

Posted by: Chels at May 22, 2008 8:45 PM

To keep a guy interested I was told to not speak so much and not ask so many questions as well as when asked a question not to give the response I would normally give but to give a generic answer.

Bristling at the dated concepts an how they reflect poorly upon the male of the species, I fought doing it. However, my reasoning was quashed by this, "It doesn't matter how sophisticated or intellectual a heterosexual male is, they all still are babies and want to feel superior. If they do not, you do not have a chance. No amount of cleavage can overcome this."

I tried it. It worked amazingly well even with guys whom I'd previously respected. However, knowing how the strategy worked, all my attraction to the subjects drained. Plus, it didn't feel right or honest to me and even if they all turned out to be putzes, they deserve better than that.

So it seemed the choices were to manipulate or to be alone. The happy middle didn't arrive for several years.

Posted by: boo at May 22, 2008 8:58 PM

I tried to get back a girl that really liked me at before. I had just stopped talking to her when I decided that I didnt like her. After 3 years and 3 times of me starting to talk to her and stopping I finally decided I really liked her. I spent the whole spring actually getting to know her and she got to know me. I really fell for her, and she stopped liking me. I learned that 1. you want what you cant have. 2. openly tell people how you feel, dont just stop talking to them. 3. Get to know someone before you decide you like them or not.

Posted by: rocco at May 22, 2008 9:02 PM

It can be difficult to make small talk, but when I chose to be interested in conversations and not how the other participant(s) would think of me, I was able to relax and enjoy myself instead of worry.

Online, I'm making a conscious effort to remove most adverbs or filler words from my sentences ('really,' 'very,' 'just') as well as throwaway phrases like 'I think' that I've used to precede sentences and which make me look wishy-washy. I'm also being careful to use active sentences. I'd like other people to respect my opinions, and they're more likely to do so if I present my opinions in a professional manner.

Posted by: Audrey at May 22, 2008 10:06 PM

I don't like it when people touch me when I'm talking to them.
It creeps me out, especially if I don't know them well.

Posted by: Dan at May 22, 2008 10:11 PM

It's easy to make friends. What's harder is keeping them.

I made some new friends a few months ago who I genuinely liked, and one day, I admitted to them as we were parting for the evening, "I'm so glad you guys like me." They laughed awkwardly, exchanged glances, and never called me back to ask me if I wanted to do anything.

So apparently, being straightforward with people isn't a good thing. I don't think they understood that I was being half-sarcastic.

Employing the Dale Carnegie strategies of *How to Win Friends & Influence People* seem ideal, it's just a lot harder than it seems...

Posted by: Emily at May 22, 2008 11:22 PM

I never used to look people in the eye, and that bothered them. Now I look everyone in the eye. I just developed that ability over time, and after getting frustrated with myself so often for not being able to do it.

Posted by: NB at May 23, 2008 12:47 AM

Basically, shut the fuck up until someone speaks to you. Answer truthfully, and do your own thing.

Act yourself, just don't act conceited. You keep away the bad kind of people and all you're left with are great friends.

Posted by: Jeff at May 23, 2008 1:07 AM

I discovered early on that if you make people laugh when you disagree with them they're much less likely to do, well, any horrible thing to you (verbal, physical or psychological). I do sometimes feel I'm trying too hard to make a joke work in casual social interactions, but in these situations I'm safe, and when I do stumble upon an individual who finds me amusing there's an enormous sense of reward.

As for people in general; I started doing improv and stand-up at sixteen and learned that, much like in the film 'I'm not Rappaport' I could adopt what ever persona I cared to whenever I cared to. Unfortunately I don't have the energy or interest in carrying such charades beyond the extent of my limited attention span, meaning when I give up, quasi revert back to some place that is less acting and more me, I stop hiding something that has alternately been described by outside parties as scary, intimidating, or intense.

So what's my point? Ah, kids, hear this: open body language, appearance and hygiene, being able to follow the thread of a conversation and take it interesting places should suffice for someone not returning from hermitage. Also remember: if it's not going well, forget it! Move on! It's not apathy I'm suggesting, though I have my fair share of that, but rather the old idea that it doesn't matter what any specific individual thinks of you. If you're entire high school hates you don't fret! There are millions more people out there for you to try with!

As sociopathic as it sounds, other people really don't matter in the realm of casual interpersonal relation. There's a good chance they feel exactly the same was about you.

Damn; I am depressing tonight...yet upbeat. I think I'll go talk to some black clad teenagers and see what I can, as cheerfully as possible, convince them to jump off of.

Posted by: Theokotos at May 23, 2008 1:20 AM

I'm Danish but went to a private school in England where I learned "proper English." Gave me a stiff English accent and that combined with being shy didn't work for me when I moved to Seattle in 2000. It seemed like everyone there thought I was snobby or mean and they really got after me when I'd say a non-American word.

I decided to try and speak with an American accent so I wouldn't put people off. Unfortunately, they thought I was either retarded or making fun. Realised I couldn't keep that up so I ditched Seattle for LA where nobody seems to care and I can easily pull off a "heeeeey duuuuude."

Posted by: alex at May 23, 2008 3:49 AM

Have you heard of "A Complaint Free World"? A pastor started a challenge to not complain for 21 days--he wore a purple bracelet, and if he complained out loud, he had to switch it to the other wrist. The goal was 21 days without moving the bracelet. It got a huge following, and a book written (http://www.acomplaintfreeworld.org/). The testimonials all talk about how complaining less makes you happier, makes people enjoy your company more, etc., and generally make a good case for spreading positive energy.
I am going to try it...just as soon as I run out of complaints.

Posted by: Anonymous Girl at May 23, 2008 9:06 AM

Ask people questions that will make them talk about themselves.

I've often had trouble 'proposing' topics for conversation - I can happlily keep a lively conversation going, I'm just bad at thinking of topics to get them started. This gave me a bunch of topics which the other person enjoyed talking about.

I actually took this from a guy I knew who I observed to be very social. I later realised that he didn't actually give a crap about the answers, he was just using this technique to ingratiate himself with people he believed would profit him if they liked him. He turned out to be a nasty piece of work. He also inundated them with these questions, only using each answer as a basis for the next.

Once I realised what he was actually like, I stopped using this in the same way as him, but it now helps me to jump into a real conversation with people I don't know.

I think I ended up doing this as, for whatever reason, the other person enjoying the conversation is the most important thing to me when I talk. I think I'm quite self concious about being boring...

Posted by: Felix at May 23, 2008 9:09 AM

Going through stuff at my parents' house a couple years ago I came across a very earnest acronym I had made up to remind myself how to behave in social situations. I am almost certain that it was FUBTLES, but I can't remember what all of the letters stood for. I know I thought it was both hilarious and pathetic when I found it-- I am sure it's still there, and I'll look for it the next time I'm home. (My parents live just a couple hours away.) It must have played out at least decently, because I was eventually a member of the homecoming royalty and stuff. But always neurotic and awkward, oh yes. Some things never change.

Posted by: Libbey at May 23, 2008 12:11 PM

I do strange, crazy things in public, like having laser pointer sniping wars. (Two groups start on opposite sides of a crowded mall, and have to find and get a clear shot at the other group without getting shot by them. We call on the cell or shine the laser in their eye to signal victory. This results in crouching behind bushes and the like and, on one memorable occasion, posing as a mannequin, without attracting unwanted attention, which will get you noticed by the other team. As I was saying...)

I get two kinds of reactions. One is a blank stare. Most people go with that. The cool people ask what the deal is, or at least say "that's awesome" before moving on. The REALLY cool people join the game. It's not an effective method, it's amazing how people ignore anything they don't like or understand, but it's fun. On a deeper note, I refuse to change my personality to fit the majority. Conformity may get you popularity, but popularity isn't the same as friendship. So if you see someone wearing 3D glasses for no reason whatsoever, or taking pictures of seemingly random objects before yelling "Got it!" and sprinting away, make a point of saying hi.

Posted by: Blank-Mage at May 23, 2008 1:29 PM

I remembered reading somewhere that you could tell if a person was paying attention to what was being said because they would blink more often - and then I heard from somebody that girls would like you more if you listened, really listened, to what they had to say. So I decided to try it out on a girl and I pretended I was really listening and I made sure to blink a lot to prove it. She asked me if I had something in my eye - three times she asked me - but I was too busy concentrating on blinking to prove how good a listener I was. She got pissed off and walked away. Now I just listen to what everybody has to say and blink when my eyes are dry. To this day I still wonder what it was she was trying to say to me. Oh well.

Posted by: Robbo at May 23, 2008 4:59 PM

I tried 2 things (at different times, mind you): 1. Be the quiet/mysteriopus guy who doesn't talk much 2. Let the other person dominate the conversation
They worked alright, but I much prefer being loud and abnoxious.

Posted by: Peter at May 23, 2008 6:40 PM

Find something you love about everyone you meet. Be the first one to the dance floor. Smile. Have a good time.

Posted by: Sean at May 23, 2008 7:17 PM

I'm the type of person that people strike up conversations with on the bus stop. I think I just have an unconsciously open and friendly face.

I think the advice I would give is to show a genuine interest in what the other person is saying. I guess nowadays people just feel like they aren't really being listened to.

Posted by: chim at May 23, 2008 9:53 PM

My freshmen year in high school, I made the conscious decision to walk straighter and not look down, to look at the people I passed ad notice their faces. I felt that would make me seem more confident than I really was and more open to talking to people vs. being totally enclosed and seeming like I wanted to be excluded from the world. It probably didn't make too much of a difference, I still had a hard time conversing with people I didn't know very well. I did once have someone comment on it.

Posted by: JWo at May 24, 2008 10:06 AM

a guy a went to coilege with tried this....http://www.hellomynameisscott.com/landing.aspx

While I dont agree with the marketing component of his philosophy, the basic concept is noteworthy...and it does work...having tried it on several occasions.

Posted by: higgins at May 24, 2008 11:25 AM

a guy I went to coilege with tried this....http://www.hellomynameisscott.com/landing.aspx

While I dont agree with the marketing component of his philosophy, the basic concept is noteworthy...and it does work...having tried it on several occasions.

Posted by: higgins at May 24, 2008 11:25 AM

i have been adopting strategies to make myself more likeable, agreeable, valuable since as long as i can remember. i don't ever remember it being a decision, or ever learning that it was a way of existing.
one example is right now. i have always done what i was meant to, ie. do really well in school, get into college. i fought really hard to get into college, had my final exams rechecked more than once; i knew i was right. to get into a course that i chose mainly, i think, to validate an idea of myself that i wanted to relay to others, everyone, my mother, people i might speak to in bars at some point, my friends, everyone. i got that course. i did well, every year.
but i never did well without a lot of pain, and feeling like it wasn't what i wanted to be doing. i'd put off all my work until it had to be done, upon which point i would get into a zone of prolific work, driven by terror that this idea of me would collapse and i'd have nothing. i'd pull it all off, sometimes nearly pulling myself off the face of the earth in the process, always reassuring everyone once it had been done that it was no big deal.

i'm in my final year of college now; within a breath of a really good degree, in performance studies, which i adore, in a good university. that i want. or at least i think the person i would like to be/people to see me as, wants.

but all of that prolific, frenetic, stressed-fuelled drive has deserted me. i'm tired. i'm burnt out. for a lot of reasons. i have huge support, but only because i keep checking with everyone, my tutor, my department head, that i'm ok, that i can DO this. they all say i can; they bend over backward so that i can. i miss a deadline, they extend it.

i really want someone to say i don't have to. that they know i can, but i don't have to. i know i can, hypothetically. i mean a lot of people have said it, but they don't seem to mean it; i know that if i don't do this, that for a lot of people, i won't be what i was anymore. i want to finish it, but right now i'm too traumatised. too burnt out. i have pushed it too much. for a lot of reasons.

so i guess all of my decisions have been centred on making people think of me in a certain way. strong. sweet. thin. funny. smart. brave. damaged. interesting.

what to do? push through, sit these finals, without the benefit of my frenetic drive?

i'm trying. but let's face it; i'm not studying right this second, i'm opening up to countless strangers online, on ZeFrank.com, instead. because i'm a little/a lot afraid. because i'm avoiding a decision that's too hard to call for a girl who's made 'em all while scrambling to see herself in other people's eyes...

Posted by: bex at May 24, 2008 7:03 PM

I've always been a person who enjoys time alone. I enjoy interacting with people when I go out, but I don't go out very often. I've had shame about this, because so many people seem to equate having a fulfilling life with being very social. I worried that people would think I was weird or a loner. A few years ago I decided to counter this by accepting every invitation to hang out that I received. I ended up feeling anxious and run down all of the time. Finally, I realized that I needed to accept the fact that I am a homebody, and stop worrying so much about how other people judge my life. It's been a great relief.

Posted by: Tania at May 24, 2008 9:54 PM

I'm in a social organization at my school I started taking their pictures. now everyone knows me but i still have no real friends.

Posted by: none at May 25, 2008 4:14 AM

Stop lying.

It hasn't worked yet.

Posted by: trick at May 25, 2008 4:41 AM

Hugging. A lot of hugging.

I started hugging my friends more, and one day my friend Chris came to the conclusion that I was madly in love with him.

I'm not, and I still hug him to annoy the living turds out of him.

Posted by: Valerie at May 25, 2008 2:24 PM

"act like you care less". sounds pretty dumb, but in the halcyon days of middle school, it worked for everyone else.

it actually did work for a little bit.

but then people started realizing that underneath the cool exterior i was a marshmallow and totally someone who cared. most everybody bailed but i had a few friends that stuck around. it's a dead routine but sometimes i still find myself falling back into it in order to save my own feelings.

my new thing is "be honest". it pretty much just comes off as tactless, so i'm back to being percieved as an ass.

Posted by: lorn at May 25, 2008 4:03 PM

You definitely need to meet Scott Ginsberg, the nametag guy. He does this for a living, and teaches others how.

http://www.hellomynameisscott.com (mentioned in a previous comment.)

Glad to introduce you.

Posted by: Andy Sermovitz at May 25, 2008 6:17 PM

I always tried to be more social. Every morning at the beginning of the school year, I'd say something to the ring of "Talk to Kate today" or "Try to talk to Kayla today"(There's always some popular Kate and Kayla out there, right :)).

If there's one thing I learned, especially about being social. Always be persistent.

Only I wasn't persistent.

Did I get very far once I gave up?

Well, I'm talking to you guys from the internet...

Never do a job half way ;)

Posted by: Mikh at May 25, 2008 10:31 PM

I can't remember specifics about how I have come to interact with others (save a few specific moments of intense guilt or shame). What I have learned is that people like to feel accepted and respected. Unless specifically asked, people aren't usually looking for advice, and even when they are, they often just need to be heard.
I've never had trouble making friends, and I would attribute it to my general willingness to listen and accept whomever it is that I am speaking with.
Oh, and smiles seem to help:)

Posted by: habile b at May 26, 2008 2:10 PM

I try to be polite, even though there can be a mess of feelings...I think it's important because a person doesn't have the right to be an asshole to another...I think trying to smile or appear positive can be helpful to others around you...everything kind of knows how fucked and desperate things are...I know this is more opinion-based and vague, and not anecdotal, but I feel like there were times where appearing friendly creates a better sense among people...and you choose to appear a certain way...there was a time when I never looked at people or waved in an easy way and that seemed to put me at a distance towards others (perhaps that's what I wanted) but now it's seems important to have a level of humanity regardless of how you feel...to be an asshole knowingly, to not give a shit is sort of selfish and juvenile...even if your life has turned to a very doomed existence, one must be internal in everyday life with feelings...isn't it necessary?

Posted by: Mike Niemeyer at May 26, 2008 3:09 PM

When I was around 16 or 17 I was very uncomfortable with any silences mid-conversation. To fill the silence I would cough, and I would cough for long enough for someone to think of The Next Thing To Say. The problem was that by doing so I would regularly give myself a real cough. Thankfully by the time I was 19 I was ok with 'conversational silences' and didn't have to give myself throat and chest infections anymore.

Posted by: Adam at May 26, 2008 7:12 PM

Ze,

This is a fascinating question. I'm really enjoying reading the responses.

This question actually really resonates with me.

You may remember the MTV show Daria that was on from '97-'02. I was in high school during this time (I graduated in '01). I remember clearly in one episode, Daria said that she expects people not to like her, so she acts in a way that will make people not like her, so as not to be surprised when they don't.

This was my problem, for many years.

I got sick of people not liking me.

Then I thought, maybe I could be the funny friend in the group. You know, there's always a funny guy.

Only my sense of humor turned out to be horrifically offensive to almost everyone I met. For some time, I said anything funny that came to my mind. Literally anything. Almost all of it was sarcastic and I alienated a lot of people.

I've been trying lately to rein in my id as far as it has control of what comes out of my mouth.

It's been largely successful.

One last thing: It's a commonly repeated idea that if you want someone to like you, you should ask them questions about themselves. People love to talk about themselves.

This is something I've tried over the past year or two. It's been unsuccessful at times. It's worked quite well at others.

I think a better strategy is to imagine the kind of person you would find to be the perfect friend. It's probably someone who's a lot like you, but better at certain things.

Try to be that person.

Posted by: joshua at May 26, 2008 10:13 PM

I've been traveling the world for a year and as part of that I've come into contact with a whole bunch of different people. Most of them didn't have much in common with me so I had to learn to make small talk without being incredibly dull. As part of this I've tried the whole idea of shutting up and listening to other people, but I've hardly ever found that this does a good job of getting people motivated to converse. Instead I go more for the Strauss method of trying to inspire the other people to talk more by discussing open-ended issues and genuinely engaging topics. There's usually something you can find that sets off the other person's imagination. Perhaps this works well because everyone else is going for the "shut up and listen" approach? If we're all supposed to listen who's going to do the talking? I'm not sure if this approach has made me more likeable, but it's certainly produced better interactions with people, on average.

I also made a point of eye contact lately. I was pretty shocked to find out how bad I was at keeping eye contact, and even more shocked at how offensive it is when you try to keep eye contact with someone who just won't look at you.

Posted by: Mac at May 27, 2008 12:04 AM

i ask people how they spell their name. usually it engenders a whole conversation about their name which cements it pretty well. but you'd be surprised how often people thank me for asking how their name is spelled!

i feel like it's a sign of a little more respect, or a little more personal that, for instance, "Cate" whose name is never spelled right on a name tag or party invite has a friend who CAN get it right - there's no K!

even the more "ordinary" names sometimes have an unusual spelling. and sometimes i just offer a silly option (tried to get a little girl to spell Whitney like Wit-knee) with the excuse that i DID know a Da3ve (that's Dave with a silent 3 in the middle).

so how to spell a name is often an interesting insight into a person and they are almost always glad to share their story...

Posted by: chel at May 27, 2008 1:23 PM

I talk about myself as little as possible. People like to talk about themselves, so I give them a rare opportunity to do so.

Posted by: Tanya L. Crenshaw at May 27, 2008 3:30 PM

oh yea, i can remember, as it's the story of my last years, since i decided to be more "social" in other circumstances than alcohol driven: experimented "being pleasant" and jesus! it worked, in more than 96% situations: (the 4% failure was while dealing with intelligent, sober losers)... smiling and looking in people's eyes, sincerily interested in what they have to say... now, the effort comes when you really have to link your remark to their previous one... luckily, the questions "really?", "did you?" and "why?" work almost flawlesly, as far as you manage to have your lipstick still on, and correct manicure, while touching his arm, "en passant".... the rest is history... good short-term memory helps a lot. cheers.

Posted by: rox at May 27, 2008 11:39 PM

Like everyone's mom says I should, I have always "tried to be myself." Which is a paradox, isn't it? Why should I have to TRY to be myself? But I've always done that, and it works for crap, frankly.

I usually find that I'm trying too hard, and my attempts to be myself are perfectly transparent and pathetic.

So lately I've been trying to be someone much more patient, cool and together than I am, and it's working for me.

Posted by: TS at May 28, 2008 5:58 PM

Around sophomore year in high school, I stopped speaking except to interject comments I thought were witty and/or facts to correct people. In other words, I became a walking talking representation of web 2.0. My circle of friends shrunk, definitely. I didn't reach out to as many people, and fewer people reached out to me. The only thing I really maintain from then is that I never talk about myself. A lot of people think I'm modest because of that, but what I really believe is that arrogance is one of the worst personality traits, and I try to avoid it like the plague.

Posted by: Jason at May 28, 2008 11:10 PM

Good question! You know, I struggled with friend-making strategies for most of my life. I'd characterize myself as a shy person, who likes people, but I tend to be reserved with people I don't know well.

Note: just realizing and accepting that about 1/4 of people you meet will never be your best friend or even a good acquaintance helps a lot. Personalities differ. That's a good thing. Realizing that takes the pressure off.

I've gone through a lot of these strategies. Here's a short list with my thoughts.

Simplest strategy: Smile more. Tends to get reliable but tepid results. It gets my foot in the door?

Sneakiest strategy: Mirror people's body language. (Warning: this one can make you feel a bit like a serial killer, out to integrate with society.) CREEPILY effective. You start to notice how other people do it too . . . .

Most worthwhile strategy: Listen more. (Tthis is a constant one, in any relationoship.) I find I get more out of an interaction when I pull more conversation out of the other person. Ask about their passions. I learn more. They feel valued. Win-win situation.

Current strategy: Act like someone you've met is already your friend. This integrates most of the above--smiling, listening, valuing, mirroring (to some extent).

I hit upon this because, as a shy, reserved person, I've gotten feedback from friends that I come off as stand-offish when I meet people. I'd venture to say that there's a lot of side-stepping that goes on in the beginning of any meeting/acquaintanceship/friendship, when you don't know how to take the other person. In the absence of data, people project their fears, I guess, and silence is construed as dislike or disinterest . . . making someone feel welcome let's whatever's going to happen, happen.

Posted by: Erin at May 29, 2008 10:05 AM

At times I write something of fancy, at times of hummingbirds. I describe scenery and song through melodies of convergence and of the beating of the heart. *In* times Buddy pants as he runs up with Delilah and Jimmy near in step and memories of the wonderful breeze around me accompanies the piano jazz being keyed inside.

I relish and I look, no...gaze. I whisper. I embrace all charm and make seemingly inaudible speeches, at times, and hindsight always wins. I heal the shakes as I induce them and expound them out, and flying is beyond me.

All the boys and girls astound me. Unstopping curve of learning "silence" takes its toll.

Posted by: Raisa at May 29, 2008 3:05 PM

Now that I am older, I've been encouraging women in lower career positions to assert themselves, mostly using techniques garnered from acting class. (Employment and advancement are still nowhere near perfect between the genders.)

When being bullied by a superior, plant your feet, straighten, make eye contact and speak deliberately. (You don't have to speak loudly in fact it's better if you use a lower, clear register.)

If your communication needs another round of clarification or you feel that your point is not quite getting across, put a hand on your hip, waist or a table and press firmly. Do not use: "uhm", "ya know" or "like". Ever.

And if it all goes very wrong: In a barfight, tripping goes nicely to your advantage right off the bat.

Great topic, Ze.

Posted by: ColdFriday at May 29, 2008 7:06 PM

A friend read some self-help book about "pointing your heart warmly" at people. We laughed and had no idea how to implement this, but tried anyway. I have no idea how it was received. We worried that it was making us laugh and think too much of 'warmly pointing' and not listen. Also, we worried that we did not want people to think we were, rather than warmly pointing our hearts, confusingly aggressing our breasts.

Posted by: JoyZ at May 29, 2008 8:53 PM

I always try to make sure it really seems like I'm listening. Sit with my face in my hands staring at them, lean closer, nod my head a lot, stuff like that. Even if I'm not really listening, it makes people feel much better, to think that someone's really paying attention. I've found it's easier to get them to open up.

I also try not to interrupt them with my stories, and let them ramble because that's when they reveal the most about themselves. It's really tempting to say "oh yeah, that's just like what happened to me" or "that reminds me of this one time when I..." but if I bite my tongue and let them continue, they feel much more appreciated. It really makes it seem like I'm listening. It makes them feel special.

Posted by: Ren at May 29, 2008 10:09 PM

This is a weird one. I had the reputation of being "scary" or hard to approach, even after I had made a deliberate effort to reach out to others at work. So I used my theatre training to look at myself in the mirror and see if my facial expressions might be part of it. I noticed that my eyebrows actually had these points on them, which gave me an "evil bad guy" kind of look. I began trimming off those points to give myself more generically attractive eyebrows--and to my amazement, it worked. I kept it up for about two years until everyone was comfortable approaching me, and then I let them grow back.

Posted by: dl at May 29, 2008 10:37 PM

I used to, when I was younger. I'd try to do funny impressions, make jokes, etc. Let's just say, I wasn't that funny, kids just though I was weird.

Now, as an adult, I am funny, people want to be my friend and I have all sorts of trust issues so I don't hang out with many people.

YEAH CHILDHOOD TRAUMA!!!! WHOO HOO!!!

(I blame Robin Williams. People liked him a lot when I was a kid and he was strange, so I tried that. Didn't work so well. DAMN YOU ROBIN WILLIAMS!!!!)

Posted by: Darcy at May 30, 2008 11:07 AM

Ok, so I just recently decided that when talking to people I don't know or that I should know but don't really, I take a very defensive stance in what I say. I've decided to eradicate this because just the other day, my neighbor confronted me about some thefts in the neighborhood...

Now, I know it wasn't me who stole that laptop because I was playing mmo games at the time on my own computer.

But for some reason I felt obligated to make a point that I did not steal it. My neighbor didn't accuse me, so he looked suspicious afterwards- like as if I was trying to hide something.

So yea, I'll be more earnest from now on.

Posted by: Travis at June 1, 2008 12:23 PM

Aye, aye, aye. I usually struggle with having to be seen by people I know out in public. Honestly, I'd rather not run into anybody I know, except for an extremely miniscule percent of the people I know (my little nieces....with whom I can totally be natural). This sounds terrible probably, but it drains the life right out of me to have to smile and be polite all the time with a handful of "how are yous?" and "how about that weather?" Oh, sweet Jesus. I am also conscious of the fact that people can be very sensitive and I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. Oh, and I desperately want to be liked and fear that people think I am aloof and weird. When I find out that a person doesn't like me it hurts my feelings. Oh well, I am allowed to not like people and people are allowed not to like me. I've also been burned a bunch of times by people who don't respond to my greeting. It could be a wave or a call across the street. I think sometimes people put on blinders when they walk around town! And of course I take almost everything personally. I might ask for these things because of my sour puss....when I relax my face muscles (my normal face) I appear somewhat serious. Anyway, I probably need years of therapy.

To paraphrase Robbie Burns:

"Oh God, what a grand gift it would be
to see myself as others see me."

Posted by: MJ Devlin at June 1, 2008 2:38 PM

I had to very specifically tell myself (in my mind) to listen when somebody was speaking. I realized I hadn't been listening at all (because I didn't/don't much care). But actively listening worked.

Double-edged sword for a loner, though.

Posted by: D\ at June 4, 2008 7:51 AM

I've pretty much given up trying to be liked. I've given forty-seven years of my life to trying to make friends. I've asked the open-ended questions, and listened patiently with eye contact and interest no matter how tedious it gets. I've extended myself to do little acts of kindness. I reach out. I'm pleasant and cordial. I make it a point to to apologize if I'm wrong or insensitive. I'm clean, well-groomed. I try to be kind and treat people the way I want to be treated.

But you know what? it's trite, but you really do have to like yourself first. Otherwise, you carry around with you a deep sadness that other people sense, and if they are healthy, they instinctively move away from it.
For years, I was taught to be self-deprecating because I was beautiful - I had advantages that my half-sisters didn't have and they hated me for it. I did everything I could to be nice and smart and interesting instead. But in my family, being "smart" was equivalent with being "snobbish." Basically I just couldn't win. And, if you are self-deprecating, you might as well hang a 'kick me" sign on your back, and it becomes an open invitation for others to vent their frustration on you, however unfairly. I was a doormat.

I've come to see that self-deprecation is just another manipulation. And apologizing for your very existence is painful, and heaps humiliation on to your sadness and loneliness when people use your submissiveness to justify their meanness. So I'm trying to just be kind in general, and be my own best friend in particular.
I do have about four very deep, long-lasting friendships with some pretty extraordinary, creative people. I think we were mutually relieved to find each other, and have kept in touch even though circumstances have scattered us physically. I count myself lucky.
Yes, we are all valuable just because we exist, but if someone doesn't like me, and they can't be won over by reasonable efforts, nowadays instead of being devastated and depressed about it like I used to, I mentally dismiss them as "limited," and keep my psychological distance. It's just not worth the effort and heartache, and life is too short for constant self-analysis and second-guessing myself all the time, wondering why people don't like me. Its basically self-centered, and I'm tired of it.

Posted by: bramblejinks at June 4, 2008 1:46 PM

I am generally a pretty outgoing person, but i say exactly what's on my mind ("Andy, this is my friend's boyfriend, he's a douchebag. Douchebag, this is Andy," or even something so simple as "That's a really terrible idea.").

I also am perpetually single. So i decided as an experiment to spend a week behaving in a manner that was as close to the opposite of the usual and see how men reacted.

I agreed with everything ("sure, global warming is a hoax!").
I made it a rule to complement every person I talked to in some way, even if i really didn't want to (I ended up telling someone I liked their shoelaces--they were just brown shoelaces).
I faked interest in things i could care less about (WWF Wrestling).
I drank whatever vile drink i was surprised with(dirtiest martini ever).
I even changed the pitch and tone of my voice into this less cartoony version of Georgia Engel's. I spoke slowly, I made little eyecontact.


I got three dates and my friend of five years asked me out. I took the dinners, and then was on my way.

It was a lot of work.

Posted by: chelcey at June 9, 2008 5:11 PM

After a lot of trying and failing to be good in social situations, I found the key is to just enjoy myself and say what I think. Honesty is always appreciated - as long as it's tactful. So is an attitude of friendliness and respect towards the other person.
It's basic, really - nobody wants to think you're twisting yourself in a knot to be liked by them. Rather, people like to be around someone who is comfortable in their own skin and enjoying themselves.

Posted by: Kat at June 10, 2008 9:09 AM

Adapt yourself to the situation and become whatever it is the people around you want you to be. And don't forget to make fun of fake people!

Posted by: Stacy at June 18, 2008 4:40 PM

why don't you ask something directly useful, like "what works for you yadada?" if I read all the comments my eyes would explode.

Posted by: joyce at June 29, 2008 1:35 AM

me!

Posted by: joyce at June 29, 2008 7:55 PM

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