It was a few years ago on a beautiful Friday night in Raleigh, North Carolina. The stars were out, and there was a cool breeze blowing. My date and I pulled up to the Marriott where I would change into my suit, and she’ll put on her dress.
I’ve been to formal events before. I actually really dig them. I love rocking a fresh fitting suit, a clean tie, and tightening up my hair. Feeling like Harvey Spector, I always strut confidently into the building.
But this was a Debutante Ball; a white glove affair. I had no idea what that was, still don’t really, but it was clear immediately that there would be no Drake hits coming out of the speakers.
We walk into the Marriott, and me and my date go our separate ways. I head to the guy’s hotel room, and she to the girls. Already I’m disappointed as I am wondering where the co-ed rooms are? But I roll with it, and meet the other guys in the group. The three of them are good friends. College frat bros, without a doubt.
I try to get into their circle by chiming in, “Sooo, there going to be an open bar at this thing or what?”
They get quiet, look at each other uncomfortably for a moment, then one speaks up.
“Uh, this isn’t that kind of event man..”
Ah, yes, a complete and utter misread on the fraternity thing.
These were no frat bros, and they certainly weren’t derived from the same Irish roots as me. It was a well-behaved group of kids. No sex. No drugs. No rock & roll shenanigans. And absolutely no open bar. Good for them.
My attempt to find common ground failed miserably. I spent the rest of the night as the outsider. I wasn’t very outgoing, and mostly stayed to myself. I felt out of my comfort zone.
Being “liked” and accepted is one of the most important things to us as humans. Whether we admit it or not, “not giving a f*ck what people think” is poor advice. It’s actually more helpful to just admit that we want to be liked, and learn a few ways to be more personable. It’s like trying to be cool. The harder you try, the less cool you are. So rather than doing your best to “not give a fuck,” let’s just accept that we care and give lots of fucks.
Look, I get that everybody isn’t going to like you, and it’s not about people pleasing. It’s about forming connections and bonds with people that are essential to our wellbeing.
In his book Social, Matthew Lieberman says that having “weak social connections is as bad for your health as smoking two packs of cigarettes per day.”
It’s interesting to see people who are not well-liked resolve to an apathetic attitude. Rather than work on ways to connect, they go the opposite direction. They try not to care. They try not to care because if you don’t care then it can’t hurt.
But neurologists use of fMRI machines allow them to look into what is actually happening in their brain. When people experience social rejection, the same ares of the brain light up as when we feel physical pain. Funny enough, a way to help with a broken heart can be the same as a bad back: take two Tylenol, and call it a good day.
So here’s my revolt: Let’s start giving fucks about what people think! Let’s give lots of fucks! It’s completely acceptable to be a human and care what people think. The goal should be to improve our people skills, not use all of our energy towards unsuccessfully trying not to care.
In my experience, the worst social skill advice to follow has been that of body language. Smile. Shoulders back. Head up. Tight buns. Nod your head, but not too much. Eye contact, again, not too much. Shake their hand firm, but not too tight, but tight enough.
Okay, great. You have phenomenal posture, but you don’t know their name, forgot what they said, and probably had too much eye contact anyways. Or not enough.
Here are some things to do that require little to no thought, and make for a much more natural interaction.
Let Go of Being Right
The need “to be right” is bullshit. It’s that pesky ego whispering nonsense in your ear. Our need to be right comes from wanting to be seen. Seen as smart, or knowledgeable, or worldly, or interesting, or just flat out be seen (Yo! I’m here too!).
The problem is that when you correct somebody you are making two major mistakes. First, you usually interrupt them, which isn’t cool, and secondly, they feel criticized which makes them like you less right off the bat. Nobody likes criticism, and criticism is so unnecessary in a casual conversation.
Just because a person says something that you disagree with or find blatantly wrong, doesn’t mean you have to adopt it into your own belief system. Actually, chances are you won’t adopt it into your belief system. And guess what? Neither will they.
If you truly need to be right, and hear yourself talk, start a blog. Look what I did. I’ve been talking for almost 1,000 words and you’re still listening. My ego appreciates it.
Every time you feel that pull to correct the other person, pause, take one deep inhale, and then let it go.
This involves actually listening to what they say. This is why I don’t like advice about body language. You are so focused on eye contact and smiling and nodding and standing that you completely miss what they say. Effective body language will be there naturally when you’re truly listening.
A good way to do this is listen, and then ask a follow up question. This does four things:
- Keeps your mind off having the perfect eye contact
- Let’s your natural emotions come through which gives you the “right” eye contact and facial expressions because it’s within the natural flow of interaction.
- Makes them feel important
- Let’s you direct the conversation
Real quick, why is important that you direct the conversation? Because it let’s you actually be interested! Sometimes people don’t make it easy to be interested. If somebody is sharing the ins-and-outs of collecting rocks in a monotone voice for three hours, it’ll be tough to lock your focus in. Every single person has an interesting story to tell or cool knowledge to share, and by asking the right follow up questions you direct the conversation to the good stuff, and then you truly will be interested.
Remember Their Name
One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say “I’m the worst with names.” It’s cop out. Remembering somebody’s name is simple,
1) Ask them their name
2) Repeat their name back to them
“Nice to meet you George.”
3) Think about their name after you leave them.
“George. George. George.”
Instantly forgetting a name is a lack of attention and effort. That’s why “I’m terrible with names” is a cop out. For some reason it gets people off the hook from actually asserting the effort to remember somebody’s name.
Remembering somebody’s name makes them feel important, and people like to hear their name. Use it, and instantly be more liked.
Decide Whether You Like Them
You may not like the rock collector, and never want to see him again. That’s totally fine. Redirect your focus from do they like me to did I like them? Being liked doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to like everybody. If you let them talk, listened, didn’t correct them, and remembered their name and they were a jerk or you just had poor chemistry then that’s fine. But just because you don’t like them doesn’t mean that you can’t be kind, respectful, and well-liked during your brief interaction.
People skills are essential, not only to your health, but to your life. I have never once applied for a job, and I’ve been working since I was 16. Every job I’ve had was through somebody I knew. Having good people skills can help your career, your love life, and the opportunities you have. Let’s give up trying to be apathetic about what people think. We do care, and that’s okay. It’s what makes you a human and not a reptile. Reptiles eat their own babies sometimes, and that’s not cool. Humans care what people think, and that’s cool.