Since it only takes seconds for someone to decide if they like you, and research shows that first impressions are very difficult to change, the pressure that comes with meeting new people is justifiably intense.
Too many people succumb to the mistaken belief that being likable comes from natural, unteachable traits that belong only to a lucky few—the good looking, the fiercely social, and the incredibly talented. It’s easy to fall prey to this misconception. In reality, being likable is under your control, and it’s a matter of emotional intelligence (EQ).
In a study conducted at UCLA, subjects rated over 500 adjectives based on their perceived significance to likability. The top-rated adjectives had nothing to do with being gregarious, intelligent, or attractive (innate characteristics). Instead, the top adjectives were sincerity, transparency, and capacity for understanding (another person).
These adjectives, and others like them, describe people who are skilled in the social side of emotional intelligence. TalentSmart research data from more than a million people shows that people who possess these skills aren’t just highly likable, they outperform those who don’t by a large margin.
Here’s what they do when they meet someone new:
#1 – Practice active listening.
Active listening means concentrating on what the other person is saying, rather than planning what you’re going to say next. Asking insightful questions is a great way to illustrate that you’re really paying attention. If you’re not checking for understanding or asking a probing question, you shouldn’t be talking. Not only does thinking about what you’re going to say next take your attention away from the speaker, hijacking the conversation shows that you think you have something more important to say. This means that you shouldn’t jump in with solutions to the speaker’s problems. It’s human nature to want to help people, but what a lot of us don’t realize is that when we jump in with advice or a solution, we’re shutting the other person down and destroying trust. It’s essentially a more socially acceptable way of saying, “Okay, I’ve got it. You can stop now!” The effect is the same.
#2 – Let the person you’re meeting speak first.
Let them take the lead in the conversation, and you can always ask good questions to help this along. Taking the floor right away shows dominance, and that won’t help you build trust. Trust and warmth are created when people feel understood, and they need to be doing a lot of sharing for that to happen.
#3 – Be genuine.
Being genuine and honest is essential to being likable. No one likes a fake. People gravitate toward those who are genuine because they know they can trust them. It is difficult to like someone when you don’t know who they really are and how they really feel.
Likable people know who they are. They are confident enough to be comfortable in their own skin. By concentrating on what drives you and makes you happy as an individual, you become a much more interesting person than if you attempt to win people over by making choices that you think will make them like you.
#4 – Use positive body language.
Becoming cognizant of your gestures, expressions, and tone of voice and making certain they’re positive will draw people to you like ants to a picnic. Using an enthusiastic tone, uncrossing your arms, maintaining eye contact, and leaning towards the speaker are all forms of positive body language, which can make all the difference.
#5 – Remember their name.
Your name is an essential part of your identity, and it feels terrific when people use it. Likeable people make certain they use others’ names every time they see them. You shouldn’t use someone’s name only when you greet him. Research shows that people feel validated when the person they’re speaking with refers to them by name during a conversation.
If you’re great with faces but have trouble with names, have some fun with it and make remembering people’s names a brain exercise. When you meet someone, don’t be afraid to ask her name a second time if you forget it right after you hear it. You’ll need to keep her name handy if you’re going to remember it the next time you see her.
#6 – Put away your phone.
It’s impossible to build trust and monitor your phone at the same time. Nothing turns people off like a mid-conversation text message or even a quick glance at your phone. When you commit to a conversation, focus all your energy on the conversation. You will find that conversations are more enjoyable and effective when you immerse yourself in them.
#7 – Make time for small talk.
It might sound trivial, but research shows that starting meetings with just five minutes of small talk gets better results. Many trust builders, such as small talk, can seem a waste of time to people who don’t understand their purpose.
#8 – Do your homework.
People love it when you know things about them that they didn’t have to share. Not creepy stuff, but simple facts that you took the time to learn from their LinkedIn page or company website. While this may not work for chance encounters, it’s crucial when a first meeting is planned ahead of time, such as a job interview or a consultation with a potential client. Find out as much as you can about all the people you’re meeting, their company, their company’s primary challenges, and so on. This demonstrates competence and trustworthiness by highlighting your initiative and responsibility.
Bringing It All Together
It’s the little things that make a first impression a good one, and the importance of establishing trust cannot be overstated. Now if someone would just tell this to the politicians!
What do you do to convey trustworthiness to the people you meet? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.
Travis co-wrote the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founded TalentSmart.