If you want to make a great first impression -- and why wouldn't you? -- you know there are basic steps you can take: Smile, make eye contact, listen more than you talk, ask questions about the other person. Anyone can do those things.

But what you might not know is that if you think other people are going to like you, they usually will.

As research shows, interpersonal warmth explains the self-fulfilling prophecy of anticipated acceptance; study participants who expected to be accepted were perceived as more likable. (Or in nonresearcher speak, when you think other people will like you, you act more naturally and come across as friendlier -- which then makes people like you more since we tend to like warm, friendly people.)

All of which sounds great, but the trick, when you're shy or insecure, is actually believing that other people will like you. When you're in an unfamiliar setting or an uncomfortable position, it's a lot easier to assume people won't like you -- which research shows creates a self-fulfilling prophecy all its own.

So how can you convince yourself that people will like you? Positive self-talk ("They're going to love me!") won't cut it. 

Instead, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and commit to taking a few steps that ensure almost anyone will like you. (When results are basically guaranteed, it's easy to feel more confident and self-assured.) 

Be prepared to:

1. Give a genuine compliment.

Everyone loves to be praised, especially since no one gets enough praise. So be prepared to tell people what they did, or do, well. Find out whom you will meet and then do a little research.

If coming prepared isn't possible, no problem. Show interest by asking questions. But go past, "What do you do?" Ask what it's like to do what the person does. Ask what's hard about it. Ask what the person loves about it. You'll soon find things to compliment.

And then not only will the people you meet appreciate the praise, they'll feel more accomplished and more important, and they'll like you for making them feel that way.

2. Focus on letting people talk about themselves. 

People love to talk about themselves. (And even if they didn't, they can't help it.)

Research shows approximately 40 percent of everyday speech is spent telling other people what we think or feel -- basically, talking about our subjective experiences. (Not just that you took a spin class last night, but whether you liked the spin class. And whether you liked the instructor. And the studio. And the other people in the class. And ... )

In fact, we almost can't help sharing our thoughts and feelings: Research also shows that talking about ourselves, whether in person or on social media, triggers the same pleasure sensation in the brain as does money or food. Self-disclosure causes increased activity in brain regions associated with the sense of reward and satisfaction from money, food, and even sex.

By helping people talk about themselves, you're seen as a great conversationalist even when you actually say very little. And in the process, you also make other people feel better about themselves, which makes them like you.

That's another win-win.

3. Change one word.

Think about the difference in these statements:

  • "I had to go to a meeting."
  • got to meet with some great people."

Or

  • "I have to interview some candidates for a job."
  • "I get to select a great person to join our team."

No big deal, right? Wrong. We like to be around happy, enthusiastic, and motivated people. Do you want to be around people who have to do certain things or who want to do certain things?

Keep in mind choosing the right words also affects how you feel. Don't say, "I have to go to the gym." Say, "I want to go to the gym."

In time, you'll believe it. You'll look forward to it. 

Which you should, because improving your fitness will improve your overall health, performance, and even make you happier.

4. Show a little vulnerability.

Great teams are often led by people willing to admit weaknesses and failings. Great friends are also willing to be vulnerable. 

Want to make a great first impression? Don't try to impress. Instead, be humble. Share your screwups. Admit your mistakes. Be the cautionary tale. Laugh at yourself.

When you do, other people won't laugh at you. They'll laugh with you.

And they'll immediately like you better for it -- and want to be around you more.

Published on: May 2, 2018
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