How can you get people to like you when they first meet you? Research provides some clues. A few years ago, a Harvard study showed that people who ask questions, and especially follow-up questions, when meeting someone for the first time make a more favorable first impression than those who mostly talk about themselves.
That finding isn't very surprising since most of us tend to respond favorably to people who want to know more about us. But as Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison explains in a recent piece on CNBC.com, the most effective way to be likable goes beyond merely asking questions. It's about making human connections. Those connections are worth making. In so many situations, being liked will translate into a new customer, a better deal, or a job that you want.
Here's how to make those human connections in just about any setting.
1. Go beyond the usual small talk.
Burnison starts by arguing that we should all stop asking each other "How are you?" As he points out, "The person asking doesn't really want to know, and the person responding doesn't tell the truth."
Even if you do ask "How are you?" out of habit or tradition, move on from there soon to a more meaningful question. Burnison suggests asking what the other person is looking forward to this week, or even which celebrity he or she feels most connected to. There are many, many other options. The point is to ask a question that invites the other person to share something meaningful without being too intrusive or putting him or her on the spot. It could be something as simple as, "What's the best thing that happened to you today?"
2. Share something real about yourself.
You won't forge a connection if you confine your conversation to the classic "safe" topics such as weather, traffic, and sports. So what should you say? Try sharing something real about your own life. Burnison suggests something like, "I adopted a pet over the weekend." It shouldn't be something overly intimate, and you should share whatever it is briefly rather than letting it take over the whole conversation. But even one small tidbit about who you are outside of work will go a long way toward helping others see you as a human being, and feel more connected to you.
In nearly every human interaction, empathy is the most powerful tool at your disposal. Your ability to imagine what another person is feeling or experiencing will help you connect and increase your likability as nothing else can. Burnison advises keeping your eyes and ears open. For instance if you observe that a venerable executive is in the process of packing up his or her office for retirement, you might ask if it's hard to leave the job or the company behind. If you see pictures of children, you can ask about the other person's family and share a little bit about your own.
In any situation, you can always ask yourself what another person might be thinking or feeling and use that question to inform your side of the conversation. It will make you instantly more likable. And it will help you stay likable for what could be a long relationship to come.