9 Science-Backed Ways to Win People Over

We've rounded up eight habits of likable people that you can add to your repertoire. It's not magic, it's science!

We tend to believe that those people who are charming and attract friends like bees to an open can of soda are just born that way. But that’s not always the case. Being a more likable person is something even the most introverted of us can learn. To this end, we’ve rounded up eight habits of charismatic people that you can add to your repertoire. It’s not magic, it’s science!

1. Put down your phone.

There are few things more off-putting than being in conversation with someone who appears distracted by their phone. A 2012 study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships confirms that simply having a cellphone nearby hampered the connection of a face-to-face interaction. Focusing your attention on the person and conversation at hand fosters a sense of connection. Plus, it makes the person you’re speaking to feel validated by telling them that they’re more important to you than emails and Facebook notifications.

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2. Master the art of small talk.

Making small talk can sometimes feel like a chore (especially for introverts). But it’s important if you want to get to know someone. And if done well, says Margaret Hunt, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and assistant clinical professor at UCLA, small talk can lead to a deeper relationship. Dr. Hunt suggests asking lots of questions and genuinely listening to the answers. “Thoughts of what to say next and how to keep the other person entertained may interfere with listening and lead to interrupting,” she says. “Allow those concerns to be there while redirecting your attention to what the person is saying.”

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3. Call people by their names.

When you make a point of remembering someone’s name — and using it in conversation with them — it demonstrates that you were present when you initially met. “People like to be acknowledged,” says Mark de la Rey, a clinical psychologist based in Cape Town, South Africa. “Remembering something small like a person’s name or one of their interests and asking about it when you meet again allows them to feel recognized without having to perform. You are more likable because you are making them feel acknowledged and at ease.”

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4. Ask questions.

One of the best ways to show you’ve been listening is to ask follow-up questions, says clinical psychologist Margaret Hunt. Research published in a 2017 issue of Journal Personality and Social Psychology found that the more follow-up questions asked by a speed dater, the more likely that person was to go on a second date. “Some of the most basic questions are the best place to start,” says clinical psychologist Mark de la Rey. “What do you prefer? Movies or series? What kinds of music or bands do you like? How about sports or hobbies? If they state a preference, then be interested in what they have to say.” Giving feedback is another way to show that you’ve heard, understood and are interested in what the other person is saying, says Dr. Hunt.

5. Make eye contact.

Making eye contact with someone is one of the most powerful ways to connect. Because when your eyes wander, neuroscientists have determined that the same brain regions are activated as when your mind wanders. So it’s perfectly understandable that someone might feel like you’re not focusing on or interested in them if you don’t make eye contact. On the other hand, making meaningful eye contact shows that you’re engaged in the conversation. Just make sure you’re not unblinkingly staring directly into their eyes for a long period of time. There’s definitely an art to how long to maintain eye contact.

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6. Watch your body language.

When you approach someone with a frown on your face, it’s very likely he or she will unconsciously mirror your expression and demeanor. Body language is important because we’re genetically wired to respond to stimuli in our environment, says clinical psychologist Mark de la Rey. Your “fight or flight” nervous system helps you scan your environment for clues as to whether there are threats or not in the vicinity, he says. So in the context of conversations, a hostile body posture or threatening tone of voice may cause someone to whom you are talking to feel uncomfortable or on guard around you. And then you’ve created a space in which you may be perceived to be unapproachable, says de la Rey.

7. Practice empathy.

People who are well liked display both positive and negative empathy. Positive empathy is being delighted when your colleague shares all her amazing vacation stories. Negative empathy, on the other hand, is showing that you understand and care about your best friend’s breakup.

In either situation, clinical psychologist Margaret Hunt recommends adding a bit of reading past what they’re saying and getting to the emotions behind that. For example, rather than saying “that sucks,” try “you must have felt terrible.” And in celebrating another’s success, it’s best to keep the attention on the other person, says Dr. Hunt. She suggests saying something like, “You must feel so accomplished to have gotten that promotion. I remember when you were staying late every evening in September. I’m glad they’re recognizing your dedication.”

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8. Find common ground.

Showing enthusiasm about someone’s interests and finding points of similarity are important for establishing a rapport and coming across as genuine. “Often people are quite transparent about their interests and may be asking you a question because they are eager to share their own views or experiences in that area,” says clinical psychologist Margaret Hunt. “Highlighting the aspects of someone’s politics or lifestyle that you agree with can create closeness and attraction, as sharing these meaningful characteristics is especially powerful in creating a sense of liking.”

9. Don’t overshare.

Finding common ground is a great place to start. However, those similarities can sometimes work to repel others, says clinical psychologist Margaret Hunt, which is why sharing too many personal details in the beginning, no matter how great a connection you feel you’ve made, is counterproductive.

“We tend to feel uncomfortable when people we perceive as similar have unattractive qualities,” says Dr. Hunt. “It raises concerns that we may be vulnerable to developing these negative aspects as well.” So how much is too much? Dr. Hunt suggests trying to match the other person. If they’ve shared something personal, it’s appropriate and can increase closeness to disclose at a similar intensity.

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