Work Relationships

How to get people to like you, according to an FBI behavior expert

Written by Sheryl Posnick

We all want to be liked. We all want to be popular at work—at least enough to one day be promoted, enjoy success, and get along with our colleagues. And we all want to make that crucially important first impression into a great one. Networking is too important to fumble.

You may have heard that the art of making friends isn’t something you can study up on. But there are a few tried-and-true tricks you can and should employ in the interest of keeping the conversation going, building relationships, and improving your likeability.

Here are some of the best.

1. Don’t be judgy.

According to Robin Dreeke, former head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program, this is the number one piece of advice she can give to people hoping to be well-liked. It means listening to your conversation partner, asking questions and soliciting opinions, and then not judging that person’s thoughts or feelings.

Validate the person you’re speaking to. Understand where they’re coming from and what they want and need. You’re showing interest by doing this. And letting people talk about themselves? It’s like handing out candy and cocktails when it comes to likeability.

2. Let go of your ego.

Next time you’re talking to someone and you feel the desire to correct them—or tell an even better story than the one they just told—don’t. Let go your need to be correct and be in the spotlight—it’s the other person’s chance to impress for a while. Don’t just contradict someone because you can. Save that for situations where it’s too important not to.

3. Listen correctly.

If you think listening is just about shutting up and not saying anything, you’ve got ways to go. It’s definitely not waiting for the other person to stop speaking long enough for you to get in your lines. Instead, show that you’re listening by paraphrasing bits of what was said back to the person, and then asking follow-up questions immediately to keep the conversation going. Listen actively, not passively.

4. Take an interest in other people.

Don’t necessarily ask people about their personal lives or dramas, but do inquire as to what challenges they’re facing—especially in the workplace. It can be helpful for them to talk through these things, and also you can frame it by asking advice. Maybe they raised twins. Maybe they started a business. Start asking questions about challenges and find more common ground.

5. Don’t overdo it.

New people are more likely to relax around you if you don’t look like you’re about to camp out next to them for the foreseeable future. Make it clear that you have to dash imminently, but you wanted to say hi in the few minutes you still had at the party, etc. Smile and make eye contact, but don’t be too in their face. Be as genuine and pleasant as possible but remain slightly removed, as though they definitely have your full attention, but you still have to keep one foot out the door.

6. Admit when you’re wrong.

It’s not enough to just avoid telling people when they are wrong. You should also make a point to admit when you are wrong. Apologize and take steps to fix it. Be sympathetic and contrite and you’ll avoid hard feelings.

7. Be selfless.

Once you’ve got a group of coworkers you’re trying to build lasting bonds with, do little things to make them feel important. Say hello to everyone. Show appreciation when due. Put yourself out to do things for your colleagues—even small things like remembering birthdays or including them in conversations. Take a sincere interest in people and they will reward you with their intimacy.

8. Criticize with class.

If you find you do have to criticize someone, make sure not to make a big show of it. Keep it private, just between the two of you. Don’t make a spectacle or example of it in a more public setting. And try throwing in a compliment or two to soften the blows.

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About the author

Sheryl Posnick

Sheryl Posnick is an editor and writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder and president of Red Letter Content, an editorial company with a focus on educational, test preparation, and career readiness materials.

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