Most people want to be socially desirable and do everything they can to make that happen. Yet, despite their sincere efforts, they often are not effective in increasing their popularity. Even when their friends sincerely try to shore them up, encouraging them to look at their positive attributes, they know that something is just not right.
Many patients come to me asking how they can become more interesting people. They are very aware that others don’t stay engaged with them very long bit seem anxious to disconnect relatively quickly. Some know that they choke in social situations whenever the topic becomes too uncomfortable to talk about. Others tell me that they just can’t think of what to say in the moment to keep the conversation going and begin to feel awkward in trying to continue. But many are just confused, not understanding why others see them as they do. Frustrated and discouraged, they desperately want to know what they can do to solve their socially painful dilemma.
Because I have heard these discouraging and sad stories so many times, I have taken a special interest in observing what makes some people easily attract and excite others, while others fail to sustain interest no matter how hard they try. Sometimes, of course, it is just a matter of being born with a socially desirable personality, but many of the behaviors that make people popular can actually be learned. I firmly believe that people who have not been able to hold their audiences can learn how to both bring people closer and keep from pushing them away.
The first step in learning any new way of being is to courageously look at what has not worked in the past. Exploring past social faux pas is hard for anyone and will only help if any negative self-judgments are put aside in the process. Prior social mistakes leave painful scars for everyone, but, if they are seen as learning experiences, they can be the foundation of what to leave behind and to activate the motivation to learn what does work.
Caveat: Most people are not famous, fascinating, thrilling, extraordinarily beautiful, well-travelled, hysterically funny, charismatic, or especially unique. It is so important not to compare yourself to people who have been hyped in the media. The goal is to improve on who you already are, not to wish you were someone else.
There are basic personality characteristics and specific behaviors that can either turn people away or make them want to come closer. The first category is actually easier. Most people can readily learn what they might be doing that either bores or alienates others. The second, acquiring the personality characteristics and behaviors that attract, takes more practice, but once achieved, is extraordinarily rewarding.
Common Personality Characteristics That Turn People Off
Insecurity usually manifests as a strong need for approval. Insecure people try too hard and often respond too quickly to an interaction. They rapidly agree, sometimes when they inwardly disagree, and put others on a pedestal.
2) Low Energy
Passive, non-reactive people tend to come across as uninterested and bored. Though they may feel quite differently inside, their demeanor signals a desire for minimal engagement and puts the pressure on the other person to carry the energy of the interaction.
People who take center stage in conversations do not usually hold their audiences for long unless they happen to be charismatic, notable, entertaining, or famous. Most self-centered people push their audiences away. Though they may just be nervous underneath, the people on the other end of them don’t recognize or think about those inner feelings.
4) Seemingly Uninterested
If a person looks or feels bored, the person talking isn’t likely to continue for very long. Even if people feel uninterested, they can help the conversation get livelier. You generally can’t be bored without being boring.
5) Inflammatory Biases
When people use social interactions to express rigid or fixed ideas, they will most likely engender defensiveness or exclusion in those who feel differently. An opinionated orientation without openness to other views tells others that they have no other choice but to agree, defend, or bolt.
Sarcasm is the most misunderstood of all humor. Sarcastic people take a big chance of coming across as insulting if others don’t see the humor or are offended by it. What may be funny or welcome challenge to one person can easily be a turn-off to another.
Common Behaviors that Often Push People Away
Using the same words or phrases over and over makes conversations predictable and uninteresting. Many people, often without realizing it, repeat their ideas, stories, and descriptions of events in the same way, even in the same conversation. Those who have listened to those repetitions before are usually bored. Those who haven’t heard them before might listen for a while but will get that the story is of the teller but not for the current listener.
2) Flat Delivery
Colorful dialogue doesn’t have to be deep and profound, but a monotonous, even tone will not convey excitement. It tends to be verbally monochromatic, when enthusiasm and excitement is more likely to keep a listener involved.
Using well-worn phrases, often conveyed to seek a common background, can be seen as dull and uninteresting if others have repeatedly heard them elsewhere.
4) Focusing on one’s Own Past
Sharing a story from the past is only interesting to the other person when it has relevance in terms of shared histories, similar experiences, or enlivens present conversation. Bringing an individual past story, especially if it is only important to the person talking, will derail most conversations.
Many people are nervous in intimate conversations, especially at the beginning of a relationship. When they express that discomfort by continually interrupting or one-upping the other, they are likely to turn the listener off.
Great conversations flow back and forth with ease. They allow each person to speak and be heard, and to listen equally to what the other has to offer. Speeding up, taking too long to respond, talking a long time without waiting for a response, or talking over the other before he or she is finished will usually result in a lop-sided, unsustainable conversation. Some people and some cultures have perfected talking and listening at the same time, but it’s not ever as successful as back and forth true listening.
Common Personality Characteristics That Attract Others
1) Openness to new Ideas
Everyone sees the world differently and usually enjoys sharing his or her views with an interested listener. Even if people disagree with the other’s reality, they can try to better understand each other if there is no judgment or counter-argument. In a good, well-timed conversation, there is always enough time and interest for both people to share their own views and experiences, even when they might see things differently.
2) Being genuinely interested
A good way to define curiosity is genuine interest in what is yet to be known. People who are in demand approach others with a genuine desire to know them. That behavior is reflected in their sincere questions, their active responses, their obvious interest in what is being shared, and the pleasure they show.
Passion for life can be expressed in many ways, but energy tells the tale. It is the opposite of a lackluster, dull response. Most everyone enjoys listening to someone who is excited to be in the conversation, active in their responses, and enthusiastic about what is going on.
4) Sense of Humor
It is always important that people in personal conversations know when it’s appropriate to laugh and when to take things seriously. Conversations work best when both people have the capacity to participate, to lighten a situation up, and to play when it is appropriate. Those characteristics put people at ease and keep a conversation meaningful at the same time.
5) Being Present to Cues
Many people are so focused on what they are thinking that they fail to pick up cues from the other that keep conversations mutually satisfying. People who pay attention to the way someone sounds, looks, feels, and acts, are more likely to notice a shift in the interaction and act accordingly.
People who attract others have a natural tendency to be compassionate and supportive. They feel when another is uneasy or nervous, and compensate by adjusting their tone and response style. They notice when the person talking to them rapidly changes the subject or looks uncomfortable.
Common Behaviors that Attract Others
There is no substitute for genuine caring and a receptive welcoming of another. Smiling, nodding, expressions of appreciation and affection are commonly present in people who attract others. They have an accurate sense of what makes other people feel comfortable and at ease.
2) Looking for Similar Experiences
This quality is especially important when listening to someone’s distress. It is not used to take the situation back to one’s own self but rather to make the other person feel less alone. Whether commenting on the past, present, or future, sharing experiences can help create a satisfying bond.
3) Current Passions
Being enlivened and engrossed in a present conversational experience is more interesting than talking about the past, unless a prior experience is relevant to the current interaction. Of course those descriptions of life must be interesting and relevant to both people, but it’s the energy and excitement that makes the difference.
4) Being Knowledgeable About What is Going on
Interesting people are curious, open, and mutually interested in others. They simultaneously welcome learning what is important to others and excited to share what matters to them. And not just about things that they already know, but in what other people think as well. They don’t need to be deeply knowledgeable on every subject, but they care about people and what is important to them. They keep up on those issues that commonly matter to most others. They are interested in what others can teach them in return.
5) Great Timing
Popular conversationalists seem to know when to talk and when to listen. They don’t respond immediately, until they make sure they know what the other person means. They try to match the rhythm of the other person, as if they were dancing. They don’t seem urgent or needing to make a point, but intuitively know when they should interject or take the lead.
6) Letting Go
When a conversation needs to end, people who attract others have the ability to let go of the listener gracefully without making them feel dismissed or rejected. When they sense that it’s time for the conversation to end, they sum up what’s been talked about, show appreciation for what’s been shared, and let the other person know that it’s okay to move on.
There may be additional characteristics and behaviors that are uniquely important to you or your partner. Whatever they are, be sure to share them with each other. In my work with many people over the last four decades, I’ve most frequently seen both sets of negative and positive characteristics and behaviors. Even though some people already have some of them, they can still get better by paying attention to them all.
Everyone wants to feel important and secure in his or her social group. Many people simply repeat what they have learned in the past, unaware that those ways of being and acting haven’t helped. The good news is that these new behaviors often rapidly produce positive results.
The best way to monitor your own changes it to use the following check list. Give yourself a score from one to ten on how you are currently behaving in the following areas, and then use this same checklist to evaluate yourself again in a couple of months. You will be surprised at how much better you will feel about yourself in social situations.
When I’m in a conversation with other people:
1) Am I open to theirs ideas even if I don’t agree with them? ____
2) Do I show interest in their thoughts and feelings? ____
3) How much energy do I put into interacting with others? ____
4) Can I laugh at myself and also enjoy other people’s senses of humor? ____
5) Am I able to be fully present when I listen to others? ____
6) Do I feel empathetic to other people’s distresses and concerns? ____
7) Do I show warmth? ____
8) Can I intuitively understand what experiences are important to others and share my own similar experiences effectively? ____
9) Am I currently passionate about my life? ____
10) Am I knowledgeable about what is going on in my world and curious about another’s? ____
11) Do I allow for other people to verbally dance with me? ____
12) Do I know how to gracefully let someone go when the conversation is winding down? ____
Compare your scores on each of these questions to the scores you will give yourself on the same questions a couple of months from now, after you’ve practiced each of the new behaviors. Some of these new attitudes and behaviors may change very rapidly while others may take a little longer. Don’t be discouraged. Each new one mastered will make the others come more easily and the positive responses from others will keep you motivated and encouraged.
Dr. Randi’s free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love. Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over her 40-year career, you’ll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded “honeymoon is over” phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring. www.heroiclove.com