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  • Terry R. Bacon

How to Be More Effective at Socializing

Socializing is an influence technique based on several psychological principles, notably the reciprocity of liking (also known as reciprocity of attraction). We tend to have positive regard for other people who express positive regard toward us. In other words, we like people who say they like us, and when you like someone, you are more inclined to say yes to their requests, if those requests are reasonable.

Socializing is an influence technique you normally use with strangers or people you do not know well, but socializing builds friendships and sustains closer relationships, too. You socialize by being friendly, sharing information about yourselves, finding commonalities between you and the other person, and building mutual positive regard.

Research shows, however, that reciprocity of liking backfires with people who have low self-esteem and do not like themselves. Your warmth and positive regard contradict their self-image and creates dissonance. So if you try to socialize with someone and sense that that person has low self-esteem, then this influence technique likely will not work. In fact, it could create resistance.

The adage that opposites attract is true with magnetic poles but not necessarily with people. In fact, people are usually attracted to others who are like them. Like attracts like, not vice versa. This is generally true because people identify more easily and are more comfortable with other people who are like themselves in some ways. Tall people tend to have tall friends. Outgoing people tend to associate with other outgoing people. Most people seek out and are friendlier toward other people from their own age group, region, country, religion, class, ethnic group, club, and so on. It is easier to relate to someone who shares your culture, beliefs, profession, skill set, hobbies, outlooks, and even favorite sports teams.

Another psychological principle at play in socializing is propinquity, which is the tendency for people to form closer relationships with others they encounter more often or are otherwise physically closer to. People living on the same floor in an apartment building are generally closer to others on their floor, or others they see frequently in the laundry room or at a nearby deli or coffee shop. Proximity invites familiarity, which can lead to greater affinity.

Tips on Using Socializing

  • Socializing can be as simple as striking up a conversation with someone, being curious about them, and sharing information. Imagine passing someone walking a French Bulldog on a park trail. Having previously owned a French Bulldog, you say, “What a beautiful Frenchie. I used to have one.” An instant connection like this often leads to more conversation and can broaden into a friendship if you see the dog walker again. Socializing is typically a process rather than an event. You develop a relationship over time, and as the relationship grows, your ability to influence the other person grows—as does their ability to influence you.

  • Remember people’s names. People are drawn to those who remember her name or other facts about their lives. You can learn to be good at this. Read Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends & Influence People, where he writes about the power of using people’s names. Or google “remembering people’s names.” Among the online advice are tips like these: when you meet someone focus on the person, repeat their name several times while memorizing a feature about them. Use their name during the initial conversation; afterwards, write down their name. When you go to bed that night, think about your day and the people you met. Repeat their names and recall what else you learned about them. You may be surprised how well this works.

  • Be positive. People respond far better to others who are positive, upbeat, and pleasant to talk to. Avoid cynicism and sarcasm, no matter how clever or funny you think you it is. Negativity is a turn off. So is pushing a particular agenda like a political viewpoint, a religious belief, and complaints or gossip about other people. It is far better to be positive, happy, relaxed, warm, friendly, and encouraging. People respond well to those qualities and will feel good about you.

  • Adhere to the cultural customs where you live or work. The conventions of social exchange, like shaking hands or bowing, are deeply embedded in how people greet and treat one another in everyday life. Observing the expected customs is one way to begin socializing.

  • Be curious about other people and avoid saying too much about yourself unless the other person asks about you. People who are self-centered and self-aggrandizing, especially when you have just met them, are boring and repulsive. You cannot wait to get away from them. People who are full of themselves are less attractive and influential than those who are centered, poised, quietly self-confident, and more eager to learn about others than to promote themselves.

  • Compliment the person if you genuinely find something about them attractive but avoid false compliments or flattery. Most people can detect fake flattery and will become wary of the flatterer. But genuine compliments can invoke the reciprocity of liking and cause the person to become more open to whatever else you say. The key is sincerity.

  • Give your full attention to the person you are talking to. Make and keep soft eye contact (avoid staring) and mirror the person’s tone, posture, and body language—if you can do so without mimicking the other. Effective mirroring is subtle and often unconscious. It is a natural way of “being” with someone. Close friends tend to mirror each other without either being aware that they are doing it.

  • Be empathetic. When the person tells you something that seems fascinating, say, “That sounds fascinating.” If they say that something bothered or frustrated them, say, “That must have been frustrating.” An empathetic response indicates that you have been listening, that you are “with” them and or engaged in what they have told you. If you see an angry customer harassing a ticket agent, when you step up to the agent, say, “It looks like you are having a tough day.” That kind of empathy goes a long way toward building bridge with other people. It shows that you share their feelings. For a good lesson on empathy, watch the show “Call the Midwife,” on Netflix. In every episode of that show, you will see empathy illustrated in the words and actions of the nuns and midwives at Nonnatus House.

How to Spot Fake Socializing

Socializing can be manipulative—if it is not genuine, if the person doing it is only interested in reaching a sales quota or deceiving people as part of a con. In some companies, salespeople are taught to make a personal connection to condition the potential buyer. Fake socializing happens when someone is clearly not interested in you but pretends to be, or when people you have just met pay you an unexpected or odd compliment that you know you do not deserve, or when their interest in you seems disingenuous. When a salesperson eager to make a sale compliments you on your tie, shoes, dress, coat, hat, or sunny disposition, beware. Most of the time, this is fake socializing. Generally, do not trust:

  • Someone you have just met who seems overly sincere, praises you effusively, or expresses concern for your welfare

  • Someone you do not know well who is trying to get too close too quickly and becomes overly personal without being invited

  • Someone who crosses boundaries without apparently realizing that it happened. They may not have much social awareness, and their attempts at socializing seem hollow or forced

  • People whose engagement with you sounds scripted—when nothing they say or do seems natural, genuine, or heartfelt.

  • A smile from someone whose eyes are cold

You will find more tips on using socializing effectively on pp. 104-105 in Elements of Influence: The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead (AMACOM Press, 2012).

Photo credits: Young people socializing: Photo 75761316 © Igor Mojzes |; relaxed, friendly woman in white: Photo 7088956 © Andriy Petrenko |;

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