I think that’s one of the things that most surprises me—keeps on surprising me as I get to know people. I realise it wasn’t their intent, that they actually did feel warm and happy in the situation, their faces just hadn’t caught up with them.
Is that something we can change? Can we make a conscious effort not to do it?
I’ve been working on this for six years. The base thinking is showing an openness towards others, having slightly elevated eyebrows. If you turn to face somebody and you shake hands, you actually loosen up with them. If you shake hands, your vital signs get more in sync. So in a natural way we can connect better with people. And we get more in sync walking to a meeting with people than sitting straight down.
I’m really drawn to warm faces so it’s nice to be conscious of how powerful that is. I met a man who uses his warmth as his strength, and when he does other men in leadership in the organisation unconsciously tend to emulate it. And I hesitated to bring it up with the man because I didn’t want him to be self-conscious or change it, or start noticing it. But I finally told him. And he said, “Well frankly, it’s because my wife understands me so well. I feel such warmth towards her, I try to think about her before I go into these meetings.”
And he said, “But I didn’t know it was showing. I just knew I got less irritated with other people.” It’s fun to share observations that way.
Given you work in business contexts quite a lot, I wonder what you think about the best-selling book from the ’30s, How to Win Friends and Influence People. People still use it a lot. And I think it gets a lot of criticism for being superficial. Stuff like winking, fake smiling, using catchphrases.
I do agree with that criticism. One of the things I notice is that people don’t listen closely and follow up on what someone just said. Or it’s increasingly happening where someone asks a question and we’re more likely to give background and context before we answer, and then sometimes forget to answer. Even if we may get irritated when someone does that to us. I think to show genuine interest is to prove you heard what someone said. Explicitly responding to what someone said is very powerful and increasingly rare. I work with some small groups doing 45-minute, interactive, tip-orientated sessions, and one-on-one coaching. What I say when we’re doing this is, “When anybody says something, respond first to what they say, and then move onto your thought. Do not change the topic.” It’s very hard for them to do that, but then the click happens and they do it. And they get irritated when the others aren’t.
These groups become so tightly bonded to each other, and they know the tips for connecting in shorthand—they have each other’s back. So they’re in effect helping each other, no matter what the ostensible structure is in the company. I really believe in the power of small groups networking with other groups.
I love that. I’m quite interested in how individuals function within groups.
Let me be very specific about that. In everything from SEALs to hybrid classes, seven is the most amount of people that can ever work productively together. Having rules of engagement and one top goal are core things that help. But you should make sure the people in the group not only work with each other, they connect with other groups too. Then the small groups become tight-knit but not rigid. Because in our country there’s a lot of rigid stuff happening, a certain righteousness, an “us versus them” that’s poisonous. So you need just a few rules like that. Sorry, I’m going to get off my own pulpit, but I believe that anybody who’s been part of a seven-person group which has done something magnificent has a lifelong memory of it. It changes them and they want more.
Like the Seven Samurai and the Magnificent Seven.
So you coach people about becoming likeable.
Well, “deeply connected” is the more accurate part.
But do you also help people increase their likeability?
To some degree. I do talk to people about the part of themselves they’re most proud of, and when they feel most comfortable, and the things they most want to do. And out of that comes a sense of what makes them likeable or not.
What makes someone likeable?
Well, here’s how I put it. It’s not how you feel about me when you meet me, it’s more important about how you feel about yourself when you’re around me. That’s where you get likeable. When someone feels understood, they’re using their best talents, their best temperament’s showing off, they project onto you all kinds of qualities they like. Conversely, if they don’t like how they feel when they’re around you, they’ll project qualities on you they don’t like in other people, some of which you may not have.
And can someone who is unlikeable become likeable?
Most people are unlikeable sometimes and likeable other times. So it’s situational. And the more they’re aware of when they look unlikeable, or likeable, the more they can do to change that. Smiling, for example.