Everyone wants to be liked. Everyone.
I don’t care who you are. It’s true.
No one really wants to talk about this because admitting to it exposes our biggest vulnerability which is our need to be accepted. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, staying tight within the social circle is paramount to our survival. That’s where the food, protection, and mates are.
But as standard practice, we disregard this truth because our ego gets in the way. We may present a supposed indifference to social inclusion with a knee-jerk reaction disavowing this need. We tell ourselves stories that justify a hardened exterior. Something about life's disappointments teaching us to not expect much from others.
It becomes an unfortunate game of social smoke and mirrors. Where walls imaged in our head become tangible barriers in our social dynamics. We’re all operating from a position of slight defense trying our best to avoid the pain of exclusion. No one wants to be picked last for the team. But secretly we long for genuine preference. It becomes a delicate social dance of balancing being cool with inclusion and being aloof with rejection. It’s an exhausting game.
If we honestly acknowledge that almost all of us are battling this internal dichotomy, we can learn to relate to one another in a way that accommodates this open secret. Disempower the elephant in the room by approaching each other with genuine sincerity, empathy, and curiosity. In short use our words to directly and unequivocally announce: I really like you!
It’s a remarkable point of differentiation to be so forthright. Shocking really but infinitely more rewarding. Gone is the veneer of posturing by sending out social trial balloons in an effort to decipher where we stand in our new or old social interactions.
Let’s just get real.
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Here are some simple ways you can bring such transparency and authenticity into your social interactions. Show your hand, lay some vulnerability on the table, and then just watch everyone disarm. Their shock will turn to relief. Then you can enjoy some refreshing and sincere exchanges.
Just Tell Them That You Like Them
This doesn’t have to be complicated. Just tell it to them straight. A prerequisite, of course, is that you actually feel this way. One might fear that expressing feelings in such blunt terms might come off as a little weird. A flashback to middle school awkwardness.
But it can instead be done subtly. Like, suppose someone finishes telling you a funny or an interesting story. As you bask in the punchline or climax, you can just smile, look them in the eye, and simply say, “You know, I like you. You’re hilarious!” or “You know, I like you. You’re so interesting.”
Being this transparent can also take on different forms. It requires adapting to the social context and being sincere and creative.
I just love working with you.
I wish there were more people in the world like you.
I always enjoy myself when I'm with you.
Or sometimes it’s a bit more reflective. Someone may captivate your attention with deeper emotion — a heartfelt message, an astonishing talent, an inspiring story. You’re drawn in. Hanging on their every word or action. You’re amazed, fascinated or moved. And while you silently reflect on the caliber of what’s being shared, you may never verbalize these musings back to the source. What a lost opportunity to give a gift of admiration and appreciation.
You’re so interesting!
You’re so creative!
You’re so brave!
You’re so inspiring!
Once you say such words, then tell them why. Tell them how they affected you. The conversation can go farther when you inquire or share further. Dig deeper into their story with honest fascination. And perhaps solicit their opinion or advice if you wish to emulate what you’re admiring.
Give Them Space to Talk
Conversations are intended to be balanced but sometimes get lopsided. Like when a natural talker chats it up with an introvert. Or when someone who is painfully shy is unable to rebound after the initial exchange of greetings. The answer in both cases is to allow for reciprocal self-disclosure.
When one readily discloses, others in the conversation are more likely to also share if given the chance. Reveal a little then throw it over to your partner. Expand from there by asking more probing or follow-up questions. As the conversation proceeds, be sure to pepper in these conversational boomerangs to keep the sharing balanced and the discussion interesting.
This weekend we’re planning to go camping. How about you?
I think the client presentation went better than expected. What do you think?
Every Christmas we go caroling in our neighborhood. What are your traditions?
Let Them Finish Their Stories
Sometimes we have disjointed conversations because life gets in the way. Someone’s in the middle of sharing something important or captivating and then the phone rings, the waiter interrupts, or the baby cries. All too often with our short attention spans, we get consumed by the distraction and never circle back to the rest of the story.
This leaves the narrator secretly frustrated or disappointed. If she’s motivated enough, she may try to get the conversation back on track. But like an interrupted kiss, sometimes the magic just evaporates. In the end, the story never gets finished. The speaker never feels heard.
Instead, when such situations happen, have the presence of mind to encourage your conversation partner to continue his monologue. Sincerely express your desire to hear the rest of the story. If you listen carefully, you might hear an audible sigh of relief.
Sorry for that interruption, please go on. You were just getting to the good part.
You were telling me something so interesting, please continue.
Your story is so funny! I gotta hear the rest. Where did you leave off?
Then Remember Their Stories
In our day-to-day interactions, we engage in conversations where bits of information are exchanged. As quickly as details are disclosed they’re usually forgotten, dropped from our short term memories. There’s no offense in this. It’s just the effects of distracted and hectic lives.
So when we visit again, we hold no expectation that anyone would recall our past revelations. But when someone does and inquires with care and curiosity, it’s like the heavens open up. You feel not only heard but cared for. Like the details of your life matter to someone else. It’s a simple enough gesture but the impact feels huge. While you can’t guarantee anyone will extend this courtesy to you, you can make a point of practicing it yourself.
Hey John! The last time we talked you were just about to go to Europe on vacation. How was it?
Charlotte, how’s your mom doing? She had her surgery last week, right?
When I saw you last month, you were just about to go to the second interview. How did that go?
Now take this one step farther. Check in on these updates proactively. Send a text, write an email, leave a voicemail, send a card. Imagine how you’d feel to be on the receiving end of such impromptu thoughtfulness?
As a practical tip, put the details of your conversations into your phone or a document for later reference. You shouldn’t be expected to remember everything.
Make Them Feel Memorable
Right after wanting to be liked, most want to be remembered. That’s why there’s a multi-billion dollar funeral industry focused on ritualizing commemoration. But it’s more of an honor if the living can actually enjoy the recognition.
But all too often our thoughts stay only in that form. They never graduate to action. Don’t be lazy. Make sure the people in your life know they’re on your mind. From your dearest loved ones to that distant colleague you worked with eight years ago. Think of them and then act on it right away so you don’t let the reverie pass without the next step.
Hey Suzie, I read this article and it made me think of you.
Lance, I was just telling the story of how we first met. Hilarious! Remember when...
Liz, I met someone from your old job. She was quite a fan! Do you remember Jessica?
To tell someone that you were thinking of them can also ease the guilt of not staying in touch. If a lot of time has passed and it feels awkward to reconnect, let these words—I was just thinking about you—serve as a natural segue.
Melissa! It’s so good to hear from you! I was just thinking about you last week. I’m so glad you reached out. How are you?
Hi Doug, I know it’s been years since we worked together but I was just thinking about you recently. I’m currently working on a project just like the one we did together. Figured it was a good reason to reach out and get caught up.
The Effects of Feeling Liked
I’ll end this article with a personal story of how I was left feeling truly liked and accepted. I’ll admit it, it felt good.
When I got married I made a point to keep it low key. I didn’t want my wedding to be an imposition on anyone. For instance, I decided to not have any bridesmaids. Bridezilla I was not.
So about a month before the date, I walk into a restaurant to discover a surprise wedding shower hosted by my friends and family. I was utterly shocked and dumbfounded. I couldn’t express my gratitude sufficiently because I was speechless.
Later on, after the party when I was telling my fiancé all about it, I spontaneously burst into tears. He asked incredulously, “Why are you crying?!” and in the spirit of Sally Field, I simply said, “They like me! They really, really like me.”
Which suggestion in this article could you try to make people feel heard, liked, and appreciated? These ideas are applicable to both personal and professional social interactions. Choose one and give it a try. Notice any reaction you get. Experiment and adapt the ideas to your communication style and personality.
What other ways can you make someone feel liked and valued? Share your ideas with us in the comments below.
Christina is the creator of ConvoConnection a resource for those struggling with loneliness or social aversion. Through practical instruction and heartfelt encouragement, she shares easy and practical ways to have more genuine and comfortable social real life interactions. Check out these free resources to help feel comfortable starting any conversation.