Cognitive dissonance. Humans want their attitudes and their behaviors to match. We get very uncomfortable when they don't -- and usually end up adjusting either our attitude to match our behavior. Humans also routinely overestimate the cost of saying no. Which means, if you ask someone for a small favor, they'll probably say yes. Then their mind will be all, wait. My behavior says that I like her (because I did her a favor)... So I must like her. And now you're friends!
Positive vs. negative politeness. In psychology, "positive" and "negative" don't mean "good" and "bad." Instead, "positive" generally means "add something," and "negative" usually means "take away something." (Think about that next time you say "positive reinforcement." Do you really mean positive reinforcement? Or do you mean negative reinforcement, which is not to be mistaken for positive punishment.) Negative politeness, then, refers to politeness that removes closeness, and reinforces boundaries. Please hand me that. Thank you for doing that.
When you first meet someone, you'll probably show them more negative politeness -- you're still getting to know each other, and you want to show that you respect their individuality, space and time. But once you're close enough to feel comfortable asking them for a favor... that means you're drifting into the positive politeness zone. You're doing something that shows closeness -- and that sends signals to them about the status of your friendship.
Fancy psychology mumbo jumbo aside... asking for a favor can be a great ice breaker. Friendship is a numbers game -- you're not going to hit it off with everyone you talk to. But the more people you talk to, the greater your chances of meeting someone you'll like.
FOR EXAMPLE. I went surfing in Santa Cruz on Saturday. I'd spent my morning scuba diving -- it was warm in Monterey before I put on layers and layers of neoprene, strapped on a 17-pound weight belt and donned a 100cf steel tank. Then we spent 60 minutes (plus a surface swim) exploring the underwater world.
I knocked on the door of the nearest house, and asked the guy who answered for a glass of water. Next thing I knew, he was drawing me a map of all the top-secret spots, sharing some local horror stories and telling me which famous people lived in which houses along the coastline. Which led to a conversation about feminism and empowerment. Which led to an idea:
"Hey - do you mind if I come surfing with you? I was just watching TV, but surfing is obviously a better way to spend the evening."
Obviously, it's only been two days since we met. But I thought Mark was fun, smart and inspiring, and I strongly suspect this friendship is going to last. All because I knocked on some dude's door and asked for water.
- When speaking with someone, focus on the colors in their eyes. It's cool to notice the flecks and arrays in their irises. It brings you to the present. And it makes people feel like you're having some kind of deep, cool moment. Don't be creepy and overdo it, though. A little goes a long way.
- During conversation, banish negative thoughts and keep yourself present (which people will notice, and appreciate) by focusing on the physical sensations in your body. Your face. Your toes. How and what do you feel right now? Do this for a split second, and it will reset your mind.
- During conversation, if you find yourself feeling nervous, stressed, or anxious... your partner's going to notice. They'll see it on your face, and they'll think it's about them. So, when your mind starts to wander to dark or distracted places, think about something you love. Think about something that excited you! Think about something adorable, like this:
- Read The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism. It's an amazing book by Olivia Fox Cabane that will help you discover which "kind" of charisma is most appropriate for you, and specific ways to develop it.
A) Proximity. (You can't make friends with someone who lives far away whom you never see.)
B) An environment that allows you to be real, honest and vulnerable. (More on that later.)
C) Regular, unplanned interactions.
If you have a favorite bar, become a regular there. Get your drink on at the same-ish time on the same day each week.
You get the idea.
He recently told me, "I'll never forget our first conversation."
"Really? Why?" I asked.
"Because the first thing you said to me was, 'I'm here with my cousin. He's ultra liberal, though, and he probably supports like unions and stuff. You don't, do you?' And then we had a real conversation, instead of small talk. And I couldn't put it out of my mind."
So, if you want to make new friends, ditch the script. Skip the small talk. And be yourself. After all, as I wrote in Kids Make Friends More Easily Than You. Here's Why,
6. Self-disclose. People like people who self-disclose. People disclose more to people who self-disclose. It makes everyone feel closer to each other. It's a beautiful cycle:
In fact. I've bonded with a lot of travelers this way. Just as some people go wild and have crazy hostel sex because it's all anonymous and you'll never see each other again (which is all good, as long as you're clear about your boundaries and expectations)... So do people finally make that secret confession or get that feeling off their chest when they meet a stranger in a strange land.
But... there's no reason we can only do this when we travel. Like, seriously -- what have you got to lose? Go ahead! Tell the guy you see at the coffee shop (after all, you're both regulars now, right?) that embarrassing story! Tell them about the last time you cried over something stupid! What have you got to lose?
7. Give your full attention. This ties in with the whole charisma thing. And the put-down-the-phone thing. Give people your undivided attention. This will make them like you more (because they feel special around you) -- and it will actually make you more interesting. After all, I got a smart phone, and it instantly made me less cool.
- Let's catch up soon -- like really catch up. What's your schedule look like this week?
- You've always been really good at ___. Can I pick your brain for a project I've been working on?
- I've been on this thing lately where I'm asking people, "What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?" What's yours?
- What's next on your bucket list, and why?
- I was JUST thinking about you! Remember that time we ________!?
- What's yours? Let me know in the comments!
9. Invite people to do fun stuff with you. According to a thing I saw on my newsfeed that caused me great displeasure, people are afraid to invite people to coffee because they're afraid you'll say no or it'll make it look like they don't have any friends. How stupid is that? Almost as stupid as a debate with Nassim Nicholas Taleb!
Invite away! It's the only way to take an acquaintanceship to the next level.
And, if possible, invite them to do something more interesting than a cup of coffee. After all, as I wrote in Why a Terrifying First Date is Better Than a "Nice" One, "Couples (and friends!) that play together, stay together."
10. Ask to join them when they're doing something they'd be doing, anyway. I love making new friends! And everyone needs more friends. And the way to make it happen is by spending more time together. Going back to the whole become a regular thing. So you've had a few unplanned encounters. You like each other. But... maybe you're not ready to commit to doing something you wouldn't be doing anyway with them. Maybe they won't commit to doing something they wouldn't be doing anyway with you. If you like them enough to spend time with them outside of the place where you're both regulars... suggest doing their thing with them.
Not only will this give them an easy way to spend more time with you... But you're also showing an interest in something they care about... which should increase your bonding.
11. Say yes. Probably the best advice I could possibly give anyone, ever, is to live like you're traveling. Because
A) With the right attitude, anything -- even a trip to Target! -- can be a thrill.
C) Is there any good reason not to?
D) The number one best productivity hack of all time? Make weekend plans.
E) Remember: Everything's Always Worth It.