Do you want to be my friend?
As a parent, you may have heard your child asking another child to be their friend. Or you may have overheard another kid asking your child (which is heart-warming because it simply confirms how great your offspring is).
But if only it were this easy when you’re an adult. Because when you’re all grown-up, it’s hard to make friends.
As an adult, you can’t just go up to someone and ask them to be your friend. It’s considered weird or even desperate.
So what do you do instead?
You try to be likeable.
Yet what does that even mean? How do you do ‘be likeable’? Psychology suggests that you should tell new people something about you they didn’t know…
Keep it real and reveal
When meeting new people, we hesitate to ask probing questions. We don’t want to appear rude or nosey. We also worry that we should wait before we reveal too much about ourselves.
However, research has found that people who self-disclose — who share personal information about themselves — are seen as more likeable, not less.
Researchers at Harvard Business School studied two scenarios: potential dates and potential employers, to see how revealing versus concealing personal information changed interpersonal dynamics.
First, they divided participants into groups — those hoping to get a date (the Prospects) and those judging others as potential dates (the Judges).
Half of the dating Prospects were told to confess to some undesirable behaviour, such as minor vandalism as a teenager. Half the dating Prospects were told to hide any misdemeanours from their past.
Once the Prospects had made their ‘dating pitch’, Judges were asked whom they’d prefer to go out with.
Prospects who confessed to bad behaviour were 50% more likely to be chosen as dates than those who had kept it hidden.
But there was a twist: when both the Prospect and the Judge engaged in self-disclosure, the Prospects were picked as dates 78% of the time.
Self-disclosure is most effective when it is reciprocal — that is, when both parties disclose personal information about themselves.
The researchers found a similar, but weaker pattern when examining how self-disclosure affected job interviews.
Using a job interview scenario, the researchers replicated the dating experiment. Potential candidates had to answer, “Have you ever done drugs?” They could say yes, no, or not respond. Potential employers then made their recruitment choices.
In the study, employers were more interested in hiring people who had said ‘yes’ to recreational drug use than those who denied it. Yet again, when self-disclosure was reciprocal between employers and candidates, the potential employers’ interest in the self-disclosing job candidate was greater.
Why was this?
Being vulnerable and sharing your weaknesses with others can be scary. But it makes you more relatable and ultimately more likeable.
For clarity, these studies do not mean you’ll increase your chances of dates and jobs by spending your time on drug-fueled vandalism sprees.
No, no, no. Please don’t do that.
However, this research shows that building relationships is a two-way street of increasing levels of openness.
So, when meeting new people, try to share more about yourself than you normally would. It will make them (and you) feel more connected and appreciated. And it will make you seem more likeable.
Just don’t tell them about the bus stop you smashed up this weekend. Perhaps save that to the second date.