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How to make people like you in 90 seconds or less

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In this article I interview international communication expert and bestselling author Nicholas Boothman about how to make people like you in 90 seconds or less.

In this article:

Let’s begin:

How to make people like you

Michael Frank: What are some things we can do to build rapport with people and bring them on sides right from the beginning?

Nicholas Boothman: I’m of the opinion that how we respond when we see someone else for the first time is all about the quantity and quality of the energy they’re giving off. It’s the fight or flight thing. Are we attracted to somebody or are we not? And we make that decision in the first two seconds of seeing them. I think what we respond to in somebody else is their attitude and you can spot that in a flash.

I meet people who all the time who say:

“When people get to know me, they really liked me”.

Well you know what? That’s fantastic for your family, your next door neighbor, and anybody else that can’t escape you. But when it comes to business or friendship or dating that doesn’t cut it. You can’t stop people deciding or using the fight or flight on you when you first meet them because it’s natural.

The KFC Model

Michael Frank: You have a three step model of communication and you use the KFC acronym. Can you talk us through it and how it works?

Nicholas Boothman: Yes, any leader and any successful human being has to fit this model, and I used the acronym KFC because it’s easy to remember and the model is simple:

K – Know what you want

F – Find out what you’re getting

C – Change what you do until you get what you want

Simply in anything you want to do in life you have to:

Know what you want in the positive.

Not: “I don’t want to work next to this guy anymore”

or

“I don’t want to drive this crummy old car anymore”.

No.

What specifically do you want?

Otherwise it’s like going to McDonald’s and standing at the counter and saying:

“I don’t want chips. I don’t want a hamburger. I don’t want a salad…”

Well, what the hell do you want?!

So K – Know what you want – in the positive.

Next: Find out what you’re getting. Process feedback. The better we are at processing feedback, the more it allows us to shape the world to what we want, that is as long as we know what we want.

So get the information and a bit of feedback and empathy and find out what you’re getting and change what you do till you get what you want.

As an acronym it makes it really easy to remember because for the people listening or reading this now, at the very least, the next time you see a KFC sign, ask yourself:

Do I know what I want right now?

What am I getting?

And what am I going to change until I get what I want?

Michael Frank: I love it. And that last point is so important. Change what you do until you get what you want, because there is no one-size fits all approach that works for everyone. Everyone has a different communication style and the way that you need to communicate to one person is different than the way you need to communicate to another person.

The five step system for meeting someone new

Michael Frank: You’ve also got a five step system for when you meet someone new, can you talk us through that Nick.

Nicholas Boothman: Yes, and it’s just incredibly simple because although you can’t stop people jumping to snap decisions about you when you see them for the first time, you can make a few slight alterations to yourself to give a good first impression. And most first impressions happen in the first second and a half.

The first thing is to adjust your attitude and I never talk about positive attitudes or negative attitudes, I talk about useful attitudes and useless attitudes:

Useful attitudes, useless attitudes, Nicholas Boothman

A really useful attitude when you’re meeting somebody else might be welcoming, curious or enthusiastic.

A really useless attitude might be bored, rude, hostile, or appearing that way, such as having your arms folded in front of somebody or looking at the ground whilst they’re talking to you.

Well you know what’s going to happen if you do that? They’re not going to trust you. They’re going to feel incredibly uncomfortable even though when people get to know you, they really like you. But people haven’t got time for that. So first of all adjust your attitude to a really useful attitude.

So adjust your attitude, then look them in the eye, because in our culture eye contact is about trust. If there’s no eye contact – there’s no trust. And all relationships are based on trust. And if you’re having difficulty with eye contact simply notice the color of the eyes of everyone you speak to. If you have children, bribe them, because we have one and a half generations of youth who are more used to staring at a screen and their thumbs than staring at people and that’s going to cost them dearly later on. So if you have kids bribe them and just get them into the habit of looking people in the eye.

The third one is to smile. In our culture a smile sends the unconscious signal that somebody’s happy and confident. But not everyone has a natural smile. I don’t. But I do have a trick from when I was a fashion photographer for half of my life.  Fashion models don’t all have great smiles, but we do have a trick, we use the English word: “Great!”

And we say it in bursts of three:

“Great, Great, Great!

Great, Great, Great!

Great, Great, Great!”

And before you know it your eyes are smiling and you are smiling!

So what I say to people is if you’re going to approach somebody, first of all, look them in the eye or notice what color their eyes are. You don’t need to lean forward, just have a quick glance and then mentally say “Great, Great, Great” just as you approach, and it will trigger a great look on your face. Also a word of warning that when it comes to eye contact and smiling, too much of it is incredibly creepy… so it’s just a little bit.

The next thing to do is to synchronize your body language. So look them in the eye, smile, and then synchronize the overall body language of the people you’re with in a respectful way because that’s what people with natural people skills do.

Finally, your one and only mission when you are creating rapport with somebody else is to find common ground with them. Making a great first impression is really all about the hunt for common ground.

So these are all simple things and they take place in the first couple of seconds.

Assume rapport

Most great leaders, and I do a lot of speaking to major corporations all over the world, they’ll find common ground with me over the phone in maybe 20 or 30 seconds or even less. Fifteen seconds. With me it’s easy they’ll just say “Oh you’ve got an English accent. I love London” or whatever. And then we’re off and we’re talking.

If it doesn’t happen, for example if I’m doing a conference call and someone said: “Hey Nicholas, how are you?” I’ll say: “You know what, I’m sitting in my office, I’m looking out and down into the field on the farm I live on and the horses are running through the fields right now, it’s so pretty” and you know what, their imaginations are off and it’s like we’re old friends.

I call it assuming rapport. I just say talk to somebody like they’re your favorite cousin or somebody you’ve known for ages, just start doing that, because the truth is the older you get, the easier it is to do that. And it’s not a big deal and you don’t have to have a whole bunch of “oh now I must say this” or “now I must do that”, just start talking naturally to people. But the hunt for common ground is the biggie, that’s the real big one.

Michael Frank: I want to summarize some of those points because there was so much gold in there. So when you meet someone new:

  • Adjust your attitude first, have a useful attitude instead of useless one
  • Open yourself up to that person (mentally and physically)
  • Look them in the eyes and notice the color of the eyes of the person you’re speaking to, but not too much, if there’s too much eye contact it becomes creepy
  • Smile (mentally say: “Great, Great, Great!” and you will smile)
  • Synchronize the overall body language of the other person
  • Assume rapport and talk to someone as if they were an old friend
  • Most importantly find common ground.

How to find the right partner

Michael Frank: Random question: Are there any major differences in the approach between speaking to men and women when it comes to building rapport?

Nicholas Boothman: Well, let me just go to one side and tell you that of all the books I’ve written my favorite book is called How to make someone fall in love with you in 90 minutes or less and in it we actually modeled 2,400 couples who’ve been together for 20 years or more who were still actively crazy about each other, to find out how they got there, what it took etc. and then we looked at 300 couples who consistently messed up to find out what the difference was.

Michael Frank: What are some of the key lessons and teachings in the book?

Nicholas Boothman: Well we found a few things which are really simple.

First of all:

Falling in love and staying in love have got nothing to do with each other.

They’re completely separate events. But if you can set the elements right for staying in love before you find someone to fall in love with, your chances of success go through the roof. And I’m living proof. I’ve been married twice. My first marriage was to a beautiful woman. It didn’t work. It lasted about two years. And my second marriage when I got it right, I’ve been truly, madly, deeply in love with my wife Wendy for 46 years. And we’re nuts about each other. And what we found is that great couples are what I coined the phrase matched opposites, they’re like your hands, they’re matched in many, many, many identifiable ways, and they’re opposite in one or two really simple ways. And it’s the same with great couples. They’re matched in their values, their ambitions, their goals, they have a similar sense of humor, of decency, etc. but they’re opposite in their behaviors.

That’s a huge oversimplification, but like attracts like doesn’t work, and opposites attract works for about three weeks, but matched opposites if you get the right person, has all the potential in the world to last. So here’s something I think is fascinating. Romance. On Valentines day they’re trying to get everybody out into a restaurant with a box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers, which is about as unromantic as you can get because romance is the french word for for Storytelling. Romance is a story. And romantic means story worthy. So do something that is story worthy if you want to be romantic. What you want is your partner to go to work the next morning and say: “You won’t believe what he did last night!” and the goal is that everybody, all your friends in the office will hate you for at least an hour because that never happened to them. I mean that’s romance for you, but you know, going to a restaurant, especially on a first date, no, no, that’s not romantic.

Michael Frank: Is it all about selecting the right partner to begin with? Or is it more about attraction tactics for someone you’re attracted to?

Nicholas Boothman: No, no, no. Look it’s a numbers game. It’s that simple. One in sixteen eligible people, in other words, someone who’s not married already and trying it on the side, one in sixteen eligible people will be your matched opposite. You need to see at least four of them to make it work. So you need to, over the course of your looking for people, find or meet at least 64 eligible people. Now in Australia it’s not bad I suppose, it’s a very sociable place. You guys socialize a lot over there. North Americans don’t socialize. I’ll say: “How many new people have you met in the last month?” and North Americans will say: “Last month? Maybe in the last three months… maybe four…”

You know I spent half my life in Portugal where people socialized two or three times a day. They meet new people and they’re always out having coffee with someone so they have more people to choose from. And in North America they don’t have a lot of people to choose from. So I’ll settle for this person. And now the divorce rate is around about 51 percent. They just didn’t choose the right person in the first place.

The key feeling

What we’ve found is that each person has a key feeling, and when you meet a person who validates your key feeling, the relationship has potential. The caveat is that it has to be mutual. You have to be validating their key feeling as well. Now let me explain what I mean. One of the questions we asked people who have been together for more than 20 years and were still nuts about each other was:

Give me one word to answer this question:

“More than anything in the world he or she makes me feel…”

And it turns out that we could whittle all the answers down into four key feelings:

1. Some people more than anything in the world need to feel powerful or in control

2. Some people more than anything in the world need to feel intelligent or smart or taken seriously

3. Some people more than anything in the world need to feel valued

4. Some people more than anything in the world need to feel important

Now we need all of those, but one dominates in each person, and I’ll give you my example, I fall into the category where more than anything in the world, I need to feel important. Now if I met somebody who said: “Oh, you are so important” (sarcastic tonality) I think forget it, this is not going anywhere, because I don’t want someone to tell me I’m important. I want to be with somebody that makes me feel it. And when I met my wife Wendy who modeled for Pierre Balmain and Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, flew her own plane, was a water skiing champion, danced at the Royale Ballet in England etc. and she leveled her bright blue eyes on me, I felt like the most important guy in the world.

It turned out that her key feeling however, was that she needed to feel valued. She’d always been treated as a great beauty where people would say “Look at her, Oh my God, she’s so amazing”. But she had opinions that nobody ever listened to. I just wanted to hear her talk. And I loved what she was saying. And I loved the way she said it. So we validated each other’s key feelings. Does that make sense?

Michael Frank: It does. Is there more to it than finding a matched opposite, how they make you feel and matching their key feelings? Or is that just one aspect of it?

Nicholas Boothman: You don’t even need to get that complicated, the simple thing is, do they validate your key feeling? I mean, I could probably try to find out your key feeling in a couple of questions if you want?

Michael Frank: Yeah, sure. Let’s do it!

Nicholas Boothman: Okay. So is the real Michael: More socially reserved or more socially outgoing?

Michael Frank: I’m socially outgoing when I go out. I’m a confident introvert. But most people mistake me for being extroverted.

Nicholas Boothman: So you’re more of a private person.

Michael Frank: Definitely.

Nicholas Boothman: Okay. So are you more emotional than rational, or more rational than emotional?

Michael Frank: I’m more rational than emotional.

Nicholas Boothman: Okay. So you need to feel clever, intelligent, taken seriously.

Michael Frank: Yeah.

Nicholas Boothman: So when you’re with somebody, within seconds of being with them, if they make you feel intelligent or taken seriously or smart, that has got potential. Now depending on what their key feeling is, if you validate it, even if you don’t even know what it is, then you’ll be drawn to each other. We’ve also found that for every key feeling there is a mental minefield. Your mental minefield, if I’ve got it correct, is that you do not like being embarrassed.

Michael Frank: Definitely not. Hahahaha. It’s one of my greatest fears for sure!

Nicholas Boothman: There you go. See for me I couldn’t care less. I mean, I grew up being embarrassed, I was tall and awkward and goofy looking and it didn’t worry me. But if you’re with somebody and they embarrass you one time too many, it will be easy for you to walk out the door.

Michael Frank: A death blow Nicholas! A death blow immediately! Hahahahaha

Nicholas Boothman: Okay. So you see this is simple stuff, and sometimes people don’t want to know about it until it’s too late because they think: “Oh my god, we’re so alike. We love the same things as well”. You know what? That’s not gonna last very long at all. I think the stats will prove it. And as for “Opposites attract”, yeah right. Three weeks max. They annoy the heck out of each other.

Michael Frank: Maybe a fling at most and that’s it.

Nicholas Boothman: Yeah. We also found that an enormous number of failed relationships were between an optimist and an asshole or a jerk, because the optimist would keep it going forever. The jerk would do all kinds of stuff and sooner or later it would just break up, and the optimist would have their feelings crushed. And I say to you, if that’s happened to you, it’s nothing to do with you, you’re just with the wrong person. So take all your beautiful feelings and longings for love, go out there, and start meeting people. Make it a project, meet people, because you’ve got a lot to give, and there’s a lot of people out there that want you. I know it doesn’t help much when you’re hurting, but it’s not personal. It’s nothing you did wrong. You are just with the wrong person.

Nicholas Boothman: And you know this goes right back to KFC.

K – Know what you want.

F – Find out what you’re getting.

C – Change what you do until you get what you want.

How many people go back to another jerk. They don’t change what they do to get what they want.

Don’t try too hard

Michael Frank: A lot of what you teach is quite intuitive to me. I’ve always had a belief that I could be friends with anyone, win anyone over, even if I didn’t initially have rapport with them or there was a bit of a clash in the beginning. And some of the things that you teach, for example assuming rapport, I do that quite naturally, but I don’t force it, because I’ve learned that you don’t need to have rapport with everyone. You don’t need to get along with everyone. You don’t need to be friends with everyone. You can win a lot of people over, but that doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. And one of my favorite parts of your book How to make people like you in 90 seconds or less was when you said: “Don’t try too hard. Don’t smile too much. Don’t be overly polite. Don’t try to be too funny or too witty and don’t be overly eager. It comes across as needy and unattractive.” I thought that was great.

Nicholas Boothman: Well it’s a big turn-off. I did a piece on the Today Show on NBC and the host said to me: “Okay Nick, so you’ve got 90 seconds to tell me, I walk into a room full of strangers, how can I come across as socially smart when I walk in there?”

So I said here’s some simple things:

  • Dress well, more people will notice you if you take care of the way you look
  • When you walk into room, head for the center of the room, because the perception of the people who are there, is that the people in the center of the room are popular people. People that are around the outside are almost always perceived as being the wallflowers
  • As you walk into the middle of the room, move slightly more slowly than you would ordinarily, because you’ll come across as confident, and if you do it right you’ll come across as sexy as well
  • Then the big one is you’ve got to say something. So I talk about using the three second rule, which most people I’m sure know about (walk over to a stranger and start a conversation within three seconds without hesitating), and I recommend that you do the three second rule seven times if you’re going to be there for an hour. In other words, you just look at somebody in the eyes and say “great, great, great” and then you go over and introduce yourself

We don’t actually teach kids at school how to start a conversation, but it’s so simple, you just make a statement followed by an open question, and the example I gave on the today show is I said “I hear New York is a fantastic place. If I only had five hours, what should I see?” There you go. I set the tone. And now I’ve handed over to the person and that’s how you get people talking. It’s so simple, but we don’t teach kids how to do this.

Dealing with difficult people

Michael Frank: A lot of the techniques and strategies you teach seem so intuitive and logical, but what about when you’re dealing with difficult and disagreeable people? People that have shitty personalities? Maybe people that just don’t like the look of you? I mean the vast majority of people are friendly, or at least indifferent, they’re happy to speak to you if you want to speak to them. But there are some people with difficult personalities and maybe you want to win them over for a certain reason. Maybe you want to do business with them for example. Do you have any advice in regards to dealing with disagreeable or difficult people?

Nicholas Boothman: Yeah if it’s someone I want to do business with it’s slightly different because in business you can’t just walk away from a relationship without walking away from your job essentially. However in my personal life, I just don’t bother with people that don’t turn me on.

I think in business when you have to get on with people, first of all, you have to understand that a lot of people aren’t aware of what they’re giving off. Most people aren’t aware that they’re standing there with their jaw clenched and their arms folded and they’re not looking at you when they’re talking and they’re using straight to the point, rational language. They’re not actually aware of how they come across. Most people are fine, you just have to break through their shell. But yes, there are definitely some jerks out there, and when it comes to having to dealing with jerks, I have a little way of introducing and saying what you do. I call it answering the dreaded question. Which is a way to get to the point with somebody.

I say look I want to ask you a question, which I think is a reasonable question:

“Why should I do business with your company?”

So when you’re dealing with difficult people, sometimes this is a beautiful icebreaker and it goes in three parts.

It starts off with:

You know how…

Well we/well I…

So you/so they…

This also works if you’re being interviewed for a job, or if you’re sitting on a plane and someone says: “What do you do?”

So this is what I say:

“You know how some people have trouble connecting and communicating?”

And they’ll say “Well, yeah”

“Well I write books and give speeches that are real simple so people can go out and find lots of opportunities and meet lots of new people”.

What I’ve actually done is I’ve told them what I do, how I do it, who I do it for, and what the benefit is. And that will break the ice. So a lot of people, if you’re meeting strangers and you don’t want to waste their time, you come up with your own version of that. It’s what you do, who you do it for, and how you do it. And so rather than trying to adapt one’s self to be nice or to change somebody who appears to be crummy, and I also obviously recommend what I said at the beginning, adjust your attitude, look them in the eye, smile, open your body language and synchronize. Just get in sync with them because it’s natural, no small talk, no patronizing chit chat, unless they want to do it, you know if you do these things, most people will melt

Michael Frank: And like you say Nicholas, a lot of people don’t realize what they’re putting out there, how they’re coming across. I think it’s quite funny that the expression “resting bitch face” has come into the modern vernacular in the last few years. And some people just naturally have it. A resting bitch or bastard face.

The biggest mistakes people make

Michael Frank: What do you think are some of the biggest body language or rapport building mistakes that socially inept people often make?

Nicholas Boothman: Caring too much. Caring too much about what they’re doing and how they come across, rather than just getting out and practicing and just meeting a lot of people. I think people care too much. You know people worry about this stuff. I think it’s great to care about what you’re doing, but I do think that trying too hard is a problem. But you do need to practice what you’re doing. I say go and join an improv class. They’re all over the place. They’ll teach you what to say and how to talk to people. And go sit in cafes, and just listen to other people’s conversations and even join in, hesitation is the biggest killer of all.

The number one identifiable predictor of success

Nicholas Boothman: Do you know what the number one identifiable predictor of success in the world is? Have a guess…

Michael Frank: Assertiveness or confidence?

Nicholas Boothman: Thomas Harrell of Stanford Business School spent 20 years looking at leaders and MBA’s looking for what he called identifiable predictors of success. And the number one identifiable predictor of success was the ability to speak up. They call it social extroversion. Just the ability to speak up. So if we leave this with one bit of advice it’s this:

“If you speak up, you’ll get somewhere, but if you don’t speak up, it’s guaranteed you’re going nowhere”

And that’s in everything you do. Just speak up. Practice speaking up. I call it rejection therapy. Learn to become a temporary extrovert. Talk to five new people everyday for a week. Ask a politician out to lunch. Ask a credit card company to lower your interest rate. Try something big – there’s less competition. Ask someone for help. Change your hair color. Practice rejection therapy, practice getting rejected, that’ll set you free. I mean, I was rejected so times as a kid. It doesn’t worry me now. and I was very sensitive and I took it to heart for a while.

But:

K – Know what you want

F – Find out what you’re getting

C – Change what you do to you get what you want. It’s exactly what I did. I knew that wasn’t working, so I keep changing, as I do right now – that’s KFC.

Be Brave. Take risks. Blame nobody for anything.

Michael Frank: Do you have any closing thoughts, anything you’d like to add?

Nicholas Boothman: Yeah, three little phrases:

Be brave. Take risks. Blame nobody for anything.

Be brave and take risks because it’s the only way we grow, and we only come alive and grow when there’s a slight whiff of danger in the air or we’re learning something new. So go out and learn something new. Be brave. Take risks and blame nobody because if you blame people then KFC is out of the picture because you’ve got no feedback to process.

Michael Frank: Nicholas Boothman. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you very much.

Nicholas Boothman: My pleasure. Thanks Michael!

Bio

How to make people like you in 90 seconds or less, Nicholas Boothman

Nicholas Boothman has been called “one of the leading authorities in face-to-face communication in the world” by The New York Time and his revolutionary techniques of “Risk, and Rapport, by Design” have been taught to thousands of corporations, colleges, and universities around the world including the Harvard and London Business schools.

His first two books, How to make people like you in 90 seconds or less and Convince them in 90 Seconds or Less have been translated into more than 30 languages.

A former fashion and advertising photographer who dealt with hundreds of new faces a week for clients like AT&T, Revlon and Coca-Cola, he is now recognized as a world-renowned expert in turning first impressions into profitable relationships.

The New York Times calls him “the new Dale Carnegie,” the Economist Magazine calls him “truly inspirational,” and Good Morning America says, “His book is my Bible!”

Footnote: Tom Cruise editorial credit: DFree / Shutterstock.com

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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