What Not to Say If You Want People to Like You 101

Exploring the unspoken rules of conversation.


As an avid fan of clear communication and healthy human relationships, I have made myself overaware of the common courtesies of speaking in North American culture.  The problem with being so sensitive to the unwritten rules is that it can be much easier to become annoyed when other people break these rules.  Yet still, these rules exist.  Until now, they have remained invisible- but it’s time for a review of what we already know and hopefully live by.

Knowing when not to talk to a person. It’s not so much a “not before I’ve had my coffee” situation, as it is that many people (even if they are indeed “morning people”) do not enjoy engaging in conversation for the first hour of the day- especially if it involves hearing petty stories involving pet problems or car trouble.  Also, if a person seems quiet like they may be upset or stressed, do not say “Well, what’s wrong with you?!”  Instead, politely ask them if they want to talk about it.  If they say no, then say, “I’m here if you need me” and don’t talk to them until they talk to you.

Knowing what not to say. Refrain from pointing out obvious cosmetic flaws: recent weight gain (this includes pregnancy), hair loss, acne, scars.  The person may not ever forget your comment if it involves any topic like those.  They may never refer to you as a “nice person” again after that- but instead, you’ll be forever engrained on their “rude” list.

Knowing how to have an opinion yet not preach.  Many people are into healthy lifestyles these days, being much more aware of organic eating.  When asked by someone about your own lifestyle choices, simply answer their questions.  Only continue the conversation from there if they sincerely show interest.  Do not debate with them or become their “food judge” by saying, “Wow, you’re actually gonna eat all those carbs?” as they walk by with a big bowl of spaghetti.

Knowing how to be positive. No one likes a whiner.  While the poor economy and the Gulf Oil Spill Crisis are common knowledge and therefore make easy topics, avoid initiating a conversation about them.  Look for ways to “make a person’s day” by what you say instead of simply adding to the noise.  You’ll stand out, in a good way.  Needless to say, for more reasons that one, please never get caught saying, “I got a case of the Mondays!”

Knowing how to actually compliment someone. Make sure a compliment is truly a compliment.  If there is a casual criticism thrown in there, it voids out the positive vibes.  Like this: “I really like that purple shirt you’re wearing, even if it makes your skin look a little pale.”  Not cool.

These starters are only the tip of the iceberg.  But they are real reasons why some people are “good with people” and others aren’t.  Either way, good communication is a learned skill- it’s just that some people are more observant than others.

Most of Life is Just Simply Showing Up

There is an art to “being there” when it comes to discovering The Quality of Life. From gaining educational degrees, to getting a job interview, to meeting one’s future spouse, showing up is the most important part. The rest is just details.

Showing Up: 75%
Getting a person to show up for anything is a task in of itself. Because I am a first-born child and because my wife was born of both first-born parents, she and I have both been wired to be planners. There is a schedule and a calendar. When at all possible, we live by them.

It’s easy to get us to show up if we have been told two weeks in advance. But we’re bound to be no-shows when we’re told about an event the day of, via text message. Because chances are, we already have plans.

Anyone who has been married in the last several years surely has a fresh-on-the-brain story or two about RSVP’s gone wrong. Like guests who say they will be there, RSVP for guests of their own (which were not invited), then don’t know up at all. Even at just $35 a head, it still stings when the bill comes after the wedding.

Human presence at a specific event at a specific time is a flighty thing. More fickle and unpredictable than any other aspect of The Quality of Life. A person has to be there before anything else can happen. But once they’re there, things tend to work themselves out.

You show up to class, you’re likely to learn at least a little something.

Experience: 5%
How can one person qualify to relate to another without the minimal proper experience? Whether it’s enough work experience, educational experience, or just simply life experience, without a history and understanding that is similar, it’s difficult for people to be on the same page.

Appearance: 5%
Not a matter of physical beauty, but instead what a person wears when they do show up. In other words, I’m referring to the importance of “wearing the right costume.” Despite what our bodies look like underneath our clothing, what we use to cover our bodies up with is worth more than the money we spend to buy it. Just like a nice Frank Sinatra-style hat can make any slob look a little bit classier, so can a person’s well-presented wardrobe make anyone look at least a bit more attractive.

Not necessarily a matter of expensive clothing. Just simply the right “costume”. A good presentation goes a long way. Or at least 5%, according to my calculations.

A few weeks ago on the “makeover episode” of The Biggest Loser, I laughed when I saw Allen. He already was a clean-shaven, clean-cut man to begin with. They just stuck him in a nice suit and tie. That was his makeover.

Personality: 5%
People like people who remind themselves of themselves. A person is much more likely to positively respond to another person who uses the same speech patterns, who positions their body in a similar stance, who laughs and shows sympathy at the right cues, who uses the other person’s name sporadically in conversation, and who maintains good eye contact. Dale Carnegie 101.

Performance: 5%
I have a philosophy I live by at work. “Do your best constantly. That way it’s easier to have your boss never say anything negative about you during a performance meeting or mass e-mail, especially when the boss is having a bad day.” With so many slackers in the world, when a person proves that they are competent, creative, and dedicated, they automatically stick out from the crowd. Just like we are quite aware of the inflation of money in our economy, it seems the same thing is happening with work ethics.

To acknowledge I can do something better is to say that I’m not already doing my best. And sometimes, for a person to do their best means that they are meeting their co-workers’ and superiors’ reasonable expectations. Which includes not pushing the dress code, taking constant personal calls, and leaving regularly for outside appointments. And that goes back to simply showing up.

Random Chance: 5%
Right place, right time. I showed up to a random filming of the CMT show “Crossroads”. I had the life experience of a 25 year-old American guy and could relate to a 25 year-old American girl. I was dressed neatly (not wearing Bachelor Pants). I was friendly and confident, not obnoxious or desperate. I successfully entertained the beautiful girl who I noticed as soon as I walked into the room, while we waited in an hour long line.

Without random chance (divinely guided or not) I wouldn’t have met the girl I would eventually marry. On October 5th, 2006 a stranger would walk into my life who would forever change it.

But of course the “random choice” of her being there too that night only reflects the importance of the most important element of the Quality of Life: being there. She showed up.

People are the meaning of life. And most of life is just simply showing up. To work parties. Service projects. Family reunions. School plays. Church activities.  People tend to notice, remember, and appreciate the ones that are there in person, not just in spirit.

This post is based on a concept presented to me by Shawn Garbett, a guy I met at my wife’s Christmas work party. We both showed up. Our initial conversion produced this as the result.