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How To Win Friends and Influence People (My Version)

Many sales folks say How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a go-to book if you want to get good at selling stuff. I read it when I was 14, but I only remember that we love the sound of our name.

So I thought I’d attempt my version of HTWFAIP because people often ask me how I make friends so easily (I know I sound like an Instagram influencer about to sell you some sketchy product, but really, people do ask 😂). Yet, being friendly and likeable was a skill I had to develop.

Back in one of my first jobs, my boss told me I had a “resting bitch face.” I think it should be called a “resting Eastern European face” (REEF for short 😁). I see it a lot after moving back home after 12 years abroad. The typical explanation is that a colder climate makes us ‘colder people’, but I think it has a lot to do with the long history of russian occupation, but I derail.

Following the comment of my manager, psychology studies and life experiences, I’ve decided to intentionally work on my personality. Over the years, I’ve figured out some tricks to make myself more likeable and good at social stuff. Now, I can’t turn it off - it’s a part of my identity.

Human psychology by the CIA

The CIA had to figure out how human nature works to carry out successful espionage. I already shared a full scope of what I learned in this article, so this is a quick reminder relevant to our topic.

Humans have 3 lives

  1. Public life (how we want to appear to others like an Instagram feed).
  2. Private life (what your closest confidants know about you like your your feet smell).
  3. Secret life (often, these are thoughts that live in a dark part of our psyche that we’re afraid to share for fear of rejection/judgment like having a mistress).

The CIA builds trust with a target by methodically earning trust aka getting into someone’s secret life. To the target, it reads as I revealed the worst parts of me and they’re still here, I haven’t been rejected, therefore I trust this person, so getting sensitive info about the target’s government becomes much easier.

Now, the 3 lives principle applies to friendships. I trust and therefore like my close friends more than I do acquaintances because close friends see all parts of me and still stick around. Closeness correlates with likeability. But perceived closeness also correlates with likeability.

Rule #1 for building connections - TRUST.

Building rapport

Building any relationship requires time. But some hacks make you more likeable to people who don’t yet know you. The caveat here is genuineness - people smell a fake a mile away (unless they’re dealing with a CIA spy 😉).

You have to be genuinely interested in other people. I think I’m successful at connecting with people because I’m sincerely interested in them. What is their inner life like? What are they passionate about? What do they struggle with? How do they feel? Why did they choose the particular career path?

Rule #2 - be genuine in your interactions, nobody likes a fake.

Ways to build rapport

1.Mirroring: Subtly mimic the person’s body language, speech patterns, and gestures to create a subconscious sense of familiarity and trust.

Let’s say I’m sitting cross-legged - you should cross your legs too. If the person lowers their voice, you should follow.

2.Emotional Vulnerability: Share personal stories or vulnerabilities to encourage reciprocity and strike up the connection.

Volunteer emotional vulnerability as a way to gain trust and show you want to go beyond the public life persona. Do not make anything up.

For example, at a recent party, I sat next to a stranger and said ‘I always feel so awkward at parties where I don’t know anyone - I feel a bit of anxiety.’

That was both a true and relatable experience, so the person could open up as well and we launched into a conversation where they very quickly opened up their private life info as well as volunteered a spare room if I’m ever in their neck of the woods.

3.Active Listening: Pay close attention to the person’s words, emotions, and non-verbal cues, demonstrating genuine interest and understanding.

The common mistake people make in conversations is that they’re too caught up in their own thoughts, planning their answers, instead of truly listening to the other person. You can avoid this by practising mirroring and labelling techniques during the conversation. I first came across these ideas in a former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss’ work. If they worked for him, they’ll work for you too 😉

Mirroring - a technique where you repeat back the last 1–3 words of what someone told you.

For example:

  • Someone: ‘I was late for work again!’
  • You: ‘Late again?’ (An open-ended remark unconsciously inviting the other person to expand).

Casually repeating the words back helps you stay present and truly listen, making the other person feel heard, thus building rapport. This openness leads to greater liking and trust between people.

Labelling is another technique that encourages you to listen and make the other party feel recognized. You could call it a verbal observation/recognition.

For example:

  • Someone ‘I enjoy spending quality time with my friends’
  • You ‘It sounds like you’re someone who values friendships!’ (Spotting patterns or making inferences makes the other person feel heard).

Similarly to mirroring, don’t overuse labels. Remember, these techniques are here to help you be present in the conversation. It’s a chat, not a therapy session.

4.Asking Questions: Use open-ended questions to encourage the person to share more about themselves and their experiences.

Avoid yes or no questions, especially with shy or socially anxious people, and opt for open-ended ones to encourage sharing. This approach helps the conversation flow more naturally, giving you more to build on.

5.Finding Common Ground: Identify shared interests, experiences, or values to establish commonality and foster a sense of camaraderie.

This is easy - look at the context you’re in and come up with conversation topics based on that.

I was at a friend’s gathering recently with both friends and strangers. Instead of the usual ‘How do you know so-and-so?’ to break the ice, I recognized someone I often see at my favourite coffee shop, always deep in phone convos. I approached them with, “Hey, I've seen you at Cafe X, but you're always on the phone, so we never get a chance to chat.” They found it amusing, and we instantly connected.

6.Acknowledge the person in front of you: or really see them as I call it.

I realized that we often interact with our idea of a person, or their public life persona, rather than with the individuals themselves, especially in public settings.

As an experiment, I decided to move beyond the routine “hi, how are you” at coffee shops and restaurants where I play the social role of a customer and the server plays the role of the server.

I made an effort to genuinely notice and acknowledge them, perhaps with a compliment or a unique question about their day. These small acts of genuine interest made them light up, feeling valued as individuals. Upgrades or free stuff was a nice byproduct of this experiment:)

Principle #3 - humans crave being seen, acknowledged… to matter.

Bonus tips

  • If you only get one takeaway from this article - people LOVE talking about themselves. Sharing personal stories makes us feel recognized and heard. If you can provide that space for someone, you’re golden.
  • Another benefit of someone talking about themselves and opening up to you is that it makes them trust you more. The more they talk, the more they trust you. The person asking the questions is always in control of the conversation.
  • Parents adore it when you connect with their kids. Doing so can win you a lot of favour. But remember, you’ve got to be genuine. Kids are great at detecting insincerity and can spot someone faking it from a mile away.
  • Feeling social anxiety is normal and something I still face, but I've found a helpful mantra: “No one's better than me and I'm no better than anybody else.” I used to repeat this to myself multiple times before social events.
  • Focus on your surroundings and the person you’re with. Most people are preoccupied with their thoughts, so you'll stand out by complimenting or sharing an observation.
  • You have to like yourself more than spending time with people you don’t like.

Wrap up

I’m a bit worried this advice might sound contrived because it’s hard to put into words something that’s become second nature. Applying these social practices initially felt awkward, much like learning to drive. But just as driving becomes automatic over time, these practices have become ingrained in me. I come across as natural and sincere, and that’s because I am.


  • Be genuinely interested in the other person; see them.
  • Be an active listener and avid observer.
  • We are inclined to think and talk of ourselves more, override it. Let the other person shine.

Further reading

  1. My very first article online was about likeability. Back then, I was coaching men to increase their attractiveness in ways that went beyond the usual superficial advice. You can find it here.
  2. I initially wrote the CIA series in 3 parts, but you can find them in one place on HackerNoon. It’s a good overview of human psychology.

Photo by Oveth Martinez on Unsplash