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Life 101: Why do people like you–or not?

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Newsflash: most folks unconsciously decide whether they like you within seconds.

Let’s flip the table. When you meet someone, you may get a feeling right away. There’s just something about their energy. 

Maybe you’re thinking you have common interests or information to share. Perhaps they could help you with your career or a family challenge.

Authorities boil it down to one thing: whether you can trust the other person. Trust is such a deep topic, though. How can you tell if such trust exists at a glance?

According to author Heidi Grant Halvorson, who has written several books on relationships, it usually comes down to how well you can convey two things: warmth and competence.

Now hear this

Everyone wants to be heard. 

And, whether you know it or not, you’re always sending signals where you stand on this. If you’re scanning the room, you’re not paying attention to the person in front of you. Looking down at your smartphone sends the same message.

The eyes have it

Making eye contact can make all the difference in the world. In addition to showing the other person you’re focusing on them, it’s an effective way to convey competence.

A former boss of mine was a master at this. Whenever we met, he fixed a steely-eyed gaze on me throughout the entire meeting, all while remained focused on what we were discussing.  This guy had a ton of things on his platter, yet he never seemed preoccupied.

Name calling

“I never forget a face, but I just can’t remember names,” is a familiar phrase.  Business Insiderhas a few tips:

  • Repeat a person’s name as you speak with them.
  • Associate the name with an image or a word. Our brains think in pictures. 
  • Use the contacts feature on your smartphone to write a short description.

“In life, and at work, remembering peoples’ names can help you build stronger relationships and avoid awkward situations,” says Jacquelyn Smith, former Business Insider careers editor.  “It’s a sign of respect.”

Listen and learn

Active listening, a communications skill involving a conscious effort to focus fully on the speaker, requires fours steps, according to the social network Quora. 

  1. Hearing—pay attention.
  2. Interpreting—ask clarifying questions. “You seem to know a lot about X.  What can you tell me about …”
  3. Evaluating—avoid judgments.
  4. Responding—acknowledge with a nod.

Watch the thermostat

While warmth was listed at the beginning of this column, don’t overdo it. You could come across as inauthentic or as a doormat.

“The key to finding the sweet spot between “lovey-dovey” and “arrogant bastard,” says author Halvorson, “is to simply be a person of your word. That’s what building trust is all about.”

In group conversations, make an effort to include everyone. If someone gets overlooked or interrupted, circle back to them.

Take ownership of your mistakes as well. Consider how refreshing it is to hear someone take responsibility and say “I messed up.”

Let it go

Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there—no matter how hard you try. Remember the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You?” 

You may remind the other person of an ex or a former coworker. Don’t ruminate over it. Chances are it’s just as much in the other person’s court as yours. 

While you can’t control the reactions of those around you, you could improve your chances of favorable first impressions by incorporating some of these techniques.

Trust me.

©2021 Linda Arnold Life 101, all rights reserved.  Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and founder of a multistate marketing company.  Reader comments are welcome at For information on her books, go to or

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