Most friendships develop so naturally that you don’t even realize how or when they started.
But sometimes you want to make an effort to befriend a new acquaintance or become a better friend to existing pals. Using tricks and techniques like mirroring, subliminal touching, smiling, and letting that other person talk about themselves can make you appear more likable.
- Making friends comes naturally to people most of the time, but it’s not always easy.
- For years researchers have been studying what attracts people to each other, and their findings might improve your friend-making skills.
- Getting people to like you is surprisingly easy, especially if you follow these 17 science-backed techniques.
We scoured the psychological research on the science of attraction to find strategies to get people to like you.
Maggie Zhang contributed to an earlier version of this article.
1. Copy them.
This strategy is called “mirroring” and it involves subtly mimicking the other person’s behavior. When talking to someone, try copying their body language, gestures, and facial expressions.
In 1999, New York University researchers documented the “chameleon effect,” which occurs when people unconsciously mimic each other’s behavior, and that mimicry facilitates liking.
Researchers had 78 men and women work on a task with a partner, who was really a confederate working for the researchers. The partners engaged in different levels of mimicry, while researchers secretly videotaped the interactions. At the end of the interaction, the researchers had participants indicate how much they liked those partners.
Sure enough, participants were more likely to say that they liked their partner when their partner had mimicked their behavior.
2. Spend more time around them.
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According to the “mere-exposure effect,” people tend to like things that are familiar to them.
Knowledge of this phenomenon dates back to the 1950s, when MIT researchers discovered that college students who lived closer together in housing projects were more likely to be friends than students who lived farther apart.
This could be because students who live close by can experience more passive, day-to-day interactions with each other, such as greeting each other in the common room or kitchen. Under certain circumstances, those interactions can develop into full-fledged friendships.
Psychologists at the University of Pittsburgh had four women pose as students in a university psychology class. Each woman showed up to class a different number of times. When experimenters showed male students pictures of the four women, the men demonstrated a greater affinity for the women they’d seen more often in class – even though they hadn’t interacted with any of them.
Taken together, these findings suggest that simply spending more time with people can make them like you more. Even if you don’t live near your friends, try sticking to a steady routine with them, such as going out for coffee every week or taking a class together.
3. Compliment others.
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People will associate the adjectives you use to describe other people with your personality. This phenomenon is called “spontaneous trait transference.”
One study found that this effect occurred even when people knew certain traits didn’t describe the people who had talked about them.
If you describe someone else as genuine and kind, people will also associate you with those qualities. The reverse is also true: If you are constantly trashing people behind their backs, your friends will start to associate the negative qualities with you as well.
4. Be in a great mood.
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“Emotional contagion” describes what happens when people are strongly influenced by the moods of other people. According to a research paper from the Ohio University and the University of Hawaii, people can unconsciously feel the emotions of those around them.
If you want to make others feel happy when they’re around you, do your best to communicate positive emotions.
5. Make friends with their friends.
The social-network theory behind this effect is called “triadic closure,” which means that two people are likely to be closer when they have a common friend.
To illustrate this effect, students at the University of British Columbia designed a program that friends people on Facebook at random. They found that people were more likely to accept their friend request as their number of mutual friends increased – from 20% with no mutual friends to close to 80% with more than 11 mutual friends.
6. Don’t be complimentary all the time.
The “gain-loss theory” of interpersonal attractiveness suggests that your positive comments will have more of an influence if you deliver them only occasionally.
A 1965 study by University of Minnesota researchers shows how this theory might work in practice. Researchers had 80 female college students work in pairs on a task and then allowed those students to “overhear” their partners talking about them. In reality, experimenters had told the partners what to say.
In one scenario, the comments were all positive; in a second scenario, the comments were all negative; in a third, the comments went from positive to negative; and in a fourth, the comments went from negative to positive.
As it turns out, students liked their partners best when the comments went from positive to negative, suggesting that people like to feel that they’ve won you over in some capacity.
Bottom line: Although it’s counterintuitive, try complimenting your friends less often.
Social psychologist Susan Fiske proposed the “stereotype content model,” a theory that people judge others based on their warmth and competence.
According to the model, if you can portray yourself as warm – noncompetitive and friendly – people will feel like they can trust you. If you seem competent – for example, if you have high economic or educational status – they’re more inclined to respect you.
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy says that, especially in business settings, it’s important to demonstrate warmth first and then competence.
“From an evolutionary perspective,” Cuddy writes in her book “Presence,” “it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.”
8. Reveal your flaws from time to time.
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According to the “pratfall effect,” people will like you more after you make a mistake – but only if they believe you are usually a competent person. Revealing that you aren’t perfect makes you more relatable and vulnerable toward the people around you.
The researcher Elliot Aronson discovered this phenomenon when he studied how simple mistakes can affect perceived attraction. He asked male students from the University of Minnesota to listen to tape recordings of people taking a quiz.
When people did well on the quiz but spilled coffee at the end of the interview, the students rated them higher on likability than when they did well on the quiz and didn’t spill coffee or didn’t do well on the quiz and spilled coffee.
9. Emphasize your shared values.
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According to a classic study by Theodore Newcomb, people are more attracted to those who are similar to them. This is known as the “similarity-attraction effect.”
In his experiment, Newcomb measured his subjects’ attitudes on controversial topics, such as sex and politics, and then put them in a University of Michigan-owned house to live together.
By the end of their stay, the subjects liked their housemates more when they had similar attitudes about the topics that were measured.
If you’re hoping to get friendly with someone, try to find a point of similarity between you two and highlight it.
10. Casually touch them.
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This is known as “subliminal touching,” which occurs when you touch a person so subtly that they barely notice. Common examples include tapping someone’s back or touching their arm, which can make them feel more warmly toward you.
In a University of Mississippi and Rhodes College experiment that studied the effects of interpersonal touch on restaurant tipping, waitresses briefly touched customers on the hand or shoulder as they were returning their change. As it turns out, they earned significantly larger tips than waitresses who didn’t touch their customers.
11. Smile whenever you can.
In one study, nearly 100 undergraduate women looked at photos of another woman in one of four poses: smiling in an open-body position, smiling in a closed-body position, not smiling in an open-body position, or not smiling in a closed-body position.
Results suggested that the woman in the photo was liked most when she was smiling, regardless of her body position.
Bonus: Another study suggested that smiling when you first meet someone helps ensure they’ll remember you later.
12. See the other person how they want to be seen.
People want to be perceived in a way that aligns with their own beliefs about themselves. This phenomenon is described as the “self-verification theory.” We all seek confirmations of our views, positive or negative.
For a series of studies at Stanford University and the University of Arizona, participants with positive and negative perceptions of themselves were asked whether they wanted to interact with people who had positive or negative impressions of them.
The participants with positive self-views preferred people who thought highly of them, while those with negative self-views preferred critics. This could be because people like to interact with those who provide feedback consistent with their known identity.
Other research suggests that, when people’s beliefs about us line up with our own, our relationship with them flows more smoothly. That’s likely because we feel understood, which is an important component of intimacy.
13. Tell them a secret.
“Self-disclosure” may be one of the best relationship-building techniques.
In a study led by Arthur Aron, at Stony Brook University, college students were paired off and told that they should spend 45 minutes getting to know each other better.
Experimenters provided some student pairs with a series of questions to ask, which got increasingly deep and personal. For example, one of the intermediate questions was “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” Other pairs were given small-talk-type questions. One question was “What is your favorite holiday? Why?”
At the end of the experiment, the students who’d asked increasingly personal questions reported feeling much closer to each other than students who’d engaged in small talk.
You can try this technique on your own as you’re getting to know someone. For example, you can build up from asking them about their last trip to the movies to learning about the people who mean the most to them in life. When you learn intimate information about another person, they are likely to feel closer to you and want to confide in you in the future.
14. Expect good things from people.
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According to the “Pygmalion effect,” people treat others in ways that are consistent with their expectations of them and therefore cause the person to behave in a way that confirms those expectations.
In a Harvard Magazine article, Cuddy says, “If you think someone’s a jerk, you’ll behave toward them in a way that elicits jerky behaviors.”
On the other hand, if you expect someone to be friendly toward you, they are more likely to behave in a friendly manner toward you.
15. Act like you like them.
In one study, for example, participants were told that certain members of a group discussion would probably like them. These group members were chosen randomly by the experimenter.
After the discussion, participants indicated that the people they liked best were the ones who supposedly liked them.
16. Display a sense of humor.
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Research from Illinois State University and California State University at Los Angeles found that, regardless of whether people were thinking about their ideal friend or romantic partner, having a sense of humor was really important.
Meanwhile, not having a sense of humor, especially at the office, could backfire. One study of 140 Chinese workers between 26 and 35 found that people were less well liked and less popular among their colleagues if they were “morally focused.”
That means they placed a high value on displaying caring, fairness, and other moral traits. The researchers said that that was because morally focused people were perceived as less humorous by their colleagues.
17. Let them talk about themselves.
Harvard researchers recently discovered that talking about yourself may be inherently rewarding, the same way that food, money, and sex are.
In one study, the researchers had participants sit in an fMRI machine and respond to questions about either their own opinions or someone else’s. Participants had been asked to bring a friend or family member to the experiment, who was sitting outside the fMRI machine.
In some cases, participants were told that their responses would be shared with the friend or relative; in other cases, their responses would be kept private.
Results showed that the brain regions associated with motivation and reward were most active when participants were sharing information publicly – but also when they were talking about themselves, even if no one was listening.
In other words, letting someone share a story or two about their life instead of blabbing on about yours could give them more positive memories of your interaction.