Why do we want to be popular?

When was the last time you chided yourself for caring what other people thought, or feeling ‘vain’ for wanting to be well-liked?


Wanting to be popular?


It’s incredible to think that whenever we so much as hint that we care about how we look and how others perceive us, we get looks of incredulity…disgust even! We’re ‘vapid’. Chasing after ‘meaningless’ things.


But what if that wasn’t true?


I recently took a course on the Psychology of Popularity from UNC Chapel Hill, and it became apparent to me that if we DIDN’T care about being ‘popular’…then we would  miss out on many opportunities that life has to offer us.


Because think about it…


…When you’re well-liked and can get along with anyone…people tell others about how much they enjoy you. Maybe that means they introduce you to their friend. Maybe that means they introduce you to who becomes your future husband or wife. Maybe that means they introduce you to your new boss at your dream job.


Because we’re not only designed, socially, to help each other…we also get ‘feelings’ about other people that tell us whether or not they’re worth helping. And if we get a bad feeling about you?


We don’t tell other people how  much we like you…we tell other people about how much you annoyed us. That means…no introductions to new friends [because that would make US look bad]


And, we don’t tell other people how attractive, funny, or kind you are…we just quietly come to the conclusion that you and our friend probably wouldn’t make a great couple.


And if we’re in a social situation and felt like you didn’t read the room or at least make an effort to get to know us…then we figure our friend who would have became your boss would probably feel like you wouldn’t be a ‘good fit’ for the company.


All of this is just another way of saying: ‘Popularity’ — or simply having great social skills — MATTERS


It’s not a vain pursuit for superficial people. We need ‘popularity’ to survive. In fact, people who experience chronic social rejection have weaker immune systems and get sick more often. So do you want to spend more money on health insurance, or spend a few extra minutes getting better at making friend?


But of course, before we can even get comfortable with that idea, we have to dispel a few myths about ‘popularity’ first


Because when you think of popularity…what do you think of?


Mean Girls? People being cruel in high school? Being excluded by people who think they’re ‘better’ than you? Amazing how a word like popular has a laundry list of negative connotations.


But let’s redefine it


In the course I took, the researchers explained that they did studies on children playing with each other, and then asked the kids afterwards who they liked the most, and who they liked the least.


It turns out that the kids the children chose as ‘most likeable’ exhibited the following behaviors:


  • They ‘read the room’ really well. So when they entered a group, they didn’t always initiate contact first. They just tried to get a sense of what was going on, fit into that, and then gently lead the group to other activities they felt the other kids would like to do.


Key lesson: You make the interaction about what others want, not what you want


  • They were relaxed and comfortable. Where other kids would ‘try too hard’ to initiate with others in the group and then withdraw when other kids didn’t respond as they hoped, the ‘popular kids’ hung back a bit and went with the flow.


Key lesson: It’s important you’re comfortable BEFORE you enter an interaction, and

know how to stay comfortable during one


  • Some kids who were popular were also ‘controversial’ — which means that they may have been outspoken or different, but were still able to relate well to others without alienating or excluding them.


Key lesson: Don’t give people a reason to walk away from you. Being ‘different’ doesn’t

mean making other people feel bad


Isn’t this fascinating?


To others, ‘popularity’ sounds a lot like ‘conformity’, doesn’t it? Which is why it’s so polarizing. We ALL want to be popular, and yet we feel bad about wanting it and just ‘being like everyone else’.


But when we take a closer look and break it down into a set of behaviors vs. judging it for being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ — being ‘popular’ becomes a lot more palatable.


Take the simple skill of ‘reading the room’ for example. That ALONE can save you TONS of time worrying about ‘what to do’ or ‘what to say’. If you can learn to read a room well, you’ll instantly know how to jump into the conversation, or jump into the activity because it takes you out of your head [what will they think of me?] and into the moment.


Here’s an example of how this applies to group conversation


Group conversation is a classic challenge people have because they’re so different than 1:1 interactions. What I’ve found just based on private client work is that people who describe themselves as being on the introverted side tend to shy away from groups, and prefer the ‘seriousness’ and ‘depth’ of a 1:1 conversation.


But this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what group conversation [and activities] are intended for.


I know at least for me, I used to think that I worked better when I was by myself, preferring to do things on my own and be the star of the show.


But the beauty [and value] from groups is that they are DIFFERENT than 1:1. They are wild, they are random, they are playful, and they are FUN.


Just take the other weekend when I hosted a lady-only brunch at my apartment here in San Francisco.


Some of the women knew each other, some were just meeting for the first time. And the role of any fantastic host is to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable and that they could easily carry on with each other if you weren’t in the room. [You know that feeling when someone leaves a conversation and you think: Oh, no. Now I have to talk to this person by MYSELF? Yeah. Make sure that doesn’t happen when people are at your house]


But when I sat back and observed everyone interacting with each other, it was a group conversation at its finest. Everyone’s getting a chance to talk, everyone’s listening to each other, and the conversation is flowing. No one’s trying to talk about only what THEY want to talk about, no one is dominating, no one is interrupting each other.


Because when you exhibit the latter behaviors, they annoy people. But when you exhibit ‘popular’ behaviors — people enjoy being around you. They get your number after that brunch. They invite you out. You meet their friends. ‘Popularity’ pays for itself, many, many times over.


So why am I talking about this today?


For one, it’s important to understand what may be preventing you from being more popular or socially skilled. If you think it’s a ‘bad’ thing — I could tell you exactly how to improve, and yet it wouldn’t work for you.


And also because more and more people–especially those who are technically brilliant, but don’t know how to handle people–are realizing the profound importance of having excellent social and communication skills. I really believe that without them, you’re screwed. Or at least, you’re not living a very interesting, exciting, or fully alive life.


Which is why I’m thrilled to share with you an interview about charisma and social skills that I did with my dear friend, Jeff Callahan, from the site Become More Compelling.


You can check out the interview here


In the interview, we talk about:


  • How you can craft an incredible introduction
  • What the secret, ‘advanced level’ of charisma is, and how to get it
  • How to rock group conversations, and then develop that deep trust and rapport in 1:1 interactions
  • How to know when to get contact information…and exactly what to say
  • How my family influenced my charisma and social skills — and why it doesn’t matter if you didn’t have socially skilled or charismatic parents
  • How to handle self-doubt and Imposter Syndrome in real-time
  • What it means to ‘turn it on’ when you walk into any room…and my method for doing it every time


Check out the interview on Become More Compelling Radio


Because maybe you’ll learn just 1 thing you can do today to start working on your ‘popularity’ and see that it isn’t as ‘vain’ or ‘vapid’ as you thought.


And not only that, but Jeff is another great resource to learn from when it comes to charisma and social skills, and I know you’ll enjoy hearing what HE has to say, instead of me talking about it all the time. 😉





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One Response to “Why do we want to be popular?

  • Georgina
    2 years ago

    I would like to point out that lots of people don’t listen to you if you “gently suggest” something.

    Starting conversations only works if the other person is willing to continue it.

    Hanging out with people only works if the other is willing to give you a chance

    And working together in groups at school is horrible.

    Most people are simply lucky to have befriended so called popular people when they first got to know each other

    Popular people I know are often cranky and upset or feeling uncomfortable although I have to admit that I’ve seen worse articles on these topics online

    All this coming from someone who has been bullied, excluded, lonely, friendless, depressed and suicidal if you’re not gonna take my word for it than I don’t know I what else to say

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