Life

Social Psychology Theories You Can Use for Winning Friends and Influence

Buried under the online mass of trite content on how to improve our social behavior are those priceless social psychology theories that can really help us make friends and encourage people to support us.

I’ve spent the last few weeks drilling the web, then testing those nuggets, to see whether they deliver. Who doesn’t want to know how to make others drawn to us, or how to develop genuine friendships for life?

Some of these strategies apply to the digital world too, helping us build our social value. Each of these social psychology theories benefits all areas of our existence, from family to business and beyond, since social connections are integral to our lives.

Table of Contents

7 Handy Social Psychology Concepts to Make Friends & Influence People

1. People remember the first and last things you do, so make a good impression and end on a high note

In what’s called the Primacy or Recency Effect, scientists found that people best remembered items on a list depending on where these items are placed. As psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus noted:

Items found at the end of the list that are learned most recently are recalled best (the Recency Effect), while the first few items are also recalled better than those found in the middle (the Primacy Effect).

While the Primacy and Recency Effects are generally used to help people memorize or retain information, these principles can be used for making friends, too.

Social applications:

Want your cute new neighbor down the hall to remember you? Intrigue them with some unique compliment when first introduced. That’s the Primacy Effect. The next time you have the opportunity, hold the door or elevator and offer a smile and some eye contact. That would be the Recency Effect. They won’t forget you.

Add-ons

  • Recall some nugget of your past conversation next time you meet. This also ties in to the Primacy/Recency Effect, and will make them not only remember the conversation, but also feel special and more connected to you.
  • When a person talks, interject with exclamations like “Oh, really?” or “No way!” They’ll love talking to you and will be more likely to open up.

2 Add pauses after questions

Well-timed intentional silence encourages people to tell you more about themselves and helps you win negotiations.

That’s according to the theory of silence proposed by Norwegian psychologist Olga Lehmann, who says silence is a space for introspection where people grapple with their feelings.  It’s a space that both the silent people and people who converse with them are unused to and find disturbing.

Social psychologist and user-experience specialist at Nielsen Norman Group Kate Kaplan uses this concept of silence in her interviews, focus groups, and business sessions to encourage participants to self-disclose.

In her 2019 paper, The Science of Silence, Kaplan says:

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“Well-timed, deliberate periods of silence elicit thoughtful, accurate responses and insights, and build trust with participants.”

Research by Koudenburg, Postmes and Gordijn shows it takes about four seconds before a gap in the conversation prompts the other person to talk, so, in practice, quietly count to seven before carrying on with your talk. Essentially, that brief moment of awkward silence is disarming and can be great for getting people to open up.

Social applications

You can use strategic silence in various settings:

  • To emphasize: Wait five seconds after the other person speaks to show empathy and respect.
  • To encourage self-revelation: Pause after your chat to create space, invite response and to signal interest.
  • To negotiate: Practice intentional silence to let the other person make the first move.

Add-ons:

  • Be silent when someone insults you; spectators are more likely to approve of you than the other.
  • Nod as someone speaks to you to win the speaker’s approval.
  • Want to know whether someone listens to you? Repeat the essence of your talk with slight changes. Attentive people will point out your errors or ask questions.

3. Use people’s names when speaking to them

Apparently, certain areas of your brain activate at the mention of your name. Studies find that students learn better when instructors use their names. Sales professionals know that to insert the person’s name when talking to them could convert those people into buyers.

Psychologists offer techniques on how to remember names and when to insert them into conversations (as well as how often to do so).

By saying a person’s name when you speak to them, it shows that person is important to you and they have your attention. Link the person’s name with a compliment and your interaction will really resonate.

Inserting names, here and there, at the office (or on Zoom) can also help you exude confidence and dominate conversations.

Social applications

Charismatic people know they become memorable and charming by remembering names.

Next time you run into your local coffee shop, look at the badge of the barista and thank them by name for your beverage. On the phone with customer service? Ask the agent’s name and use it.

When you insert the other person’s name into your conversations, that individual will feel a greater sense of connection to you and will invest more into your interaction. 

Add-on

  • Whenever anyone interrupts your conversations, gently tell them to hold on until you finish. Doing so implies you control the conversation and are no pushover.

4. Address your plea to individuals rather than to the group.

The Bystander Effect says that people are more likely to listen to you when you address them individually, rather than as a group. Although researchers have mostly studied this effect during disaster situations, such as danger or terrorism, we can also apply this strategy to social situations to persuade others to help us.

Social application

Next time you need help, rather than asking the group as a whole, turn to, at most, five separate people, look each in the eye and specify your request.

This method makes people feel important, and therefore more likely to want to help you.

Anchor your request for help with details so they understand you and remember the particulars.

Add-on:

  • If you’re turned down and have the chance, rephrase your request differently next time.
  • Begin with the words, “Could you please help me?” to make people feel special.
  • If your request is more than a short sentence, insert at least one related story to make your request more effective.

5. Ask questions to make others like you

If you want people to think you’re charming, ask questions that show you actively listen to them when they chat.

That’s according to three studies of real-time speed dating by Harvard Business School doctoral student Karen Huang and collaborators.

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In their words: “Speed daters who ask more follow-up questions during their dates are more likely to elicit agreement for second dates from their partners.”

Which kind of questions?

Follow-up questions that show you’ve been actively listening. Zone in on what the other party says and follow up with relevant questions. “Oh, you have a dog? What kind?”

Social application:

One psychological researcher on Reddit advises job candidates to:

 “Get [the interviewer] to talk about themselves…. Ask your interviewer as many questions about what they do for work and really listen. They will walk away from the interview in a good mood because they got to talk about themselves, and they will then think that the interview went well.”

Apply this method to regular conversations. (Don’t forget to use intentional pauses).

Add-ons

  • To build relationships, ask people to explain certain concepts, even if you already know the basics. People love to feel that they’re able to inform or help, and, yes, there’s even a term for this social psychological concept. The Ben Franklin Effect is a cognitive bias that causes a person to like someone more after they’ve done them a favor – especially when they intially disliked that individual.
  • When disagreeing with someone, launch your response with, “I see what you mean,” before introducing your opinion.
  • Want to know how to win arguments? Ask your party probing questions on their opinions. That’s the Socratic method that requires participants to articulate, develop and defend their positions.

6. Give people options and they’ll agree with you more often than not

Use the social psychology theory of Agreement Bias, where most respondents prefer to answer neutral questions in the affirmative rather than to contradict them. Social researchers know to watch out for this bias when creating multiple yes/ no questions in their surveys. Respondents typically select “yes” to these questions in their rush to finish them. You can use this psychological quirk for social interactions.

Social applications:

The psychological strategy of Agreement Bias was used by one social researcher on Quora in his cross-study experiments on dating.

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He noted:  “I get far more numbers from saying, "Care to text me? It's easier," than, “Here, text me, it's easier.”

In other words, the researcher used questions instead of commands and gave participants the open-ended choice of texting him, rather than telling them to text him. Phrased as a question (therefore, a choice), he’s more likely to win their approval.  This option – so often used by sales professionals – often gets people to instinctively answer, “Yes”.

Use this method in work and social settings to build trust and forge better relationships.

Add-ons

  • In line with Behavioral Psychology, tweak the environment for the desired response. Example: If you want someone to be altruistic, meet them at Starbucks rather than in your office. The convivial atmosphere may make them more receptive and generous.
  • To get people to confess or self-disclose, meet them in the evening. People tend to open up more when they are tired and stressed.
  • Amplify shared values. According to the Similarity-Attraction Effect, people are attracted to those who are similar to them. Find a similarity – whether it’s your love of aggressive chihuahuas or your appreciation of vintage vinyl – and use that common ground as a conversational jumping-off point.

7. Reveal your flaws

According to the Pratfall Effect, people like you better after you make the occasional mistake. Coming across as imperfect makes you seem more human, and therefore more likeable.

Social applications

Use self-deprecating humor – occasionally. We’re all human, but sometimes it’s still nice to be reminded that others aren’t perfect. It’s endearing and allows people to let their guard down a little bit. The next time you fall up the stairs or wipe out on an icy sidewalk, a laugh and well-timed quip — “Geez, I’m a regular Baryshnikov!” — could be the perfect way to lighten the mood and draw others in.   

Add-ons

  • A little goes a long way. There’s a difference between revealing your flaws and constantly berating yourself in public. The latter can have the opposite effect and make people feel uncomfortable.
  • The social psychology theory of Emotional Contagion describes what happens when people are influenced by the moods of others. Joke or reveal vulnerable information about yourself to get those you’re speaking to, or those in your immediate environment, to lighten up or self-disclose.

As Victor Kiam once stated, “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.” It’s all about how we approach and react to all that life throws at us – even if we fall up the stairs in the process. Implementing these nine simple social psychology concepts – from using people’s names and making an impression to asking questions and revealing your own flaws – will help you make better friends, improve your social game, and develop an edge in your professional life.

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