If you want to be more likable, give people your full attention

We sat down for coffee. I ordered a lemongrass tea and she looked at her phone and then ordered the same. Conscious decision? Not sure.

The conversation started. We had been introduced by a mutual friend. She was interesting and had many fun life experiences. One of those adventures was in blockchain; the non-hashtag variety, of course.

I mentioned my writing. She spoke about her career. It was fun. But there was an unsettling feeling. Something was bugging her.

I was going to ask if she was okay, but referencing someone’s unease can be a bad idea. It might be nothing. It might be suicidal thoughts. You never know.

***Phone begins to ring***

“Do you mind if I get this, it’s my boss?”

Of course, I wasn’t going to tell her no. My 104-year-old grandma taught me manners.

She answered the phone call. It clearly wasn’t an important conversation — more of a general chit chat.

“How’s your day? Got any meetings? What’s for dinner?” — you know the small talk.

The call ended. We attempted to go back where we lift off and couldn’t. So we began a new topic about a former work colleague and what it was like for both of us to work with her.

“She’s such an inspiring person and it was clear she was going to go on and…”

***Phone starts ringing again***

“Do you mind if I get this one too? It’s my husband — can’t miss that call now can I?”

Again, it would be rude to tell her no.

One rude act doesn’t justify another rude act.

“Yes honey, I’ll be home by then and put the microwave pizzas on.”

The call ends.

“Where were we again?”

Both of us had forgotten and the rapport was destroyed. There is a deathly silence between us. Sh*t just got awkward. The only thing a grown man could say in this situation was the following: “Shall I let you get back to work? You seem busy.”

***Shakes head*** Doh! Doh! Doh! I said what I was thinking. Broke every rule in the manners rule book. Or was it my fault?

 It was a long weekend; a great time to visit my friend who loves cats. Some know her as a cat lady. I know her as “the occasional friend.” I walk up to the door. The cat opens the door. Or is it her? They both have the same messy hair which kinda looks cool.

We sit down. I’m offered coffee and again pick the tea option (read one too many self-help blog posts, I guess).

“How have you been since moving house?”

“Oh pretty good, although it can get lonely at times. I lovesy wovesy my little cats. Don’t I snookums?”

(At this point I’m not sure how to react.)

I ask about business. Business is a good topic for a rainy day when the car gets dirty right after it had a wash the day before.

“Business must be going well since you quit your job and….”

“Which of you would like something to chew on?”

***Looks startled*** Is this cat talk or is the question directed at me? No idea. I attempt to get the conversation back on track with another question designed to get someone to talk about themselves — a humans favorite pastime.

“Whatever happened to that guy you liked?”

No answer. Is anybody home? I thought to myself.

This time she was scratching one of the other cat’s stomachs (there were three little cats under her roof). Her attention was elsewhere. I felt like the least important person in the room. Perhaps that’s why there weren’t often many visitors — except for other cats of course. Cats love cats.

I attempted several more times to have a conversation that resembled human interaction. Each time, one of the three cats became the focus. I left that day feeling as though there wasn’t much point coming again — unless I was a cat. Then I’d get lots of love and engage in some cat talk.

It was hard not to feel weird for craving just one percent of her attention.

When you give people attention, relationships get stronger

Three quick tips to experiment with:

  1. Put your phone out of sight out of mind
  2. Meet in a different place if your surroundings are going to distract you
  3. Respect someone’s time as if it were their last day on Earth

The silent killer of relationships is not giving people your attention.

Whether it’s a business relationship or a personal one, it pays to become conscious again and be present.

When you’re present with people, they feel like they matter. You learn so much more from someone when your eyes are looking at them and not at the screen of your phone.

You don’t always need to be looking at your phone. The call can wait. Every phone call is not the hospital with bad news about your mother. Your boss can wait too and you don’t need to feel guilty about it.

In an age of distraction, the simplest technique you can use to be more likable is to sit in silence and listen to the other person intently.

If you want to be even more uncommon, you can listen and not feel the need to continuously speak or think about what you’re going to say next.

Relationships are destroyed by distractions.

Relationships are built by giving your unwavering attention to another person using eye-contact, humility and the occasional smile.

Tim Denning in Your Inbox

Want to stay up to date with our Tim’s top-performing posts each week? Sign up for his private email updates by following this link.