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How to Keep Your Social Circle Strong Using Your Likeability Factor

By Tim Sanders



Of all the things we need to maintain throughout our life, close friends and a thriving social circle should be at the top of the list. These things help to prevent loneliness and isolation, which can be debilitating emotionally, psychologically and even physically in our latter years.1 To do this, we’re often advised to join more civic groups, do volunteer work, or go to church more often. 


These Activities Surely Increase the Chances that You’ll Meet New People

But if you aren’t emotionally attractive to be around, you’ll just be spinning your social wheels. Developing your likeability factor is the key to converting new acquaintances into lasting relationships.


The Power of Emotional Appeal 

Over the course of five years, my team and I conducted deep research into the nature of human relationships and what it takes to make a long-lasting connection with others. We reviewed hundreds of academic and institutional studies, interviewed several thousand people, and conducted online surveys. Our key finding was that people like others and choose to spend time with them because of their emotional appeal—in other words, people with a high degree of likeability tend to have stronger social circles than most. 


You Might Be Thinking, “I’m Not Going to Change Who I Am To Be Liked!” 

Our research suggests you don’t necessarily have to change, but instead, you can become more self-aware and emotionally available. There’s good reason to put in this effort because having a strong social circle is a matter of life and breath. 


Loneliness Is a Health Risk

Consider research conducted at the Duke University Medical Center that studied more than 1,000 heart disease patients. They found that patients who lacked a spouse or a local friend were three times more likely to die than those in a caring relationship.2 In fact, being alone can raise your risk of heart disease or other illnesses. Researchers at Brigham Young University found that loneliness increases chances of premature death by 14% and accelerated cognitive decline. Their study concluded that “those who had very few friends had a mortality risk equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”3

This is an important consideration for us as we age because, on average, our social circle peaks in our mid-20s and slowly declines for the rest of our life.4 One study found that we lose half of our friend connections every seven years, which means we must consistently replace them.5 As we move into retirement, we lose our work connections, our families likely disperse, and we can easily find ourselves alone more often than in the company of others.

We Lose Half of Our Friends Every 7 Years5

One study found that we lose half of our friend connections every seven years, which means we must consistently replace them.


It Starts with Your Friendliness Factor 

When it comes to new acquaintances, being friendly is foundational to an enduring relationship. As humans, we’re wired to ask, “Friend or foe?” throughout our interactions with others and gravitate to those that make us feel welcome or liked. The friendlier others are, the more likely we are to spend time with them. Friendliness is not telepathic, it’s a feeling we communicate to others through signals and actions. 

During your next encounter with a new contact, send friendly signs through your conversation in a way that comes naturally to you. Flash a warm smile, deliver an energetic salutation, or offer a warm handshake. When appropriate, give a sincere compliment. Any of these actions can go a long way in conveying, “I like you” to another. Your actions have a positive effect on others.

One UCLA scientist found that when we observe another person smile, mirror neurons in our brain light up as if we were smiling ourselves. In our research, we’ve learned that just thinking about how you convey your friendliness factor to others can lead to making warmer connections during conversations or meetings. 


Authentic Friendliness Starts With a Positive Mindset Toward Others

Too many times, we meet with others during days where we’re stressed, don’t feel so well, or have other things on our mind. A good way to ensure you bring your friendliest self is to prepare for encounters by recollecting what you like about the person you’re about to engage with. What do the two of you have in common? Why are you grateful to have time with her? Why is getting out and making new friends fun? All of these questions can lead you to convey that positivity that others will find appealing.


Building Bridges With Others Leads to More Friends

As you connect with other people’s passions and interests, you give them a tremendous gift: validation. Finding common interests during conversations creates more interpersonal connections that’ll serve as shock absorbers throughout the relationship. The trick is to listen actively, then be open to hearing the life details of others.

As you spot a common interest, it’s important to articulate why you liked that book, movie, band, or city. Give the conversation space so people can unpack the details behind their interests, then be generous in sharing your perspective on it in response. I’ve found that developing just a handful of common interests can build a resilient friendship. 

Regardless of whether you’re talking to a friend, new contact, or lifelong family member, it’s important you connect with what he or she truly cares about. Too often we have a hard time finding value in the latest-and-greatest trend that our kids are into. Other people’s hobbies or pastimes can seem silly to us, usually because we’ve never engaged in them before. Remember, validation is a gift, so open your mind up to experience new worlds of perspectives and experiences. 


Here’s a way to kick start the connection process

Instead of asking someone, “How are you?” ask “What are you doing these days that you’re excited about?” As you hear the response, listen for details, and continue the conversation by saying, “Tell me more!” In many cases, you’ll find a great opportunity to either find something in common or show some support. 

How Clients Can Kick Start Better Conversations

Instead of asking someone, “How are you?” ask “What are you doing these days that you’re excited about?” As you hear the response, listen for details, and continue the conversation by saying, “Tell me more!” 


Connect Others That Should Meet to Grow Your Network 

Of all the findings in our research on social circles, one surprised us the most. People that develop a habit of connecting friends within their circle have the strongest networks and receive the most emotional support when times require it. We dubbed these generous networkers “super-connectors” because they created so many new friendships and partnerships during their lives. To some it was a hobby, and to others, a personal passion. 


As You Meet New People, Consider Who in Your Social Circle He or She Should Meet

One of your existing friends might be a great personality match, or better, have a solution to a problem your new contact has. Maybe there’s a shared interest that might spark a relationship between two people that you know. As you connect others successfully, you’ll find that you’re often invited into their extended networks as an act of trust and reciprocity. This can only lead to more opportunities to make new friends. 

During the twilight of his career as a life insurance agent, Elmer Letterman developed the habit of hosting lunches where he’d fuse two or three of his associates together around an opportunity or shared interest. He found the habit personally enriching, and at the same time, developed a vibrant network of relationships in his hometown of Manhattan, which served as a stronghold of support for the rest of his life. His habit can be yours, too, especially in a world where it’s easier than ever to connect other people by phone, email, or social networks. 

Next Steps:

  1. Prior to meeting new friends, think about what you like about this person, have in common with him or her, or how grateful you are for his or her time

  2. Steer conversations to other people’s hobbies, passions, and projects, and then, if possible, join them if not only to show support

  3. Have a goal to connect two people that “should meet” every month. During conversations, uncover possible connection points between people in your network.



1 Source: Loneliness Can Actually Hurt Your Heart. Here’s Why, Time, 3/26/18

2 Source: Silverstein, H. Robert, Maximum Healing, Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010. Most recent data available.

3 Source: Stayin’ alive: That’s what friends are for, BYU News, 7/27/2010. Most recent data available.

4 Source: Sex differences in social focus across the life cycle in humans, Royal Society Open Science, 4/3/16. Most recent data available.

5 Source: How To Make Friends In Adulthood, Stitch, 1/14/15. Most recent data available.


How a Certified Aging In Place Specialist Can Help You Age In Your Home >

Tim Sanders
Founding Partner, Deeper Media, Inc. New York Times best-selling author and expert on motivation, emotional talent and sales innovation

Loneliness Can Increase Chances of Premature Death by 14% and Accelerated Cognitive Decline

Source: How To Make Friends In Adulthood, Stitch, 1/14/15. Most recent data available.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, who is not affiliated with Hartford Funds.