Whether it’s at work, school, or a friend’s party, it’s nearly impossible to meet someone new without eventually wondering: do they like me?
In this video from The School of Life, philosopher Alain de Botton explores why our brains jump to that thought so quickly.
“The question feels so significant because, depending on how we answer it in our minds, we will either take steps to deepen the friendship or […] immediately make moves to withdraw from it, so as to spare ourselves humiliation and embarrassment,” he says.
Instead of assuming a defensive position—thinking people are judging us to be uninteresting or unworthy of their attention—de Botton suggests we take the offensive and make the first attempt to connect. In other words, we can show an acquaintance that we are likeable, and make an effort to let them know we like them as well.
The next time you find yourself fretting over whether or not you’re liked, follow these three steps:
1. Quiet the inner critic
Often—especially if we are shy or have social anxiety—we wait until we are certain someone likes us before we open up to them. This may seem like a good idea, but doing so can prevent you from becoming close to someone who also hesitates.
“The possibility of friendship between people therefore frequently hangs in the balance, because both sides are privately waiting for a sign from the other one as to whether or not they are liked—before they dare to show, or even register, any enthusiasm of their own,” de Botton explains.
If you notice your inner critic surfaces whenever you meet someone new, make an effort to reflect on the qualities you like about yourself, so you can quiet any self-critical thoughts that may be holding you back.
If you notice your inner critic surfaces whenever you meet someone new, make an effort to reflect on the qualities you like about yourself, so you can quiet any self-critical thoughts that may be holding you back. Even taking a moment to recall one good thing about yourself generates compassion. It may feel daunting to strike up a conversation with a person you’ve just met, but it could be the first step toward a new friendship—something your inner critic may say you do not deserve.
“When you recognize and reflect on even one good thing about yourself, you are building a bridge to a place of kindness and caring,” says world-renowned meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg. “Standing in that place increases your ability to look honestly and directly at whatever is difficult and gives you the energy and courage to move forward.”
2. Seek out small ways to bond
If you are truly worried if someone likes you, the best thing you can do is obvious: give them a reason to.
“We have to realize that whether or not the other person likes us is going to depend on what we do, not—mystically—what we by nature are,” de Botton says. “And that we have the agency to do rather a lot of things.”
We have to realize that whether or not the other person likes us is going to depend on what we do, not—mystically—what we by nature are.
A simple action, like offering to help your neighbor carry groceries, or asking a coworker how their weekend was, can provide an opportunity to connect with a new person in your life.
Not sure where to begin? Terry Gross, host of NPR’s long-form interview show Fresh Air, offers eight easy ways to jumpstart a conversation, like being curious or paying attention to body language.
3. Embrace your fears
Spending days and weeks wondering whether someone likes you won’t achieve much more than stoking negative thoughts. Instead, focus on what it is you want to accomplish—even if that means taking a chance.
“We should stop worrying quite so much whether or not people like us, and do that far more interesting and socially-useful move: concentrate on showing that we like them,” de Botton concludes.
Maybe you want to ask a gym acquaintance to go for coffee—or perhaps you’re hoping a coworker will join you on a project. Whatever it is, you don’t need to wait for a sign of approval. Passing them a compliment or saving them a seat at the lunch table are small but sure ways to lay the groundwork for connection. Move forward with confidence, and trust that the rest will fall into place.