“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
“Hi, I’m Yuji!” he said with a massive grin that spread across his entire face.
“Oh, I know who you are!” I blurted out rather ineloquently. It wasn’t my fault really. It’s not every day that a rock-climbing legend reaches out to greet me with that kind of enthusiasm. The next words out of his mouth were even more surprising.
“Did you climb today? Where did you go? What climbs are you excited about?” he asked with all the exuberance of a fan asking a celebrity what big project they would be working on next. One of the best rock climbers in the world wanted to hear about my climbing? That would be like if Michael Jordan asked how your basketball game in your backyard with your brother went and actually listened with interest.
“Uhh…errmmm…I’m trying this climb called Priopos,” I mumbled. I appeared to have continued to regress into my awkward tween-age self. “What about you? How is the competition going?”
“Ooohh, I tried that climb! It’s hard, huh? You must be very strong to do it! I’m taller than you and that move felt far for me!” he exclaimed and proceeded to ask me how I navigated a specific move on the climb. He answered my questions about the competition politely but seemed far more interested in my climbing.
The conversation continued much in this vein. Every time I tried to ask him a question, he would flip the conversation back to me. He seemed genuinely interested in the climbs I was working on, what I was struggling with, and the places I enjoyed climbing in. The next day, I ran into him at a climbing area and he greeted me with the enthusiasm of an old friend.
I very quickly noticed that wherever Yuji went, he created laughter and camaraderie with professional climbers and regular climbers alike. Yuji is legendary not only for achieving many rock-climbing firsts but also for climbing at an elite level for over 30 years. However, it was apparent to me that his real superpower is his uncanny ability to instantly make anyone around him feel good.
In the years following that meeting, I have since moved to the epicenter of professional rock climbing. I routinely run into the top athletes who enjoy celebrity status amongst climbers and yet, none remain as memorable as Yuji. He was quite simply — unforgettable. To this day, I can still conjure up exactly how he made me feel around him — which is very, very good.
You might be thinking, “Sure, it’s easy for a famous person to make anyone feel good.”
I thought that too at first. But here’s what’s special about that meeting. I didn’t walk away feeling good that I had met him, I walked away feeling good about myself. At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was about Yuji that made me feel good. For many years after, every time I met someone who had that effect on me, I would mentally put these people in a special category.
Over time, I was able to compare the similarities in these interactions and it dawned on me that it had nothing to do with celebrity, skill, or even charm. In fact, it’s so remarkably simple that anyone can do it with a bit of practice.
If you have never thought about the need to make people around you feel good, consider this — likability is the best currency you can have in life. It will create experiences and open doors for you that no amount of money or effort can match. So, if you’re ready to hone this important ability, here are some practical tips to help you get started.
1. Help people see themselves in a better light
This is by far the most powerful skill you can have. It’s easy to shower someone with praise and compliments, the hard part is getting them to actually believe for themselves that it is true. Yuji didn’t flatter people or even tell people what they wanted to hear but he had a way of asking questions so you came to certain conclusions yourself. Simply put, he was an excellent mirror. He had a way of reframing you that made you see yourself in a better light.
By asking me how a smaller climber like me had solved a section of the climb that had felt difficult for him, he had reminded me that I had developed some unique skills and techniques to overcome challenges specific to me that other people didn’t encounter. I have come to notice that the other people in my special category share this trait too. It always felt like they were really saying, “Hey, if you see yourself through my eyes, you will see that you are pretty cool.”
How you can do this too
Most people often have a harsh inner critic and struggle to be kind to themselves. For example, a mother may constantly feel that she never does enough or an entrepreneur may always feel like a failure. You can actively look for the triumph in their struggles and point it out to them.
You might remind the mother that no one you know is as selfless or resourceful as her and that she has raised wonderful kids. You may express your admiration for the entrepreneur for having the courage to follow their passions which many only talk about. In many instances, even telling them what a valuable friend they are to you helps them view themselves in a more positive light.
2. Get excited about what they’re excited about
Have you ever had a conversation with someone where they instantly transform before your eyes when they start talking about something they are passionate about? That happens because people feel energized when they get the opportunity to share something they love.
I noticed that when Yuji asked me questions, he wouldn’t ask me, “So, what have you been up to?” Instead, he asked, “What climbs are you excited about?” or “What areas do you love climbing in the most?” Once I gave a response, he would identify the parts that I was most animated about and express his own excitement by saying, “That’s amazing! Tell me more! Why do you love it?”
Here’s the important part — Yuji wouldn’t just listen politely. He would get excited about whatever I was excited about and his enthusiastic response was what felt really good. If you’ve ever watched the way a child lights up when you seem delighted about something they are also excited about, you’ll know what I mean.
How you can do this too
There are two parts to this — first, you need to identify what the person is passionate about. To do this, you should try to ask questions that have more emotional words in them. I tend to stay away from asking about achievements and prefer asking about experiences instead. Here are some examples:
- “What do you love doing most with your free time?” versus “What are your hobbies?”
- “What are you passionate about?” versus “What interests you?”
- “What creates bliss/purpose for you?” versus “What do you do?”
The second part is to get excited with them and encourage them to keep going. You can use phrases like, “That is so cool!” and “Tell me more.” The best part about this is that sharing someone elses’ passions is incredibly fun. It will likely reignite your passion for life and have you walking away feeling energized as well.
3. Allow them to change your view of the world
My conversation with Yuji eventually veered towards how I was able to travel and climb as much as I did. I explained that I had a corporate job but had negotiated ways to have extended periods of travel. I shared that my philosophy in life was never “Should I choose A or B?” but rather “How can I have A and B?”
Upon hearing this, his face lit up and he said, “Wow, I’ve never thought about it that way. It’ll make me approach decisions differently in the future.”
Expressing that someone changed the way you view life makes people feel good because it makes them feel seen as a unique individual. You’re indirectly saying, “I can see that there is something distinctive about your life that has shaped your words and thoughts, and I can learn from them, too.”
How you can do this too
Everyone has their own journey and ways of thinking that can teach you something. Maybe you meet someone who has carved out a life that was completely different from how they were raised or someone who has an unusual interest. Try to understand the lessons they have learned from these experiences and the specific ways it differs from your approach to life. Seek opportunities to say, “Wow, I never thought about it that way.” It will not only make the person feel better, it will change your life too.
4. Seek their opinion
Let’s imagine that the President of the United States called you and asked for your opinion on something. How would you feel? It’s likely that you would feel quite flattered. This is because seeking someone's opinion is a huge indicator of respect.
In the course of our conversation, Yuji asked for my opinion on several things such as my favorite climbing destinations or how I felt about the various events at the festival. They weren’t life-changing questions by any long shot but they did go a long way in making me feel at ease in the conversation. After all, everyone can talk about their own opinions — no expertise is required and it’s a subject they know best.
So, asking for my opinion had the dual effect of making me feel respected and allowing me to contribute more to the conversation. When you ask someone for their opinion, you are really saying, “I respect you and I value the way you think about things.”
How you can do this too
The best part about this is that asking someone for their opinion requires no knowledge and skill on your part either. Whatever the topic of conversation happens to be — you can simply say, “What do you think?” or “How do you feel about…?” or “What is your favorite…?”
Remember that the more important the question that is asked, the more impactful it will feel for the person being asked. For example, inquiring about what investments they think are worth making is different from asking someone what their favorite restaurant is. Once they offer their opinions, your only job is to listen without judgment and show appreciation for the opinion offered.
One Simple Takeaway
I once had a friend who would often say, “I’m not charming enough to make people feel good.”
The biggest mistake you can make is thinking that making people feel good is about you. It is believing that you have to be funny, smart, or interesting to be able to influence someone else’s mood. The truth is, making people feel good is simply about shifting the focus from yourself to the other person.
It’s making it about them, not you.
Don’t believe me? There is convincing research to back up this claim. In five different studies, researchers found that the opportunity to talk about themselves — especially regarding subjective or personal experiences — activated the dopamine pathways in the brains of the subjects. In case you didn’t know, the dopamine pathway is the part of your brain that lights up and makes you feel good when you get a reward like an annual bonus, a text from your crush, or your favorite dessert.
Talking about themselves was so pleasurable that the subjects were even willing to give up money just to be able to continue doing so. Two other studies also showed that subjects highly valued both the opportunity to express themselves and the act of sharing information with other people.
When you also consider that humans dedicate 20–40% of our speech output to expressing our personal experiences, the cumulative evidence is strong that people really enjoy talking about themselves and if you respond enthusiastically to them doing so, they will feel very good about themselves.
So, you see, no real skill is required on your part in order to make people feel good— all that is needed is a genuine curiosity to understand people for the unique individual that they are. Remember, the most important thing you can give people is not time — it is your attention. To quote Dale Carnegie, bestselling author of the classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People:
“We are interested in others when they are interested in us.”