How to Get People to Like You

People love Stephen Colbert. But Ben Affleck? Not so much.

Sam Bush / 3.31.22

How do you get people to like you? Many of us are too embarrassed to admit we care about the answer, but the question is often at the forefront of our minds. There are countless studies online to help guide you in the ways of maximizing your appeal. Being kind to animals is always a good place to start. Having good style, a witty sense of humor or a fancy title in front of your name like Duchess or Chief Surgeon does too. There is one thing above all, however, that will help you win that coveted Best All-Around superlative: you must resemble an actual human being.

Consider the Wall Street Journal’s interview series called “The One” in which WSJ Magazine’s cover stars talk about “the one” secret to their success — the one person they call in a crisis, the one song they listen to on repeat, the one habit they wish they could break. Each segment features perfect lighting and charming background music, but there’s a clear human element to the series. The fourth wall of celebrity is mostly broken. The characters we admire on the big screen or the runway have momentarily condescended, wearing street clothes and talking about their kids. Two interviews, one with Ben Affleck and the other with Stephen Colbert, are particularly striking because they lie on opposite sides of the relatability spectrum.

During his interview, Ben Affleck has all the markings of a celebrity. He is, first and foremost, attractive. Even at his age, Affleck’s beard and hair are things mortal men only dream of. But something is missing. He avoids disclosing anything remotely personal out of fear of compromising his reputation. When asked if there is a song he is currently obsessed with, he refuses, saying it would be far too revealing. When asked about the most embarrassing audition of his life he says, “Why would I ever tell that? I’m far too embarrassed to repeat it. I try to conceal the embarrassing things about my life and only reveal the appealing things.” All the while, his eyes are cast down.

There’s something about the guarded nature of the interview that is counter-intuitively honest, or at least instructive. Ben Affleck wants people to like him, so he hides his embarrassment. He leads with his strengths, or natural appeal, perhaps thinking that will play well to people. But the interview ends up falling flat. There’s a sadness just below the surface that I kept hoping would come up for air. But, by the end, we know little about this man who isn’t even willing to tell us what music he’s listening to.

To be clear, it’s hardly fair to hold the man under a microscope like this. I would hate to be judged by a three-minute interview. It’s also worth saying that Ben Affleck is a Christian and speaks quite eloquently about his faith. And yet, the interview is illustrative of the human tendency to conceal. Affleck’s answers are the way most of us live our daily lives. We don’t admit anything that would lead others to discover our true selves. We are convinced that the truth would lead to our downfall. We don’t like Ben Affleck because he’s trying (and failing) to appear more glamorous than he is. In other words, we don’t like him because he’s like us.

For the exact opposite reason, however, Stephen Colbert’s interview is a delight. He speaks with genuine curiosity. It’s as if he’s been thinking of these questions for years. What’s the one thing he would change about himself? More discipline. What does he do when he has writer’s block? He goes for a walk. What one book should everyone read? The Bible. What’s the one value most lacking in American culture right now? Humility, he says, before listing a slew of our other collective deficiencies.

Where Affleck’s interview seems more like an antsy job interview (“I can work harder than anyone I know”), Colbert’s interview feels like a heart-to-heart (“I’m a bundle of anxiety. I’ve got a cheesecake factory menu of things I’m afraid of”). Moreover, there’s a sense that Colbert’s answers would be the same no matter who was asking the questions. He’s not a glorified celebrity condescending with wisdom from on high, but a fellow human, a friend, a confidant. The way his words resonate with people is evident in the comments section. Is it possible to love someone you’ve never met? asks Rosalind. Stephen feels like an old friend to me, says Auntie Em.

One could easily question whether or not this interview is entirely off the cuff. After all, these videos are edited and Colbert is a famously skilled conversationalist. As a talk show host, the man is paid to think on his feet. And yet, one gets the sense that this interview would pass a lie detector test with flying colors. Colbert isn’t trying to put on a good interview. He’s an open book, simply speaking from the heart (which, ironically, is the one key to a good interview). The man may have nothing to prove, but he does have something to say.

Toward the end of the clip, Colbert is asked about the best piece of advice he’s ever received. He answers the question by telling a story about when he was deeply depressed in college. He had lost 50 pounds, his girlfriend had broken up with him, and he couldn’t get out of bed for a week.

And I went for a run with my dear friend Chip Hill and he stopped me for a second and sat me down (I remember the sun was going down, we were both kind of breathing hard) and he looked at me and he said, “You’re enough! You’re enough! Don’t worry about it.” 

Stephen Colbert could have offered a response that we have all come to expect from celebrities. What’s the best piece of advice Ben Affleck’s been given? Work hard! But, Colbert’s response refuses to follow the rules of the question altogether. He opts not to offer advice at all, but a proclamation: you’re enough.

As much as it might seem otherwise, showing your weaknesses opens the door to companionship and sympathy. Vulnerability not only invites friendship, but love. How did the apostle Paul seek to earn the trust of those who had turned against him? How did he lead his flock? By talking about his weaknesses (2 Cor 11:30). Grace, you see, allows a person to be honest with himself and with others. There’s no need to be defensive if your weaknesses have already been pardoned.

So how do you win friends and influence people? There may be a number of ways to get people to like you, but nothing seems to resonate with other human beings like a soul laid bare. We are drawn to it like moths to a flame because it feels like nothing we have ever seen before. A person who willingly exposes their shame and embarrassment seems otherworldly. In a lot of ways, it is.  

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2 responses to “How to Get People to Like You”

  1. ceej says:

    I really like this Sam Bush guy!

  2. Susan says:

    This piece kind of leaves me perplexed. On one level I understand the conclusions you came to about the two interviews. If we were to look at a transcript only of them, I think I may have thought the same.
    However, what I SAW in Affleck’s interview was a man who has been through the public opinion wringer, had been hurt pretty badly or at least has had his life significantly interrupted by that, and was reluctant to put himself (and probably his family) though that again. As some of the comments indicate, it doesn’t matter what he says, his critics will find a reason to say something unkind at best.
    So what I see in the two interviews are two men demonstrating vulnerability in two very different ways, which draws me to each of them for companionship’s and/or sympathy’s sake, but for two different reasons.
    Anyway, good article and I think what you say about being vulnerable is spot on; I just see the Affleck interview very differently. (And that’s not because I’m a huge fan. From what I’ve seen, which isn’t much, he’s a good actor, but I don’t have to see him in every project he does.)
    Then again, while I gain much from Paul’s writings, I’ve always found his incredible arrogance to nullify any display of humility and his true confessions sections! They’re just not believable about Paul even though what he’s saying in those sections are so true and useful.
    That may explain our different views of the interviews right there! 😉 Peace. Grace. Joy.

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