Here's How You Can Turn A First Encounter Into A Deep, Lasting Friendship

The path to being well-liked might be a lot easier than you imagined.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | May 25, 2023

A new study published in Psychological Science gives important clues to people who aspire to be liked by others. The study suggests that one's behavior and actions might lead to general popularity in certain cases, but that different actions may be required to forge unique connections with specific people.

"People form judgments about each other very quickly in the getting acquainted process and the extent to which one is liked by another newly met person is highly consequential for the development of the relationship," explain researchers Michael Dufner and Sascha Krause of the University of Leipzig in Germany. "Not much is known, however, about what exactly the behaviors are that lead to being liked in the first place. Our research aimed to fill this gap."

The researchers differentiated between two types of behavior that can lead to liking during a first encounter:

  1. Agentic behavior is usually exhibited when one wants to gain someone's respect or admiration. Examples include dominant or confident behavior.
  2. Communal behavior, on the other hand, is shown when the goal is to form mutually supportive and trusting bonds with someone. Examples include warm, welcoming, and friendly behavior.

The study recorded brief, first encounter conversations between two participant groups such that each member of one group interacted with each member of the other. Observing these conversations helped the researchers identify two distinct forms of liking that emerged:

  1. Popularity, i.e., how much is an individual generally liked by others
  2. Unique liking, i.e., how much an individual is particularly liked by a specific person

The researchers also explain that neither form of liking can be considered as more important or 'better' than the other. They state:

"Being generally liked by others (i.e., popularity) is important, as it indicates that one is socially included and respected in one's group. Being uniquely liked by a particular other person (i.e., unique liking) is important, because it is often reciprocated by both interaction partners and represents the building block of mutually supportive relationships, such as friendships or romantic relationships."

The study produced two key findings:

  1. While showing frequent agentic and communal behavior can lead to high popularity;
  2. When it came to unique liking, exhibiting high levels of communal, but not agentic, behavior led to being particularly well-liked by the interaction partner, more than they liked their other partners and more than their other interaction partners liked them on average.

So, then, what does one do if they want to make a good first impression? The researchers' advice is to keep it simple.

"One implication from our research is that communal behaviors, such as friendliness, helpfulness, or warmth, have positive effects on being liked throughout, whereas trying to impress others through agentic behaviors might backfire," they explain. "So our advice is simple and straightforward: be nice and the effect will most likely be positive."