How to Learn Affability

Affability is your ability to be someone other people want to be around.

Affability is often confused with being a naturally friendly person, but it is better understood as behaving in a way that makes people want to be in your presence voluntarily. 

Affability can be thought of having two aspects:

  1. Adhering to social norms.
  2. Making people feel good when they are around you.

Adhering to social norms is the foundation of being someone other people want to be around. Social norms exist for a reason: they are the generally accepted practices that allow you to avoid upsetting people. If you do not adhere to social standards, you run the risk of upsetting some or all of the people in your social group. For example, in most corporations, the following are considered social norms:

  • Saying “Good morning” when you see someone for the first time that day.
  • Introducing yourself when you meeting someone for the first time.
  • Shaking someone’s hand when they extend their hand during an introduction or greeting.
  • Maintaining eye contact when someone is speaking with you.
  • Allowing people to complete their sentences.
  • Not looking at your phone while someone is speaking with you.
  • Not dominating a conversation.
  • Speaking in a tone and volume that is similar or the same as people in the group.
  • Using body language that is similar or the same as people in the group.

Every culture has many written and unwritten social norms, and it is essential to learn them and adhere to them to set a foundation for being someone people want to be around. If this seems like a bitter pill to swallow, consider this: If you were to find yourself in a new culture that was utterly foreign to you, you would most likely want to learn the local culture to avoid offending people unnecessarily. An example would be bowing in Japan or having afternoon tea in England. You would not refuse to adhere to these social norms, as doing so would cause unnecessary friction with the people around you.

With the foundation of adhering to social norms in place, the far more difficult problem of making people feel good when they are around you presents itself. While this may seem intractable, two tried-and-true skills can be learned:

  1. Getting people to talk about themselves and listening intently to what they have to say.
  2. Being light-hearted.
  3. Introducing levity and humor to social situations.

Getting people to talk about themselves is usually very easy. All that is required is asking a question: 

  • “What did you do this weekend?”
  • “How are you doing?”
  • “What have you been up to?”
  • “How are things going with you?”
  • “What new with you?”

Once people start talking about themselves, your job is to encourage them to keep talking using active listening techniques. Active listening usually involves you using phrases such as the following at the appropriate times as they are talking about themselves:

  • “Then what happened?”
  • “Oh, I see.”
  • “Well, that’s surprising.”
  • “You handled that well.”
  • “That’s good.”
  • “That’s not good at all.”
  • “I can’t believe they said that.”
  • “I’m glad that worked out.”

Being light-hearted requires that you are a relaxed and calm person who is generally happy with themselves and others. This is nearly impossible to fake but can be influenced indirectly. For example, if you are truly unhappy with a situation in your personal or professional life, dealing with that situation helps you become a little more relaxed. The same can be said for going on a vacation, or making time for leisure activities, or spending more quality time with loved ones. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed other people will be around you, and the more approachable you will appear.

Introducing humor is no easy feat, and goes far beyond merely memorizing and telling jokes. Ultimately, comedy is an extremely advanced form of communication requiring excellent storytelling, non-verbal communication, vocal intonation, and timing. No formula can make you a funny person, but you can be influenced through observation. For example, find stand-up comedians that make you laugh, and watch a lot of their performances. The effect on your communication will in no way be immediate or direct, but it can change someone with no sense of humor to have a little sense of humor, which can have a massive impact on people’s desire to be around them.

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