Do you feel awkward at networking events? Do you wonder what your date really thinks of you? Do you wish you could decode people? You need to learn the science of people.
As a human behavior hacker, Vanessa Van Edwards created a research lab to study the hidden forces that drive us. And she’s cracked the code. In
she shares shortcuts, systems, and secrets for taking charge of your interactions at work, at home, and in any social situation. These aren’t the people skills you learned in school. This is the first comprehensive, science backed, real life manual on how to captivate anyone—and a completely new approach to building connections.
Just like knowing the formulas to use in a chemistry lab, or the right programming language to build an app,
Captivate provides simple ways to solve people problems. You’ll learn, for example…
How to work a room: Every party, networking event, and social situation has a predictable map. Discover the sweet spot for making the most connections.
How to read faces: It’s easier than you think to speed-read facial expressions and use them to predict people’s emotions.
How to talk to anyone: Every conversation can be memorable—once you learn how certain words generate the pleasure hormone dopamine in listeners.
When you understand the laws of human behavior, your influence, impact, and income will increase significantly. What’s more, you will improve your interpersonal intelligence, make a killer first impression, and build rapport quickly and authentically in any situation—negotiations, interviews, parties, and pitches. You’ll never interact the same way again.
“Everything Vanessa does is captivating, but this book is her masterpiece. Nearly every page contains surprising insights and practical tips to help you succeed more in life.”
—CHRIS GUILLEBEAU, author of The Happiness of Pursuit and host of Side Hustle School
“If you’ve ever thought ‘I hope they have a dog at this dinner party so that I don’t have to talk to anyone,'' read this book. Hello Captivate, good-bye awkward moments.”
—JON ACUFF, author of Do Over
“There is a big difference between faking your way into building relationships and deeply understanding the science of what makes people tick so that you can naturally and effectively connect with them. Captivate teaches this science in a fun and accessible way, so that you apply the learning in your everyday life, growing your network, influence, and impact.”
—PAMELA SLIM, author of Body of Work
“This book is rewarding regardless of your level of skill in getting along with others.”
—ART MARKMAN, PhD, coauthor of Brain Briefs
“Captivate is packed full of useful information for anyone interested in improving their social skills—it’s a must read.”
—JOE NAVARRO, former FBI agent, body language expert, and author of What Every BODY is Saying
“In Captivate, Vanessa Van Edwards has not only decoded the secret formula for what makes people tick, she also explains how to harness and put the latest people science into action.”
—JORDAN HARBINGER, founder of The Art of Charm
“Full of helpful tips, actionable anecdotes, and fascinating research, Captivate is the consummate wingman (or woman)—a book you’ll hear whispering in your ears, giving you social superpowers.”
—JENNY BLAKE, author of Pivot
“Vanessa Van Edwards is pure gold, and this book is an invaluable guide to harnessing the science of what makes people tick. A must read if you want to use its power for good inside your company, cause, or career.”
—CHASE JARVIS, CEO of CreativeLive
Vanessa Van Edwards is a researcher, speaker, and writer on people skills and interpersonal intelligence. Her behavior research lab, The Science of People, has been featured in
Forbes, and on Fox News. She is a monthly columnist for
the leading instructor in people skills on Udemy and CreativeLive, and has led trainings at a number of Fortune 500 companies around the world. She lives with her husband in Portland, Oregon.
How to win the social game
Once upon a time, a boy named Harry was teased for wearing thick glasses and having a bookish streak. When the time came to apply to college, he took jobs as a timekeeper in a railroad construction company and as a shelf duster in a pharmacy to support his family. No one would have guessed that this shy boy would one day become the thirty-third president of the United States.
The story of Harry S. Truman is surprising because he doesn''t fit the stereotypical booming presidential personality. On July 19, 1944, this posed a problem. Truman was facing the biggest opportunity of his career. He was vying for the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention. The odds were not in his favor. Then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt had already publicly supported his contender, Henry Wallace, a gifted public speaker and the current vice president.
Truman was not a gifted public speaker-and he knew it. His team had to draw the battle off the main stage to make the convention work to Truman''s strength: one-on-one rapport building. All day, they pulled delegates into a private, air-conditioned room underneath the platform, called Room H. The convention hall was stiflingly hot, so delegates literally breathed a breath of fresh air as they listened to Truman''s pitch and began to cool off. Then he spent hours standing at the end of the hallway, shaking hands with passing members. Instead of waiting for the results in his hotel room (which is what Henry Wallace and most of the candidates tended to do), Truman ordered a hot dog and sat with his wife in the audience.
In the first ballot, Wallace had 429.5 votes and Truman received 319.5 votes. A second ballot was called immediately. Truman had to win friends and he had to win them fast. Instead of making a grand speech, Truman and his team kicked into full gear, working party leaders, delegates, and influential members of the crowd one by one. He worked a solid connection with the right person and then let them convince their people for him.
At 8:14 p.m. the results were announced. Truman led with 1,031 votes to Wallace''s 105. He gained 712 votes in a matter of hours. A few minutes later, Truman gave one of the shortest acceptance speeches in history. He stood patiently at the bank of microphones, and when the audience had finally quieted down he said, "Now, give me a chance."
Truman understood his strengths and played to them. He optimized his interactions for success, and so can you.
The Science of Fake
Imagine it''s your dream to play professional basketball. You''re fast and have great ball-handling skills. You also happen to be six feet two inches tall. You have two choices: You could play center, but the average height of an NBA center is six feet eleven inches. If you went for center, you would have to fake your height by wearing lifts during games and spending a ton of extra hours after practice working on your vertical jump. Or you could play point guard, where the average height is six feet two inches. You wouldn''t have to make up for extra inches with your jump-you could just focus on playing.
Feigning extroversion is like trying to play center with lifts on. Trying to socially fake it until you make it burns a whole lot of extra energy and doesn''t really work. It also comes across as inauthentic.
In a Science of People survey, we asked 1,036 of our readers the following question:
Which of these people habits annoy you the most?
People who are too talkative
People who are too quiet
People who are fake
People who show off
Can you guess which won? "C. People who are fake" led the board by far with 63 percent. "D. People who show off" was a distant second (22 percent).
Fake doesn''t just happen when you''re trying to be something you''re not. If you don''t like someone, they will feel it. If you are unhappy at an event, people will sense it. Pushing through, faking it, trying to make it work-simply doesn''t work.
Dr. Barbara Wild and her associates found that our emotions are infectious. First, her team showed people pictures of happy or sad faces. Then they gave them a series of mood tests. They found they could "infect" participants with the emotions in each image. Very simply, after viewing a happy face, participants felt more positive. After viewing a sad face, participants felt more negative. Here''s what''s crazy: They only flashed each image for 500 milliseconds! Only 500 milliseconds is barely enough time for participants to even register they had seen a face, and they still caught the emotion.
Dr. Wild even found that our smile muscles unconsciously tend to mimic the smiles around us. We are happier around happy individuals, and we thrive with thriving people. When you force yourself to go to events you are dreading, you are not only miserable, but your misery is contagious.
Think you can just fake it until you make it? Think again! We can spot a fake smile a mile away. Over 4,361 people have taken our virtual Body Language Quiz to test their nonverbal intelligence. In one question we show participants a genuine smile hidden among three fake smiles. Over 86.9 percent of participants are correctly able to pick out the genuine smile.
Researchers at the University of Finland showed one group images of fake smiles and another group images of real smiles. Like this:
Can you guess which smile is real and which is the fake? Image A shows a fake smile, and Image B shows a genuine smile.
When participants looked at the real smiles, they felt a positive mood change. But when participants looked at the fake smiles, their mood remained the same. (For more on how you can tell the difference, turn to Chapter 6.)
Faking it until you make it is not worth the effort. Happy people make us happy, but fake happy people-they are forgettable. The first step in winning the social game is to control the situations you play in. Only interact in places where you don''t have to fake it. No matter how many behavior hacks you learn, if you go to events that make you unhappy, it will be incredibly difficult to increase your memorability.
When you feel great, other people pick up on it and want in on it. When you drag yourself to an event because you feel like you "should make an appearance," you are the party pooper. And you smell up the event.
This is why you need to have a Social Game Plan.
Confidence is contagious and so is lack of confidence, and a customer will recognize both.
Your Social Game Plan
Here''s the worst piece of advice I was ever given: Say yes to everything. Say yes to networking events, coffees with strangers, and random conferences, because you never know what opportunity might come your way. As the science shows, this is a big smelly sack of baloney.
Unfortunately, it took me years to figure this out. When I first started my blog, I was trying to find any paid writing gig I possibly could. So almost every weeknight, I trudged out to the professional circuit. I prepared for these networking events like I was going into battle, loading up on fat stacks of business cards, fistfuls of no-nonsense pens, and multiple personalized name tags. My uniform consisted of sensible shoes, casual professional attire, perfume, and a news anchor smile.
I fought. For attention, for business, for a break from the interminable boredom of having the same conversation over and over again. After three years of this nonsense (and at least ten pounds from eating so many platters of pigs in a blanket), I threw in the towel. I wasn''t making any real connections, I wasn''t drumming up business, and I certainly wasn''t having a good time.
Why? I wasn''t working to my strengths. Like Truman, I do much better in one-on-one situations. I get overwhelmed by loud rooms with lots of people. Trying to cover up my anxiety with fake smiles just made me come across as inauthentic-and that''s the problem.
What I needed was a game plan.
HACK #1: The Social Game Plan
Take control of your interactions and play by your social rules.
Who says you have to play by other people''s rules? Not me! I want you to create your own.
Your Social Game Plan will help you find the position that''s perfect for you: where you play your best, feel the most comfortable, and are set up for the greatest success.
Skill #1: Play Your Position
Most people skills books try to force you into one approach-the bubbly extrovert. They want you to fake it until you make it. They expect you to be "on" all the time with everyone you meet. This is impossible.
You can get along with anyone, but you don''t have to get along with everyone. The Social Game Plan isn''t just about mapping out your strategy, it''s also about leveraging your social strengths. Athletes aren''t expected to play every position on a team, so you shouldn''t try to engage in every social role. Play to your position. This will also make it easier to try all of the hacks you''ve learned.
At our human behavior lab, "The Thrive Test" asks participants about their favorite places to socialize. Before seeing the results, fill out your answers below.
Check off all the places where you greatly ENJOY spending time with other people-and feel free to fill in your own at the bottom. We''ll call these your thrive locations:
Check off all the places where you greatly DISLIKE spending time with other people-feel free to fill in your own at the bottom. We''ll call these your survive locations:
Can you guess which answer was the most popular?
Trick question! There weren''t any clear winners. We couldn''t find a statistically significant pattern because the answers were evenly split. Everyone thrives in different scenarios. This is why it''s hard trying to learn how to "work a party" if you don''t actually like parties. It''s silly trying to learn how to "charm people at a conference" if conferences make your skin crawl. That''s like saying a quarterback should also be able play as a kicker and linebacker. Maybe he could, but it wouldn''t make for a very successful game.
Let''s identify the positions where you thrive and the ones where you merely survive:
Thrive: Look at the first set of places you checked off in the exercise above. Put the top three to five under "My THRIVE Locations" below. These are the places you look forward to going to and where you are your best self.
Neutral: Certain social situations could go either way depending on your mood or who''s there. They aren''t your favorite, but you don''t dread them. Look at the places that you didn''t check off in either exercise and add the ones that you encounter the most under "My NEUTRAL Locations" below.
Survive: Other places or scenarios always make you feel uncomfortable, bored, or unhappy. Take three to five of the places you checked off in the second set and write them under "My SURVIVE Locations" below.
My THRIVE Locations:
My NEUTRAL Locations:
My SURVIVE Locations:
Now you know which invites to say yes to and which ones to skip. Put yourself in a position to be successful before you even arrive.
You are much more likely to triumph with each of the behavior hacks if you try them at your thrive locations. And if you have to go to a neutral or survive event, no worries-the next two skills have you covered.
Skill #2: Work a Room
Before you go to an event, imagine drawing your social interactions on a map, from the door you enter through to the location of your first conversation to the location of your last. Many of us follow the same paths over and over again without even realizing it.
At the Science of People, we partner with event organizers who let us film and track people''s movement through the venues. At each event, we assign every attendee a number and then observe his or her interaction patterns. At the end of the night, we count how many connections they made, ask them how many business cards they received, and look at their connections on LinkedIn. We have found that the most successful connectors use specific patterns. In other words, this social map can be hacked.
Here is a map of a typical social event:
Whether you''re at a networking event, holiday party, wedding, dinner at a friend''s house, or in a conference ballroom, most events have this basic setup. There is a check-in area or a table to drop off gifts. You can easily spot the bathroom and the bar or food area. There are usually a few people you recognize-maybe colleagues, friends, or acquaintances gathered and already catching up. And of course, the host or boss is milling around the room.
Let''s reimagine Truman''s social map at the 1944 convention:
An audience sat before a big stage. Private meeting rooms were in the back.
Most of the candidates devoted their energies to getting onstage before roaming through the audience to do obligatory schmoozing. Their map looked like this:
To be effective and win votes, the shy Truman had to avoid both the typically traversed path and his own personal traps. The Xs mark potential traps:
Truman did his networking at the end of a long hallway on the side of the stage and in the privacy of Room H. I call locations that work to our strengths social sweet spots. On the map, a star marks the sweet spot.
All Truman had to do was follow his sweet spots to work the room in his favor.
I want you to do the same thing. Let''s revisit the typical social map. I split every event up into three basic zones: the Start Zone, the Social Zone and the Side Zone.
The Start Zone is the starting point at all events. Emotionally, it''s the place where nerves are running highest. When people have just arrived, they''re usually juggling lots of thoughts. They are running late, checking in, taking off their coats, surveying the room, seeing if they know anyone, worrying about first impressions, silencing their phones, running to the bathroom, or praying for a good time.