7 Tips for Making Other People Feel Smart and Insightful.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.

This Wednesday: 7 tips for making other people feel smart and insightful.

We all want to get along well with other people, and one way to do this is to help people feel good about themselves. If you make a person feel smart and insightful, that person will enjoy your company. The point is not to be manipulative, but to help other people feel good about their contributions to a conversation.

Here are some suggestions…

1. Take notes. I’m a compulsive note-taker, and I used to feel self-conscious about pulling out my little notebook and taking notes during a casual conversation. Then I noticed that people really seemed to enjoy it; the fact that I was taking notes made their remarks seem particularly insightful or valuable. Now I don’t hold myself back.

2. Refer to a comment that the person made earlier in the conversation. “This ties to your earlier point about…” This reference shows a person that you’re tracking and remembering their comments very closely. And give people credit for their ideas! The terrific Ramit Sethi gave me the idea for this post.  Relatedly…

3. If a person doesn’t finish a thought, ask him or her to pick it up again. “You said there were two reasons, but we didn’t get to the second reason.”

4. Use the person’s name—judiciously. Perhaps it’s the influence of How To Win Friends and Influence People, but some folks seem to think that throwing names around is always a winning move. I think it’s much more complicated than that. Sometimes, when someone uses my name, I feel as though I’m being manipulated, or chided, or patronized. But in the right context, it can add a very nice note.

5. As people talk about things they’ve done, take note of evidence of their admirable qualities—just in a word or two. “That must have taken a lot of research.” “You showed a lot of initiative in starting that.” When someone mentions a fact from the past, my father-in-law often remarks, “You’ve got a good memory.” It’s surprisingly gratifying.

6. Ask for advice. We all love to give advice, and feel smart when someone seeks our counsel. Even better…

7. Take someone’s advice! If you read a book that someone recommends, use a software program that someone suggests, or try a restaurant that someone loves, that person will feel brilliant. In conversation, I’m always making recommendations such as Inform Fitness gym, where I go for strength-training, and Gary Taubes’s book Why We Get Fat, and I feel enormously pleased when someone follows my suggestions.

What have I left out? What are some other ways to make people feel smart and insightful?

  • Jen

    I’ve noticed that mentioning a person’s good idea and giving them “credit” around those in higher up positions assists as well in making others smart!

  • I love these kinds of topics. I am always seeking out ways that I can help and encourage others. Not only do I enjoy building someone up in this respect, but I also yearn for them to be happy. In my daily life I smile, give compliments, show interest in their interests and congratulate on jobs well done or initiatives taken and these are all sincerely meant. I don’t look for afirmation, I am only wanting to give love and meanwhile secretly hoping they pay it forward to themselves, family, friends or a stranger.

  • Jasmin

    love! 🙂

  • Great list! Something that I find gives me a burst of happiness is when someone I’ve been speaking with later says to me, “I’ve been thinking about what you said …” I wasn’t really listened to as a child, and the happiness I feel when validated this way is tremendous.

    • gretchenrubin

      GREAT addition. So true.

  • Blair424

    When somebody says something (for instance, political) that I disagree with, I start my response by trying to find something we both agree on, or I at least try to give them credit for having good intentions. Some people feel pretty strongly about some issues, or they love a good debate (and sometimes just for fun say they disagree with your position even though they really don’t). But I’ve found that most people don’t like to be told, “You’re wrong.” Of course, if I can, I try to change the subject!

  • You have a nice hat!

  • eckief

    “What you said the other day inspired me to … “. I only ever say this if it is true, ever since a few people have mentioned to me how something I said or did inspired them, and it so made my day, that I started letting other people know.

  • Ian

    Good article, Gretchen. I owned and ran a recruitment business for 10 years and one of my cardinal rules was that no candidate was allowed to leave our offices feeling rejected and/or bad about themselves. My consultants really got on board with this and, while we couldn’t help every candidate of course, the candidates loved us. Every one of them would leave with their ego’s boosted and high self esteem. Plus we built a very loyal candidate base, they recommended us to their friends and would use us when they in turn were in hiring positions. Doing well by doing the right thing worked for us!

    • gretchenrubin

      What a great approach.

  • Linda

    Thank you for these excellent points; I have used many of your suggestions and found them to greatly enhance my conversations with others. I especially like helping people to notice their best qualities or skills. I learned how important this is when I used to work with children, who often do not hear from adults about their gifts and abilities. Also, I have noticed that most of us are so busy multi-tasking during conversations, or thinking of our next comment (I am guilty of this) that we don’t really make eye contact or carefully listen to each other. So, I try to look at the person most of the time and listen really carefully, practicing patience to let the person finish their comment before I begin. I know I always have fun in my conversations so I expect others enjoy themselves as well–

  • Priyanka

    Great suggestions, a few of them have helped me a lot in both my personnal and professional life..though these thinks some how every body knows but it is difficult to make a note out of them…thank you for reminding them and making them to be noticed…

  • Adora Tsang

    I often find people using my name too often to be insincere, sometimes creepy. I mean, why do they say my name while it is just the two of us? It feels very unnatural. But I know what you mean, people are often very impressed that I remember their names. On the other hand, they are often stressed out not remember my name, my unusual name.
    I’d add that not to ask advice you don’t plan to take. Too often, people ask questions just so that they can talk about themselves. They completely ignore the answer from the other person. I see it most often with parenting advice.

  • Randee Bulla

    I’ve been working on some projects that have grown much larger than I had ever imagined, and I keep getting inspiration and ideas from others as I research and get volunteers to help take them all the way to completion. I make sure that I give genuine public credit for those inspirations or ideas. I do it primarily because I truly appreciate their contributions, but also because of the reaction I get from others. They love to get gold stars (especially when they had no idea they had even inspired me), others see I give public gold stars and frequently want to volunteer because of that type of atmosphere (being appreciated-they seem to love a genuine, from the heart cheerleader), and I also find that it has created an extremely open environment where we freely exchange ideas knowing that I give credit and don’t take others’ ideas to make them my own. It’s kind of win/win/win/win.

  • Holly

    Another way to make people feel and know they are important is send a follow up note. Few folks write notes anymore so it will make a difference. Mention something s/he said like “I am downloading The Happiness Project tonight after you recommended it.” Or, “I’m going to investigate taking art classes after hearing how you recently learned to play piano.”

    It also goes a long way to validate and support someone who is going through a rough time. In most cases, they just want someone to LISTEN. A note saying “I’m so sorry that your going through this tough time” and then recount something positive, like “but I think your strategy of taking one day at a time will help you get through this.” S/he knows you listened.

  • Alaina Strand

    Really good tips. I also think that it helps to be a good listener. The more you listen to people the more they will listen back. I always make a note to myself to listen to other people’s suggestions to solve a problem before I suggest a solution.

  • Anne Stockwell

    Just to get in the spirit of things: I purchased a book you recommended, Your Brain at Work by David Rock, and I have found it very helpful. A friend just got a promotion to School Principal, and I’m going to buy her a copy to celebrate. Thanks!

  • nice article and handy list to keep in mind

  • Colleen

    Just to make you feel smart and insightful, Gretchen, I must tell you that I read Why We Get Fat based on your recommendation. This book inspired me to make dietary changes – and stick to them – in a way no other health advice ever has before. I’m curious to know how this book has impacted your diet.

    • gretchenrubin

      So happy to hear that it was useful to you! I’m a big adherent to the principles outlined in Why We Get Fat…it had a very large influence on the way I eat. I am gearing up for a big post about that.

  • ben

    One thing that I love is when I recommend a book or movie to someone and they watch or read it and report back.

  • Elizabeth

    I always say something nice about people “behind their back.” It inevitably gets back to them and they realize I like them. Simple, sincere, appreciative.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great addition! I love giving (and getting) behind-the-back compliments. People believe they’re more sincere, too.

  • Joy B Hans

    Good one can be used when we train people

  • LizCat

    I often try to follow up when I’m conversing with others, asking them to elaborate on a point they just made. I think so many “conversations” actually function as two dialogues, with no one really listening–each is just waiting for the other person to finish. Asking a question proves that you’re invested in and listening to the other party.

  • doris hagan

    wow nice piece, its really bad when people fail to hear you in conversation

  • I love this list of tips, especially the part about taking a notes – I do the same thing, especially in one on one meetings. Another good tip would be to make eye contact consistently.

  • Kevin A. Shuttleworth

    Gretchen, I also take notes and jot down little things constantly. One other idea I have found to work for me at the begining of a meeting with new clients, I write down all of the names as everyone does their introduction of who they are and what their position is as they go around the table. I do feel if you ask a question or follow up with someones idea, by calling them out by their name it makes them feel more comfortable and invited into the conversation.

  • Abby S.

    This is a great article, thanks for posting it! As a high school student, I believe, with tweaking of examples, these tips could be aimed at teens. While taking notes during a chat at lunch with friends might not work so well for school, tips like referring to earlier comments, using names, and taking note on people’s admirable qualities could definitely be used; I plan to use them. I think one of the reasons teens sometimes get into trouble is we don’t always feel included and good about our ideas. If more people knew about these tips and put them into practice, especially in school, teens might feel smarter and more insightful. Then we wouldn’t have to get into trouble to get attention, but we could be smart and insightful, and still be recognized by our peers.

  • adora

    I have just finished “Why We Get Fat” after your recommendation. It was very disappointing. It was dreadful with few substance and lack science. The part about how we breed Fuji apples to be juicier than wild apple just made me want to slam the book. There is no such thing as wild Fuji apples. He doesn’t even know how food are cultivated. The reason that Nigerians suffer less cancer than Nigerian-Americans is because they die of murder, HIV and other infectious diseases before they grow old enough to develop cancer. He argue that the conventional wisdom isn’t tested, yet he didn’t provide any proof. He could be right about insulin but he isn’t testing the hypothsis effectively. It was just assumptions and anecdotes… It was like Dr. Oz show on paper, equally useless. It is a terrible book, Gretchen!

    Anyway, I find that diet is the new religion. I tend to stay away from the topic. When I disagree on people’s belief on diets, they get far more offended than I disagree with religion or politics.

  • Alexia Anastasio

    When introducing a friend to someone else you can use complimentary adjectives that show your admiration.

  • jackie

    Dr. Lieberman’s book…Make Peace with Anyone…speaks of various psychological strategies including asking the person for advice, ask them a favor…

  • jill

    most of these tips work very well for parenting, too. great ways to make a child feel valued. 🙂

  • Marie

    Great advice, I’m going to print this list and study it. Seriously. I’ve been told a couple of times that I come off as a bit superior -which mortifies me!- so I will surely benefit from doing all this things every day. Although I do think note-taking might be a bit too much at the moment.

  • Lindsay Parsons

    Talk up the individual to a third party. “Gretchen, Katie here is a freaking genius with…..” It’s one of the biggest compliments I crave, and I’ve found myself not to be alone in that.

  • Elizabeth Hampton

    I love this post and so many others by you, Gretchen!
    The idea of taking notes is funny and something I think I may have done very rarely but think of more often — and clearly I should consider doing it whenever the fancy strikes me! I can totally relate to the idea that sometimes when people use your name it can be really nice but other times it can seem like they’re just trying to sell you on something! I hope aI can learn to do it the nice way!
    I found this article looking for advice from you about several different topics because I have found so much useful information from you so far- especially to accept myself and learn more about how to work with my own nature instead of trying to be someone else. I have happily re-read Why We Get Fat to inspire me to make necessary changes to my diet so that I can start feeling better physically too. It’s so nice to know that I’m a questioner and getting lots of trustworthy info is what helps the most when I’m trying for a big effort or change. And it really does work for me!
    So thanks!! I appreciate all your work and am so glad you put it out there.