Q: My roommate has this need to tell me all about his day when he gets home. His main form of communication is complaining. I need quiet time when I come home, not a second job as an unlicensed therapist. I’ve hinted at this, but he isn’t catching on.—Weary
A: Your hopes and dreams change as you go through life—like when you get a roommate who won’t shut up and you regularly fantasize that masked, violent orthodontists are holding him down in an alley while they wire his jaws together.
The thing is, you can live this dream—minus the gangland orthodontists. Retiring from your nightly gig as your roommate’s emotional garbage can just requires asking for what you want instead of hinting at it. Assertiveness is the healthy alternative to being passive or going aggressive.
The foundation of assertiveness is self-respect—believing you’ve got a right to have and express desires and preferences that conflict with others’ desires and preferences. If you’re assertive, you’re generous by choice.
In contrast, clinical psychologist Randy J. Paterson explains, “When you behave passively, control of your life is in the hands of people around you.” Not asserting yourself leads to stress, the “bodily reaction to the perception that we are under threat.” When that stress is chronic, it’s associated with, for example, decreased immune function and an increased risk for heart attacks, strokes and other fun ways to get to the morgue ahead of schedule.
Assertiveness is best exercised as soon as you realize you want somebody to change their behavior. When you don’t let your annoyance fester, you’re more likely to have the composure to open with a little positivity, like saying to your roommate, “Hey, I really admire your openness about your life …” Yes, that’s the sound of the truth being sacrificed on the altar out back, but it’s for a good cause—making him feel appreciated rather than attacked. This sets him up to be more amenable to your request that follows: “When I come home, I need an hour or so without conversation so I can decompress.” For best results, keep the next part of that silent: “Also so I can refrain from the temptation to bludgeon you with a potato and cut your vocal cords out with a butter knife.”
Q: Are there any psychological hacks for getting people to like you?—Self-Improvement Junkie
A: In social interaction, there’s a balance between keeping it real and keeping it strategic. Going mad-enthusiastic over somebody you’ve just met is cute—if you’re a labradoodle.
There are two essential pieces of advice for getting people to like you: 1. Cool pursuit instead of hot pursuit. 2. Shut up and listen.
1. Cool pursuit: A popularity contest is the one competition where it pays not to try—or, rather, to seem like you aren’t trying. You do this, for example, by making some A-lister wait to talk with you—even though it’s probably killing you inside.
Erring on the side of seeming under-eager is important, per psychologist Robert Cialdini’s “scarcity principle”: The less available something appears to be, the more valuable it seems and the more we want it. Accordingly, my rule: Try to seem more hard to get than hard to get rid of.
2. Shut up and listen: People think they can talk somebody into liking them, but really, you’re most likely to listen somebody into doing that. Listening doesn’t just mean hearing. It takes effort. It means paying close attention to what somebody’s saying and drawing on your emotions to connect with it. That sort of listening is a form of emotional generosity. It ultimately sends the message “I’m talking to you because I’m interested in you and what you’re saying,” not “…because I haven’t had sex since there were dinosaurs grazing where the 7-Eleven now stands.”
Listening is also important because it helps you see whether the person you’re interested in is actually worthy of your interest. Ideally, you aren’t chasing somebody simply because you’ve been chasing them, and, clever you, you’ve seen through the liberties they’ve taken in staging their own death. You, shoving aside a medical examiner and yanking open a bit of the zipper: “Pro tip … the actual coroner does not offer body bags by Louis Vuitton!”