The desire to be popular is one of the basic human needs. What popularity consists of may vary from one age group or culture to another, but even the most isolated loner yearns for acceptance and approval.
Early humans were pack animals. The adage “safety in numbers” was a matter of survival for our ancestors. Even today, most of us are made uncomfortable by extended isolation from our peers. We have a deep-seated craving to be accepted, loved, a member of the group. This craving is overshadowed only by our physical needs for food, shelter, and security.
Dictionaries define the word popular as “to be regarded with favor, approval, or affection by people in general.” Popularity, then, is the status of being accepted and admired by others. Still, there are many variations of popularity and different requirements for gaining each of them.
The popularity of celebrities depends mostly on outward appearances and public performances. The adulation they receive comes from being perceived as more beautiful, talented, and wealthy than the average person. The majority of us will never have a chance at that kind of attention, but we can learn to be more popular with those around us at any stage of our lives.
Surviving High School
High school popularity frequently comes from the same sort of surface persona. The “popular kids” are the jocks, cheerleaders, and their friends. Sadly, most teenagers think cool clothes, a talent for sports, or a wealthy family are the only way to be popular.
A beautiful, blond, 17 year old girl we’ll call Jane said, when asked what it took to be popular in high school, “You have to have sexy, brand name clothes. You have to get up, at least, an hour early every day to fix your hair and makeup. You must own a cool car or have a cool boyfriend who does. You can’t be too smart. It helps to flirt with all the cute boys, even if you don’t like them and you can never hang out with anyone who doesn’t belong.”
Sadly this is a common conception of what it takes to be popular. However, the fact is popularity in High School can be achieved in other ways. People who tell kids that crave acceptance to “just be yourself,” leave out a very important part of the advice. You must be your BEST self.
- Always be well-groomed. Shower every day, use deodorant, but not heavy colognes. Wash your hair at least three or four times a week. Find a style that flatters your face and carry a small comb or brush to keep it neat all day. Girls should use make-up sparingly. Apply it to emphasize your best feature, but blend it carefully so that it doesn’t look fake. You don’t need the most expensive clothes. Check out fashion magazines and be inventive. Develop your own style, but don’t get too elaborate. Simple is always acceptable.
- Act confident. Body language is important. Relax, hold your head up, stand straight, walk like you have a purpose, make eye contact, smile and speak to all the people you meet, not just the popular kids. It may be hard at first but, if you look confident, others will think you feel that way and most of them will smile back. As you become friendlier, so will they.
- Get involved. Join after school groups, clubs, or sports teams. Find something you enjoy and participate. You’ll meet people with the same interests and soon have new friends.
- Show an interest in other people. Ask how their day is going, then pay attention to what they say. Find common ground and share your side. Find out what they are interested in and ask them about it. Listen closely, ask questions, then listen some more. A good listener is always in demand.
- Don’t boast, if you deserve credit, let someone else tell about it.
- Be a nice person. Don’t lie; people who can’t be trusted are not popular for long. Keep your word, dependability is important. Don’t spread gossip. Don’t say anything behind someone’s back that you aren’t willing to say to their face. Practicing The Golden Rule will help you build a solid circle of friends.
- Accept the fact that not everyone will like you. But, continue to be nice to them anyway. Others are watching and you will gain friends in other directions.
Learning Independence at College
Attending college is the first chance many people have to choose their own friends and decide what kind of person they want to be. Even if you are still living at home, the college atmosphere is completely different from high school. You will be sharing classrooms with a much more diverse group of people than at any other time in your life. If you are living in a dorm, you finally have control of your life. To succeed, you must be in control. Time management and responsibility are more important than ever.
However, many of the rules for high school will still apply. Appearances still count. The other people you meet will still appreciate a good listener. Too much bragging, twisting the truth or constant sarcasm will still turn people off.
What you were in high school is over. College is a chance to start fresh. Again, become involved.
- Find groups that match your interests and join them.
- Smile and speak to people everywhere you go. Strike up casual conversations. Ask what dorm they are in; invite them to sit with you in the cafeteria.
- On the first day of classes, introduce yourself to everyone around you. These will be your study partners, not only this semester but, for years to come. Ask their major, where they are living, and listen closely. Remember what they say. It’s important to them and they’ll like you for it.
- If you are living in a dorm, leave your door open sometimes. Drop in on other people on your floor. Make friends with your RA.
- Study hard, getting good grades in college earns you respect as it never did in high school. Speak up in class. Everyone enjoys active discussions more than lectures.
- Initiate activities outside of class. Invite people to join you for lunch or dinner. Arrange to see a movie or study together at the library.
This is your opportunity to learn more about people outside your normal cultural environment. The friends you make in college may stay with you for life. Your college years can be a chance to build an important network of support for all your future endeavors. All night parties may be tempting and feel like popularity, but they don’t last long. Bonding with common interests is a much better choice.
Joining the Workforce
Networking in college is only the beginning. Networking is just another name for building and maintaining a large network of friends. The wider your network, the more popular you will feel. The most important rule in networking is to stay in touch with everyone.
Learn all you can about each contact, including family members, birthdays, anniversaries, and affiliations. Always ask about family members, send greetings on birthdays, etc. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. There are many software contact applications that will allow you to store info and set up reminders. Then it’s just a matter of following up.
Popularity at work requires some of the same people skills you learned in school. Humans of all ages and circumstances need to feel appreciated. Almost everyone will respond favorably to honest interest in them and their activities. Your own search for popularity is a reflection of that same need. At work, as nearly everywhere else in society, certain elements of behavior will gain you respect and admiration.
- Appearance always counts. Your clothing should fit the circumstances. Usually work environments will require something on the conservative side. Unless you are in the entertainment field, people expect professional attire. Regardless of whether that means a uniform of some sort, a polo shirt and khakis, or a suit, clean and neat is the first priority.
- Be friendly to everyone. Don’t just talk to people who can help your career. Be nice to the janitor, cashier, or doorman as well. They are people with the same need to be appreciated as anyone else. Snobbery won’t make you popular.
- Expand your horizons. Listening is still of primary importance, but adults are also expected to be able to carry on intelligent conversation. Prepare by keeping up with current events. However, try to steer clear of controversial subjects in the workplace. Arguments will not endear you to the boss. Leave political agendas and religious topics until after work.
- Volunteer to help others. Offer assistance to colleagues who have a big job in progress. If someone has their hands full, take part of the load or open the door for them. Offer to help out with office parties or team events.
- Stay dependable. A reputation for honesty and reliability are a high priority in all walks of life, but never more than at work. Be punctual, show up every day, do your best at whatever task is assigned to you.
The main keys to popularity at work are doing your job well and being friendly with everyone. Even the boss needs to be liked. Develop an empathetic outlook. Always try to see the other person’s point of view. Find common ground to build rapport. Share something about yourself that will allow them to feel a connection with you, but keep such personal items as your big fight last night with your significant other out of the conversation.
Developing Personal Relationships
Being popular in school or at work is fairly simple. You already have something in common with the people you meet. Your shared location is enough to open the conversation even with strangers. Meeting people without that framework can sometimes seem difficult.
The key is finding places you are interested in going where you are likely to meet compatible people. Religious organizations are good places to make friends. Attend services and speak to people. Smile and introduce yourself. Volunteer for committees. Sign up for classes. Does this sound familiar? That is because the path to popularity is basically the same in all situations.
The problem with forming personal relationships is finding locations. Every town has clubs, non-profit organizations, community centers or colleges. Pick one or two and become involved. If you are into physical fitness, join a gym or the local YMCA. Was history one of your favorite subjects? Visit the local historical society and offer to help out. Hospitals use volunteers for many things and they are always short-handed.
Once you’ve found the place where you expect to meet people with common ground, remember the rules.
- Smile and introduce yourself, be friendly.
- Ask about the other person and then listen closely. Consider things from their viewpoint.
- Appearance matters. You don’t always have to be perfectly groomed, but looking clean and neat tells people that you care about yourself and about their opinion.
- Be dependable and honest. If people perceive you as trustworthy, half the battle is won.
It sounds so simple. Yet many people have trouble putting themselves forward. Shyness is frequently the excuse given. We tend to think of shyness as a genetic trait. Something we are born with and can never overcome. However, shyness is usually a learned behavior. Overcoming it is not easy, but it can be done. Shyness is a self-fulfilling behavior. John thinks he is shy, so he acts shy. Other people are busy socializing and don’t even notice that John is sitting quietly in the corner feeling left out. John simply doesn’t know what to say, so he doesn’t join the conversation.
The answer is not easy, but it is simple. You’ve got to plan ahead. If you know you are going to a meeting, find out everything you possibly can about the subject beforehand. If it is a party, find out who else will be there and learn all about them. Have practice conversations with your mirror. Breathe deeply and slowly to calm yourself. Stand straight. Keep your head up. Smile. Introduce yourself to strangers. Listen to the people around you, pick a group that is discussing something you are comfortable with and join it. Here’s how. Think of a conversation as a web. People don’t normally talk in straight lines. They go off on tangents. Listen carefully to what people say. Most casual conversation is random. Joe says, “I took Sally to the movie on Saturday.” You have many possible replies.
- What movie did you see?
- Sally is a beautiful girl, but she isn’t the least stuck up about it. I really like her.
- I went bowling with my brothers that night.
You get the idea. Expanding the conversation only requires you to choose a point from Joe’s statement that you can use to move the discussion onto a new path. It helps if you know something about the person’s interests ahead of time. If Mary is a big football fan, learn more about her favorite team and how their season is going. It may seem awkward at first, but the more you practice the easier it will get.
People like to be comfortable. They choose friends who are similar to them in some way. We all need to feel important, admired, respected. A good listener, who can keep the conversation going with some small comment that builds rapport, will always be appreciated. If you find groups with common interests, present yourself as a friendly person, and always demonstrate an honest reliable behavior, friends will accumulate around you. They may not be the movers and shakers, but they will be companions whose company you enjoy.