Have you ever wanted to be less awkward in social situations? Wanted to not be the one holding a drink in solitude as you try to “network”. Want to be able to read the little expressions that people use as you talk to them?
Well then Captivate, by Vanessa Van Edwards is here for you. Edwards is going to try and take the mystery out of human behaviour so that you can be better at communication.
We have streamlined all of our best findings into a universal framework that makes up this book. Each chapter of Captivate will teach you one of the fourteen behavior hacks. These are simple, powerful tools that you can use to level up your career, improve your relationships, and increase your income.
The first part of Captivate is all about helping you master the first five minutes of an interaction. Part two is going to teach you the skills you need to get to know someone better over the first five hours of your relationship. Finally, Edwards, spends part three teaching readers how to make the first five days into a time when you can connect deeper with someone.
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Edwards ends each chapter of the book with a set of challenges you can put in to practice to bring the learning home. She also provides a spot to write down what was the most influential part of the chapter. While these are decent learning aids, they’re lost on the Kindle version I read because you can’t write directly in the book.
Before we dig in to the book there is one more thing we should look at because Edwards brings it up a fair bit in the rest of the book. This is the idea that we have a PQ and it matters. PQ is like IQ, but for our interpersonal intelligence. In theory this measures how intelligent you are about people.
I say in theory, because after searching I really don’t find another place using PQ to mean this outside of Edward’s site. To me that means that it’s more a term to “sell” courses that can increase your PQ than a real thing in research circles.
Even doing the free quiz you can get out of the book on the Science of People site, a number of the questions felt more like knowledge of random facts than anything real. Once you’ve finished the book, you’ve been told these random facts so of course you’re going to test better on the PQ scale.
Now, I don’t want to discount the book and what you’re learning. There is a bunch of good information we’re going to get to that I know is backed up in other spots by research. I’m just not bought in on Edwards use of PQ and that her study is a reliable reproducible indicator of our interpersonal intelligence.
With that out of the way, let’s dive in to what it takes to connect with people in the first five minutes of an interaction.
Part 1: The First 5 Minutes
Part one is all about helping us just as we meet people and Edwards does this in a few ways. She recommends that we work one solid connection in a room, like the organizer, and let them introduce you to others.
You can do this also by asking each person you get a chance to talk to “who do you think I should meet?” then ask them to introduce you.
This idea is echoed in Real Artists Don’t Starve when Jeff Goins tells us that the greater access we have to influential people the further our work will spread. We see it in Connected, as it looked at voting and network effects.
One of the key findings from these studies was that the media does not reach the masses directly. Instead, a group of “opinion leaders” usually acts as an intermediary, filtering and interpreting the media for their friends and family who pay less attention to politics. In other words, the media appeared to work by getting its message to those who are most central in the social network. – Connected
The second big one area that struck me was that we should be playing in the areas that suit us.
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.
This advice would mean that I don’t need to worry about big networking events, which I don’t. It reinforces my path to stick to one on one interactions, and even that I take them walking or hiking. Edwards says that the problem with “faking” it is that people know we are faking it. We come off as stilted and odd, because that is exactly how we can feel.
I’ll be doubling down with the 1 on 1 conversations and taking the local ones to places outside where we can move.
Sometimes we still have to go to networking events and Edwards doesn’t leave us high and dry on those. She spends a whole chapter talking about where we should be standing to get the best interactions with the people at the event.
Don’t stand at the door. People are just getting in and trying to get oriented. Don’t stand right at the food, people are trying to get food you’re in the way.
When you approach someone before they get oriented to an event, they are not only more distracted during your conversation, but they will also be looking over your head to scope out the room and find people they know—you’ll have a much harder time engaging in eye contact. They are also more likely to excuse themselves to get their drink, grab some food, say hi to the host, or go to the bathroom—and less likely to be receptive to anything you have to say.
She talks about the social zone, which is just after the food. People have it and they are ready to talk. If the place has couches, then it’s probably there. Tables, maybe there as well.
The Social Zone is where the magic happens. First, the best place to start working a room is right where people exit the bar. By the time they’re here, the emotional, high-anxiety feeling of the Start Zone will have died down. Drinks in hand, people are ready to mingle, if not desperate to have someone to talk to. You become their savior if you rescue them from drinking alone.
If you’ve got to network in a big room, make sure you’re standing in the right spot to make magic happen.
Now that you’re in position to make a first impression, make it good. Edwards suggest that you use the Triple Threat of making good eye contact, using your hands, and standing straight without your hands in your pockets. We decide if we like someone in the first few seconds so making that impression matters.
In showbiz, performers are a Triple Threat when they can act, sing, and dance. With a first impression, you are a Triple Threat when you use your hands, your posture, and your eye contact.
Let’s also caution ourselves here, both my best man and I would say that we didn’t like each other at first. It’s worth taking time to dig deeper with people if possible. We were lucky in that we were at a small school and thus had many more interactions over a year, but it took 6 months for us to really like each other and form that friendship that feels like it picks up any time we meet.
We also see some advice on how to check your phone. Edwards says that we should do it in the power posture. That means bring your phone up high so that you can stand straight. I’d suggest that even better is to just don’t check your stupid phone. Keep it away when you’re interacting with others. Stop using the crutch and you’re going to get much better interactions.
We’re standing right and making a decent first impression, now let’s skip the lame conversation that pervades most interactions. Forget “what do you do” or “that weather eh?”.
Instead ask conversation sparking questions like: “What was the best thing that happened this week?” Then dig in further with them. This echos How to Win Friends and Influence People which says, to be interesting be interested in what others are saying. Keep a few conversation starting question in your pocket and refer to them between interactions until you’ve got them down. Then you won’t be so boring.
Remember when Edwards say that you should be asking to get introduced to others, you should be offering that to the people you meet as well. But don’t do the lame introductions, dig deep and highlight the things that others are best at. Rave about them. For me maybe you’d say that “Curtis reads more books than anyone I know. If you’re ever looking for something to read on any topic, he is the guy to ask.”
That’s raving about a superpower I have. What are the superpower’s of those around you? How can you make them feel and look awesome?
With the advice on the first five minutes done, Edwards digs in to the first five hours and how you can stay in someone’s mind.
Part 2 The first five hours
The purpose of this section is summarized best with this quote from the book:
While Part I helped you hack the first five minutes of an interaction, this section will help you take your connection one step further. How do you get the next date? How do you nail the next interview? How do you make a deeper connection in your next meeting?
Edwards starts off by teaching us about microexpresions. We all make these and we can’t control them. They’re the windows in to what we really think no matter what we might say.
I’ve seen microexpresions talked about a number of other times. They are a strong predictor of how your marriage will last, specifically the contempt microexpression. Contempt is when you raise one side of your mouth and it shows you really don’t care about the person you’re talking to.
If you’re seeing a bunch of that, or eye rolling, in your relationships then you better do something about it because it means that opinions are not valued and that you may in fact be viewed as stupid for your opinions.
If you’re looking for a brief crash course in microexpressions then Edwards site The Science of People has one. Do the work and you’ll be better, but you’ll need much more than this book and their short course can provide to become a master of microexpressions.
Edwards gives us a bunch of things we can do to respond to the negative microexpressions to help smooth things over. One example I strongly disagree with is that she says when we see an anger microexpression around the pricing of a service or product we offer, we should then jump in and justify the pricing.
Specifically, the way she tells you to justify pricing, by talking about your costs, is dumb. Clients don’t care about your costs. They care about the value you provide to their business. If you’re getting anger then you did a bad job of preparing your client for the pricing. There should be no surprises when you bring up pricing because you already had a money talk with your clients.
Next Edwards introduces us to the 5 Factor personality model which she says has been found to be way more reliable than other options like DISC. But she doesn’t spend much time showing us that this is true. Further, I think that you need way more work than what is provided in the book to really understand the model so that you can use it.
Finally, Edwards talks about the 5 Love Languages, which is a crucial book to read if you’re in any relationship. The basics are that everyone speaks a specific love language and that we need to make sure that we speak the language of our partners. We may naturally speak different love languages, so knowing what makes your partner feel appreciated is a key to a healthy relationship.
This also needs to come to work in the ways that we recognize our employees.
Feeling underappreciated eats away at employees who shoulder hard projects on their own, moms who aren’t thanked for cleaning up after kids, and friends who feel like they always end up hosting. Lack of appreciation is an especially pernicious problem in the workplace—and it’s often overlooked. In fact, 65 percent of Americans say they received no recognition in the workplace in the last year.
If you haven’t read The 5 Love Languages, then the easiest way to tell what your partner speaks as a love language is to see what they do for you. If they’re always bringing you gifts, then they speak gifts. If they want your time regularly, then they speak in time spent.
I know I said finally, but Edwards does talk about the things we value and she makes it sound like something different than the love languages. I just didn’t see it. Value felt like a barely there tweak to love languages that I never got despite reading the chapter a second time.
Part 3 The First 5 days
Now we get to our final section, all about how to take that initial impression and turn it in to something that is more than two ships passing in the night.
You already know how to make a killer first impression and analyze an inscrutable personality. Here’s how to increase your influence—how to turn teammates into partners, clients into raving fans, and good friends into best friends.
She starts by telling us to connect better, which feels like an extension of the earlier chapter on conversation sparkers. Edwards says that we connect with stories so we should be telling stories during our conversations with others.
Stories help us literally get on the same wavelength as the people we are with. They not only listen to what we are saying but also experience what we are saying. Even simple stories rev up brain activity and sync us up with the people around us.
Again, there are some prompts for good stories so that we’re not on our own. Very importantly she also reminds us that we shouldn’t be making the stories all about us. We should tell our story and then invite the people we are conversing with to tell us something about themselves.
After you are done telling a story, you always want to bring the conversation back around to the other person you are speaking with. They can then answer and send it back to you. I call this throwing a boomerang—at the end of your story, how can you tie the idea back to them? What question can you ask to hunt for their stories? How can you get them talking? Or how can you make them laugh?
Next Edwards tackles teams and empowering them. In short, give your people responsibility over the work they do. Let them take control of their work and get out of the way because we value the work we do with our own hands far more than things we get that are already completed.
Chapters 12 and 13 seem like two sides of the same idea. Twelve is about being open an honest about ourselves. Being real with our audience and those around us. Thirteen addresses our desire to regroup internally and protect ourselves when we are confronted with tough situations.
One thing to remember is that when we’re afraid of being open and honest no one is thinking about you. As Brendon Burchard says in High Performance Habits:
Most people aren’t thinking about you at all. And even when you put yourself in front of them to make a request and they say no, within minutes they’re right back to not thinking about you. They’re too busy dealing with their own life. – High Performance Habits
That’s not to say that you’re not important, just that while your story is of primary importance to you it doesn’t hold that position for anyone else.
When it comes to fear Edwards teaches us about the two different pathways that circumstances in our life can travel. First, is the short path which is right in to the amygdala. Second is the high road which hits our neocortex before the amygdala.
LeDoux found that the amygdala’s fear responses can travel by not one but two pathways: the fast “low road” between the thalamus and the amygdala, and the slower “high road,” which begins at the thalamus but takes a detour to the neocortex before reaching the amygdala.
To you this means, that the low road is the one that is taken as you almost get in a car accident. It’s your flight or fight pathway and it’s the instant one. We need to work to give ourselves the space to use the high road. That means taking the angry client email and sitting on it for a day before we respond. That day allows us to go with the high road, and have a better response.
The book ends with a story of Edwards meeting Dan Ariely over dinner and being captivated with the way he put so many of the points she’s just made in to action. He engaged with each person over the dinner. He made great eye contact and kept being interested in what others thought was interesting.
She shows us how all of the things that Captivate is teaching us relate to each other and relate to the final chapter on how to engage people.
Before I make a recommendation, I want to leave you with two quotes.
You don’t impress people by mentioning your accolades, accomplishments, or awards. You impress them by mentally turning on their reward systems.
Remember, it’s not about all the awesome stuff you’ve done. Be interested in others to be interesting. Because…
As humans, we so desperately want to be known. We want to feel like people get us, like we have someone on our side, like a group wants to have us as a member.
The more you make people feel like they are known, the more people will be captivated when they spend time with you.
Should I Read Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards?
While there are many great parts of Captivate, I think that Edwards tries to turn some content in to intellectual property. Take the PQ example. I really don’t find any other people talking about PQ, sure we hear about EQ (emotional intelligence) in many research papers. I don’t see a difference in them outside of PQ being something that Edwards can teach you because she made it.
I also found that a few chapters were just not deep enough to really understand the topic at hand. I’ll call out the microexpressions section here. You’ll have a better handle on microexpressions, but you won’t be able to use them deftly day in day out with a bunch more training.
So, yes I think you should read it, but only because I don’t have another great recommendation that covers the breadth of topics that Captivate does. If you’re looking at communicating with your spouse/partner better, then I’d suggest The 5 Love Languages as a better start point. If you’re looking for how to set good boundaries, then I’d recommend Boundaries first. But I’m not aware of a single book that covers both areas, among others, in a single package.
Photo by: clement127