Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Can I Tell When Someone Is Interested In Me?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I live in NYC. As I am walking on the street over Union square, all of a sudden a girl comes up and stops me to talk about her non-profit company, which helps conserving nature. Now apparently like others she tries to stop others, explains about her organization’s motto to help the prevent the environment, and finally, asks for a donation. She asks for a donation, and I end up paying. Usually, I am good at passing this kind of situations, but I loved staying with her, and listen to her at that moment. She talks a bit about herself, and I do about myself as well. After all the conversation and formal talking and the payments, I ask her if she is interested in having coffee with me sometimes. She said “sure.” I ask her to put her number on my cell phone, and she does.

Now, I am having a panic attack because I have not called her yet, and do not even know how to or what to talk about. There is this fear of rejection that I am feeling within me, which is blocking me to talk to her. Yes, I would LOVE to go out with her, because she is beautiful and a very down to earth person.

I would appreciate if you could give me some suggestions or advices as soon as possible on how to approach with that first phone call and keep the ball running. Thank you so much I appreciate your patience.

– Strangers Waiting Up And Down The Boulevard

DEAR STRANGERS WAITING UP AND DOWN THE BOULEVARD: I hate to say this Strangers, but the question you’re asking isn’t the one you think you’re asking. Before I get to the meat of your question, I’m going to use you to talk about something else for a second: the science of persuasion and how to tell whether someone genuinely likes you or they’re trying to get you to do something.

Yes, I know this seems random. Stick with me for a second and you’ll see where I’m going with all of this.

We all like to think that we’re strong-willed individuals who never fall for blatant manipulation tactics. We like to insist that ads don’t really work on us; we know what we like and why and Madison Avenue can go screw. We like to think that we’re the gimlet-eyed, hyper-rational man with minds like steel traps who understand everything about ourselves and can spot a user from a mile away. And it’s a nice fantasy, but there’s a reason why advertising agencies are still around and why car dealers are extremely good at getting you to buy expensive add-ons that do absolutely nothing for your car except pad out your payments a little more.

There is a wide-swath of people whose jobs require being professionally friendly. Bartenders, waiters and other service-industry jobs that rely on tips all will be extra friendly or flirty because they know it makes the difference between a 12% tip and a 20% one. Marketers and salesmen want to show that they’re on our side, looking out for our interests because that can make the difference between making the sale or not. Their jobs demand that they understand all of the little things that make us decide how and when to do something. This includes the people standing around with clipboards who want to get you to talk about their organization and make a donation or two.

In your case Strangers, you met someone soliciting signatures and donations, vibed with her for a while, had a nice conversation, made a donation and got her pone number. How much of this is professional interest and how much is genuine? Well, let’s examine some of the techniques that they use.

One of the things you’ll notice is that they’re all incredibly friendly – even effusive. They’ll compliment you right off the bat. They’ll want to compare notes with you and – wouldn’t you know it – the two of you have so much in common! What’re the odds that you’ve met a total stranger who just seems to synch with you so well?

Well, the odds are pretty good when they’re deliberately forcing commonalities.

We’re more likely to do things for people we like, so folks soliciting donations and signatures will go out of their way to make sure we like them – which means that they are going to show interest in us first. We instinctively like people who like us – their showing interest in us makes us feel important and validated. It’s a powerful feeling and one that makes us more inclined to spend time with that person.

Next, they’ll step up the game showing how they’re so similar to us – we’re essentially “of the same tribe”.  They will find the things you have in common – you’re from the same state, you have similar backgrounds and opinions, they like the same things you do, etc. They’ll incorporate subtle influencers like mirroring your body language back to you, which makes you relax and feel more inclined to trust them.

Then they’ll use what’s known as the “yes ladder” to make you more likely to agree with them. It’s an intriguing quirk of the human psyche: the more we say “yes”, the more we want to continue saying “yes”. So they’ll often start with a simple question, something low-investment – “Do you care about helping the environment?”  or “do you have time to talk about saving the children?” for example – that you’re almost guaranteed to say “yes” to. They’ll go into their spiel with regular check-ins, asking if you agree or use phrases like “don’t you think?” which also prompt you to say “yes” again. They’ll ask for another small favor, like agreeing to sign a petition or to be put on the mailing list. By this point, you’ve been prepped for the bigger ask: to make a donation, which has been their goal this entire time.

Now when it comes to street solicitors, having an extended conversation isn’t a sign that they like you especially out of everyone else. Keeping you in the conversation, especially if you haven’t committed to making a donation, makes you more likely to actually give in. The longer you stick around, the more likely you are to do what they want. This is why stores are designed to encourage browsing; the more time you’re there, the more likely that you’re going to buy something.

At this point, hopefully you see where I’m going with this. Your real question isn’t how to ask her out, it’s whether she likes you enough to even make the attempt. And, well… I hate to say it, but I suspect that for all her politeness and seeming interest, your new friend was more interested in getting you to donate money than going on a date with you. Giving you her number doesn’t necessarily mean anything – it may well have been hers, but in a world of caller ID and voicemail, it’s easy enough to avoid calls that you don’t want to take.

Now I could be entirely wrong. I wasn’t there, I don’t know her and I didn’t watch how she interacted with you. And to be perfectly honest, as long as you’re not expecting the sun and stars,  you don’t really lose anything by asking her out on a date. I realize that it doesn’t feel that way; it feels like your entire future balances on that next phone-call. But honestly? This is a no-lose scenario. The worst thing that happens is that she turns you down. And if she does? Your life doesn’t really change. You’re no worse off than you were the day before. Meanwhile, if she agrees to go out with you, then hey, you’ve got a date! How awesome is that?

So just be direct; call her up, give her a reason to remember who you are and tell her that there’s this cool thing you’re doing this weekend that you think she’d enjoy and you’d love it if she’d go with you. Bada bing, bada boom. And if she does say no? Well, then at least you’ve got an answer and you can move on to find someone who is interested in seeing you.

And for future reference, how can you tell whether someone is being friendly out of professional interest or actually likes you? You watch for signs of genuine interest. How much information about herself is she volunteering without your prompting her? How much of it isn’t immediately relevant to the conversation but is designed to make her look cooler? The more she qualifies herself, especially without your prodding, the more she likes you; she’s polishing herself up for your approval. How much is she pumping you for info? The more interested she is in you, the more questions she’ll have – and I mean ones that really get to the heart of who you are rather than the shallow “interview” questions that allow for quick but superficial commonalities. Is she doing a lot of grooming behavior – straightening out her shirt, smoothing her hair, etc. – as she’s talking to you? Is she doing a lot of unprompted touching or reciprocal touching? Is she going out of her way to hang around and talk to you even after she’s gotten what she wanted? The more signs of genuine interest you see, the greater the odds that she actually likes you. Don’t just look for one sign; look for clusters of indications. One sign can be anything, especially when taken out of context. Clusters of signs are more reliable indicators that she’s into you.

Good luck.

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