Posts tagged: bob sommers

How To Use The Propinquity Effect To Win Friends

birdsPropinquity. What a fun word. It means nearness: nearness in proximity, time, kinship, affinity and similarity. If you’re not careful, you’re going to find yourself over using this word, just like I do, in general conversation because it’s so much fun to say.

Propinquity Effect

As it turns out, I’m not the only person who enjoys using this word. Behavioral Psychologists use it to describe what they call the Propinquity Effect, which theorizes that the more we interact with others, the more likely we are to like and become friends with those individuals.


Westgate Student Appartment

This theory was based on a study done in 1950 in the Westgate student apartments on the campus of MIT in Cambridge, MA. The researchers discovered that the students tended to like and make friends with their immediate neighbors. They also discovered that the students who lived near the ground floor staircases and mailboxes had friends on both floors due to their proximity, or propinquity to the entrance of the building.

Examples of the Propinquity Effect

You can easily find examples of likeability based on propinquity everywhere you look. Think of your best friends in school. With the surname Sommers, my best friends had names like Schnurr, Schulte, Smith and Sontag. These were the people I sat next to in class because we were seated in alphabetical order.

My best friend when I was a child lived three houses from me. The people I spent time with when I first moved to Atlanta were the people I worked with and lived next door to in my apartment complex. After purchasing my first home, I found that I was spending a lot of time with my neighbors and inviting them to my parties. The propinquity effect has been alive and well in my life from my birth and I don’t expect that it will stop any time soon.

The opposite is also true. When you don’t come into close physical contact with someone, you tend to loose contact with them.


Strata Center MIT

The Allen Curve

During the late 1970s, Thomas J. Allen, another MIT professor, undertook a project to determine how the distance between engineers’ offices affects the frequency of technical communication between them. The result of that research produced what is known as the Allen Curve.

What Professor Allen discovered was that there was a strong correlation between physical distance and the frequency of communication between workstations. The farther away people were from each other physically, the less likely they were to communicate with each other using all forms of communication including face-to-face, telephone, email, etc. In mathematical terms, he discovered an exponential (huge) drop off in communication based on distance.

We are more likely to like and befriend people with whom we have close physical contact. We are also more likely to loose touch with the people who we don’t see as frequently. This is the primary reason our friends change as we grow through life.

Propinquity Effect In Action

If you want to befriend someone or give him or her the opportunity to like and befriend you in return, it’s in your best interest to find a way to be in close physical contact. Here are a few suggestions that will help you get likeability through propinquity flowing.


Euler Diagram

Start by identifying the people with whom you want to develop a relationship. Do some research and find out where they spend their time and what they spend their time doing. This should be relatively easy if the person you’re targeting is your spouse or child.

Make an effort to hang out at the same places they frequent. Try to bump into them or make arrangements to meet up with them at lunch or after work. The more they see you and communicate with you, the more likely they are to like you.

If you’re trying to win over a customer, your success is going to be in direct proportion to how frequently they communicate with you in person. The more time you spend together, the greater the chance they’re going to like you and want to work with you.

It’s also important to remember that the Propinquity Effect is not just about being in close physical contact. It’s also effective when the propinquity has to do with affinity and similarity. The more similar your opinions, interests and attitudes, the more likely you will like, and be liked by others.

When it comes to likeability, nothing could be easier than taking advantage of the Propinquity Effect. All you have to do is be in the same vicinity of the individual you want to build a relationship with and let the communication happen naturally. Nothing could be easier.

Are We Really Attracted To Competent People

drAll things being equal, experts generally agree that we tend to like competent people especially when they become relevant in our lives. This includes our parents, teachers, doctors, electrician, investment broker, auto mechanic, etc. The opposite is also true. As much as we are attracted to competent people, we are repelled from people who are candidates for the Darwin Awards.

When you become relevant in a person’s life, they will like you more or less based on your level of competence in the area where you’re relevant. If you’re an auto mechanic, they will judge you on your knowledge of cars. If you’re a teacher, they will judge you on your knowledge of the subject you teach and your ability to teach that subject. If you’re a potential spouse, they will judge you on a whole host of factors, none of which you’ll be able to live up to of course.

Here are a few things you can do to build your competence and likeability.

Do what you do better than anyone else

Walt Disney was supposedly quoted as saying, “Do what you do so well, that people want to see you do it again. And not only do they want to see you do it again, but they want to show their friends what it is that you do so well.”

People who are experts in their field, don’t just act like experts, they are the experts. They do what they do so well that they create an overwhelming demand for their time and their service. They become trusted and well liked celebrities in their field.

Become an expert in your field

studyEarl Nightingale, the inspirational author of “The Strangest Secret,” noted that anyone could become an expert in a very short time. His premise was that if you focused on learning any single subject for one hour a day every day for a year, it would be the equivalent of going to class for eight hours a day, five days a week for almost two and a half months. If you did the same thing for five years, it would be the equivalent of going to class every day for a year.

According to Earl Nightingale, if you dedicated just one hour a day to the study of your passion, you would quickly find yourself in the top one tenth of one percent in your field in a very short time. And today, with universal access to the Internet, there is virtually no reason you can’t achieve that level of expertise even without going back to school.

Look the part

People who are experts in their field look the part. Batman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man are all good examples. They’re believable characters because they dress like you would expect a superhero to dress. If you don’t look the part, people are not going to find you credible.

It’s important to note that even superheros don’t wear their superhero outfits day and night. They play off-duty roles including newpaper reporter, freelance photographer and multi-millionaires. They dress the part when they want to project the part, even they’re involved in everyday activities. That’s why I wear a suit and tie when I give public presenations and a Superman cape when I go to county to pick-up my meds. I’m teasing of course, I don’t acturally wear a suit and tie. How silly.

batmanThere is a huge credibility gap when people or things don’t look like what you expect them to look like. You may remember the crash of Value Jet flight 592 on May 11, 1996. The flight was en route from Miami to Atlanta (a route I often flew) when the low cost carrier went down in the Everglades killing all 110 people on board. The thing that immediately stuck me when I heard about the accident was a promise I made to myself just a few months earlier.

After seeing a Value Jet cartoon logo painted on the tail of their planes, I made a promise that I would not fly Value Jet no matter how deeply they discounted their fares. I found it difficult to place my trust and my life in an airline that used a cartoon as their mascot. It conveyed a feeling of cheap and dangerous, not the feeling of safe and secure that you would expect from an airline. As it turned out, my intuition was right.

Speak the Part

One of the easiest ways to look smart is to not look stupid. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “It’s better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” This is great advice that has been ignored by well-known American political figures for years.

Here are a few examples of stupid things people have said that didn’t do much for enhancing their perception with the American public.

“If Lincoln were alive today, he’d roll over in his grave.”
Gerald Ford

“Outside of the killings, Washington D.C. has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.”
Mayor Marion Barry

“This is a great day for France.”
President Richard Nixon attending Charles de Gaulle’s funeral

“It’s wonderful to be here in the great state of Chicago.”
V.P Dan Quayle

If you’re not an expert on the subject being discussed, don’t try to pretend that you are an expert. There is nothing more irritating and off-putting than listening to someone speak with authority who has no knowledge of the subject. Have you ever watched a Congressional hearing on TV? Point, match, game!

And, if you do or say something that looks or sounds stupid, don’t try to hide it. No one likes a person who takes him or herself too seriously. On the contrary, we do like people who can laugh at themselves when they make a mistake.

Professional debaters understand this principle better than anyone. Here are the rules followed by the great debaters and politicians of our time.

  • Don’t say anything stupid.
  • Talk about what you know.
  • Don’t say anything stupid.

There is a time to share what you know and there is a time to ask questions. Smart, competent people know the difference, and you do too.

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