New York Times


“Dale Carnegie for a Rushed Era”

He had written a book titled “How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less,” but how could anyone in New York take that seriously? What did a guy born in England and now living in Toronto know from our mean streets?

The author, Nicholas Boothman, rose to the challenge and showed up Wednesday morning at Grand Central Terminal. Give him 90 seconds, he said, and he would charm anyone we encountered in Midtown. If he could make friends here . . .

He was directed to the most unapproachable-looking person in Grand Central: a tall, very pretty blond woman standing alone in the center of the station, apparently peeved at being kept waiting. She was dressed in black from head to toe, arms crossed protectively in front of her chest, face set in a stern don’t-even-think-of-hitting-on-me expression.

Mr. Boothman strolled over to her. He had dressed to give off an air of authority (with a double-breasted blue blazer) as well as approachability (red loafers). His hands were above the waist with the palms turned toward her so she could see he wasn’t carrying anything dangerous. He faced her with his heart pointing at her heart (“There is magic in this,” he writes). He made sure to smile and make eye contact.

“Could I ask you a question?” he said, and she nodded. “When you meet someone for the first time, how can you tell whether or not to trust them?”

“Intuition,” she said.

“How does that work for you?” he asked. Mr. Boothman loves questions that start with “how” — an “opening-up word,” he calls it, because it invites long, relaxed responses instead of the curt answers you get with questions that start with “Do you” or “Are you.”

The woman was already smiling back at him, 15 seconds into the encounter. She launched into an animated explanation of what kind of people earned her trust — people like Mr. Boothman, obviously.

Mr. Boothman calls himself a practitioner of neuro linguistic programming, a field he switched to after a career in fashion and advertising photography. He’d noticed during photo shoots that some people instantly got along with everyone else, and some people never did. “We decide within two seconds how we’re going to react to someone,” he said. “We’re hard- wired to make snap judgments based on people’s body language.”

Mr. Boothman’s book, which was published last November by Workman and is being translated into seven languages, is Dale Carnegie for a rushed era — a short manual on body language and conversational tricks for those who don’t have much time to win friends and influence people. The techniques looked hokey on the page, but not when Mr. Boothman put them into practice Wednesday morning.

In short order he brought smiles to the faces of four other commuters at Grand Central before moving on to the 44th Street headquarters of the New York Yacht Club. He didn’t quite succeed in talking himself into the club’s inner sanctum, but he did have a long friendly chat with the quartermaster at the front desk after asking, “How do you like working here?”

After a stop at the Carnegie Deli, where he made friends with two waiters and the manager, he descended into the Columbus Circle subway station and fearlessly accepted a new mission: get sightseeing advice from the clerk at the token booth. As passers-by looked on in amazement, the clerk leaned forward to him, turned up the volume of the intercom and smiled as she discussed the relative merits of the World Trade Center versus the Empire State Building.

The final challenge was mission impossible: get shopping advice from a clerk at a Duane Reade drugstore. Mr. Boothman picked up a bottle of ibuprofen, made a slight humming sound, and asked a clerk, “How can you tell whether to take this or Tylenol?” Soon the clerk was poring over the fine print of boxes on the shelves. After five minutes of discourse on pain relievers, the clerk offered to take Mr. Boothman back to the pharmacist for more advice.

Mr. Boothman declined and headed back out on to the formerly mean streets of New York. What had gone wrong? Why had New Yorkers been so nice all day? Was the city’s reputation doomed?

“Everyone we met today could have been difficult,” Mr. Boothman said. “But people are willing to be cooperative if you can get them to feel comfortable, and that’s why everyone we met today was great. New Yorkers are like presents under the Christmas tree — open them up and they’re full of pleasant surprises.”

Christmas presents? We may never live this down


The English-born photographer says he knows how to make people like him in 1 1/2 minutes, usually less. It’s a life skill anyone can learn. The secret is inside his book How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less (Workman Publishing, $14.95).

This was something we had to see for ourselves. So we asked Boothman, in Houston last week to promote the book, to venture onto downtown streets to see if, indeed, he had the gift of likability.

He was reluctant at first, but the English are all about appeasement. Boothman says the point of the book isn’t about blindly approaching strangers and starting a conversation. It’s about being able to connect with someone you want to connect with in order to get something you want, such as a date, a promotion or a favor.


He added another disclaimer: Most people on the street tend to be defensive. No one likes being stopped by strangers who may have something to sell or who may ask for spare change.

Duly noted.

Boothman steps onto Texas Avenue. Ready, set, go!

Picture it: a 6-foot-plus Englishman waltzing down the street wearing fashionable, rectangular glasses; a navy blazer that conceals a light blue shirt; and dark jeans that hang just above a clashing pair of pink, French shoes called Kickers.

If you can make friends with that get-up in Houston, more power to you.

Stranger 1:

A group of bike couriers sitting outside the Chase Building.

First off, these guys have their own little subculture going. They sit there and gab with only their kind until the next delivery call comes in, always puffing away at an endless stream of cigarettes. Their shades make them look cool but not approachable.

Boothman takes the challenge. He politely interrupts the group to ask them how they can tell if someone they first meet should be trusted.

Ten seconds into the conversation, Boothman has the guys rolling. Geez, that was fast.

After 90 seconds, June Salazar, one of the messengers, says he liked Boothman.

“He seemed like a nice guy,” the 26-year-old says. “He didn’t seem threatening. When we saw his pink shoes, I thought he was cool.”

The accent helped, too, Salazar says. Of course. Everyone adores a foreign accent.

Andrew Medina, another messenger, also found Boothman likable.

“He spoke and was dressed well,” the 33-year-old says. “I felt comfortable with him.”

Score one for Boothman. Or perhaps his accent.

Stranger 2:

A Chase Bank employee in a rush.

Boothman times his pace with Lee Ann Shiver’s so that they meet face-to-face. He asks her the same question, and suddenly this on-the-go woman is Chatty Cathy.

The Englishman is smiling; his hands are flailing about, revealing his palms to her. He’s nodding like one of those bobbing toys people keep on the car dashboard. Eye contact is a medium gaze.

Ninety seconds are up. Did Shiver like him?

“He was very warm,” she says. “He connected mostly by looking you in the eye. You could tell he was listening and responded back. And he smiled.”

That’s two for Boothman. Let’s increase the degree of difficulty.

Stranger 3:

Metro bike police. The surly factor goes up with any law enforcement officer.

Boothman walks up to two bike patrols at a bus stop. They glare at him. He asks the same question of them.

Within 90 seconds he’s engaged them both in conversation. He’s gesturing with his hands, waving a pen between his index finger and thumb like a magic wand.

“He didn’t come across as someone I should distrust,” says Dwight Jones, Metro police bike patrol officer. “He was dressed decent and came up in a mannerable way. He didn’t appear to be threatening.”

Of course not; he was wearing pink shoes.

But did he like him? Sure, he was a nice guy.

He’s three-for-three. Maybe this eclectic Englishman is on to something.


So how’d he win over those strangers?

“I synchronize with their body language,” Boothman confesses. “Like with that one cop, I stood just like him. With the bike couriers, I changed my body language depending on who I was looking at.”

When the Chase Bank employee swayed as she talked, he swayed with her.

He says people like others who are like them. Think about it. Most of your friends are very similar to you.

So Boothman adopts their body language and voice tone and tries to come up with something they have in common.

The pen he holds during conversation is a prop.

“It’s easier than carrying a white lab coat,” he says, adding that holding the pen allows him to show

people his palms, meaning he has nothing to hide.

And he always looks into their eyes, noting their eye colors.

The rationale

After 25 years of fashion and advertising work, the professional photographer recognized his talent for making people feel comfortable with him — to connect with them. So Boothman did some research, studied neuro-linguistic programming and wrote the book.

Boothman, who lives in Canada, says you should care that people like you for two reasons.

“When people like you, they listen to you,” he says. “And they give you the benefit of the doubt.”

Those assets are priceless, especially at work.

“If you like this guy, you see the best in him,” Boothman says. “If not, you see the worst in him.”

And if you’re looking for a new line of work, you certainly want the new employer to think kindly of you.

“Depending on what you want in life, the first impression is everything,” Boothman says. “The great truth is that people tend to hire people because they like them.”

Who doesn’t want to be the apple of someone’s eye? It was Sally Field who said it best after she won a second Oscar for best actress: “You like me. You really like me.”

Sure, people giggled at her self-conscious statement. But she only verbalized what we all desire inside: to be adored by peers, colleagues, bosses and family.

Boothman says research shows we decide in the first few seconds whether we like someone. (Yes, we judge books by covers.) That makes it all the more imperative to strike during that short window of time if you want to be cherished.

Just because he suggests synchronizing body language and tone doesn’t mean you’re being phony or insincere.

“All you will be doing is synchronizing another person to put him or her at ease and thus speed up what would happen naturally if you had more time,” the book says.

Boothman says things have changed since the 1930s when Dale Carnegie wrote the classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People. People are more suspicious of each other and don’t have much time.

As a result, people don’t get a chance to hone their social or conversational skills. He says if people give the technique a chance, their lives will improve.

“If you know these things, the better quality of life you’re going to have,” he says. “You can’t do things without other people.”

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