The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World
‘Popularity’—it’s not just a memory from high school. To Mitch Prinstein, it’s a key influencer of our success, relationships, and happiness today. In Popular, this leading psychologist unpacks the ways smart leaders can leverage popularity, both good and bad forms, for better communications, motivation, belonging, and group dynamics—at work, in the classroom, and beyond.
In his new book Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World (June 2017), Mitch Prinstein explains the differences between positive and negative forms of popularity—between likability and status—and explains how we can use popularity to motivate, talk to, and get the most out of teams. With the latest findings in psychology and neuroscience, he helps educators and managers make wise choices for students and employees—helping us all live more meaningful and satisfying lives.
Prinstein is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology. He serves as the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, as well as the Director of Clinical Psychology, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He and his research have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, TIME Magazine, New York Magazine, Newsweek, and elsewhere.
“Status is one thing, and likability quite another. The origins of both types of popularity are the topic of this singularly fascinating, extraordinarily well-written book. I read it cover to cover and learned as much about the science as I did about myself.”— Angela Duckworth on Popular
For the past 20 years, Prinstein’s Peer Relations Lab has been conducting groundbreaking research on popularity and peer relations. It’s been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Child and Human Development, and several private foundations, resulting in over 100 scientific works, including a slew of scientific articles, book chapters, a set of encyclopedias on adolescent development, and even a textbook on the field of clinical psychology.
Prinstein is deeply committed to science and training in clinical psychology. He’s served as President of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology and the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, and on the boards of the American Psychological Association, the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology, and publication board of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.
Regardless of who we are, our daily interactions replicate the same popularity dynamics we experienced in adolescence. To Mitch Prinstein, this overlooked—and often unresolved—element of psychology reveals a great deal about the satisfaction, relationships, and success we experience as adults. But it’s also crucial to understand that popularity comes in two forms. One is healthy—beneficial for office culture, inclusion and collaborative environments—while the other fosters disengagement, herd mentalities, resentment, and outright division.
In this keynote, Prinstein defines negative popularity as status—an aggressive form of leadership that promotes a culture of dominance. It makes people afraid of sharing thoughts and emotions; has a negative effect on our health, both physical and mental; and has been responsible for some of the most peculiar and damaging trends in corporate history. Conversely, healthy positivity—likability—makes colleagues feel empowered, valued, and respected. With fascinating insights from neuroscience and psychology, Prinstein helps us come to terms with the various popularity dynamics at play in our organizations. He offers a new framework for dealing with everything from feedback to rejection, promotions to raises, roles and relationships—all through the lens of healthy popularity. We can’t ignore our natural social impulse to be well-regarded—but we can learn how to manage those impulses, and create happier, more productive workplaces for everyone.
In our early years, the kids who are most popular are the most well-liked—and high-achieving. But adolescence tends to reverse this formula. Soon, high-achievers are often among the most depressed, anxious, insecure, and lonely of children. Status—associated with influence, power, and visibility—replaces likability as the main source of popularity. And while being unpopular does have a negative impact on our lives, so too does the pursuit of status—leading to a greater risk of mental health issues, relationship problems, and trouble with finding long-term happiness in adulthood.
To Mitch Prinstein, the key to providing a lifetime of advantage to our students is to teach them the value of positive popularity, and early—why it’s better to be liked and respected than to be envied or feared. While our celebrity-obsessed culture sends a clear message about status to impressionable minds, kids can learn the value of likability from engaged parents and teachers, who can demonstrate how to avoid aggressive behavior (like bullying), develop empathy with peers, and navigate social dilemmas with compassion. Rooted in positivity and inclusion, genuine connections, and deep commitments to others, likability can make all the difference in later life—creating capable future leaders who are popular for being smart, kind people, and not for the power they wield.