Daryl Davis: the secret to get others to like you

Some people collect stamps. Others collect coins. Daryl Davis collects Ku Klux Klan robes.

Davis is a black musician. Who has managed to convert a lot of KKK white supremacists to quit the clan. And give their white pointy hat robes to Davis when they quit it. How does Davis change the minds of these folks? Do you think he uses better logic and gives smarter arguments?

How Daryl Davis changes beliefs

Daryl Davis was 25 years old and playing R&B music in a bar in Maryland that white supremacists frequented. After his show, he received a weird compliment from a patron: it was the first time he heard a black man play music well.

Instead of getting agitated, Davis laughed and asked the patron to have a drink with him. Over the course of the conversation, he realized that that guy was a member of KKK – a secret fraternal society that believes that people with white skin colour are superior.

During that conversation, Davis made a decision: he wanted to talk to more members of KKK. He decided to write a book to delve into the question: why do you hate me when you don’t even know me?

His new friend at the bar got him in touch with Roger Kelly – one of the leaders of KKK in Maryland. Kelly agreed to meet Davis when he heard he wanted to write a book – not knowing he was black. 

The first meeting was tense. But somehow they met again. And again a few more times. Very soon, Kelly asked Davis to be the godfather for his daughter. He quit KKK, and even closed the Maryland chapter. And gave his robe to Davis – the first of many KKK members to do so!

So how did the impossible happen? That too multiple times?

The Davis strategy that never fails

In Daryl Davis’s own words: he “does not set out to convert these people, but instead to befriend them. They convert themselves.”

How does he befriend people who have a visceral reaction on seeing him? He simply focuses on what every human craves: to be seen and heard. To feel understood. To be liked.

Davis does not argue or give refutations. He simply listens. And shows them that he likes them – even when they don’t like him back.

And you know what? It is impossible to not like someone who likes you.

Proven by science

Psychologists Elliot Aronson and Phillip Worchel conducted an experiment: participants were grouped in pairs to have simple conversations. After the conversation, they had to write a brief statement on what they felt about their conversation partner. The participants were then allowed to read what their partner had written about them. 

The twist was that half the participants were actors. They were asked to write that they liked their conversation partner a lot. When the real participants read that they were liked, then in a follow up, disregarding what they had written earlier, without fail, they all said that they liked their partner more.

Adam Hampton and his colleagues performed an experiment to check what makes people like others more. They tested various factors: do people like others similar to them, do they like people who make them have more fun, do they like people who help them grow. And by far, the factor that showed the strongest effect was “certainty of being liked”. If you knew that someone else likes you, you automatically start liking them. This reciprocity of liking is really strong in us.

Why? Because people have an inherent need to belong. And so, we seek situations where we feel liked. 

The best WW2 interrogator

Hanns Scharff was a Nazi officer who interrogated prisoners of war. He was the most successful interrogator and got out a lot of secrets. Can you guess how?

Unlike his fellow officers, he never tortured. He never showed that he had power over the prisoners. He never even asked a lot of questions about war.

Instead, he tried to build a bond with the prisoners. Took them out of the prison environment for walks. Shared meals with them. And talked about everything except the war.

His kindness and empathy got the prisoners to tell him things they would have never revealed under torture. When the prisoners believed that Scharff liked them, they started trusting him. It’s impossible to not like someone who you think likes you.

How to make people think you like them

Thats what Daryl Davis is so good at. Telegraphing that he likes his conversation partner.

  • He listens.
  • He tries to understand.
  • He doesn’t judge.
  • He shares meals and experiences together.
  • He shows kindness.

In fact, he goes overboard in showing kindness. When KKK leader Richard Preston was arrested for firing a gun at a political rally, it was Davis who put up a bond for him! And while Preston was sentenced to 4 years in prison, he went in a changed man because of Davis.

Davis shows that the way to change the world is by befriending the world.

Action Summary:

  • It’s impossible to not like someone who likes you.
  • People have an inherent need to be seen, heard, and understood. So just actively listen and be kind. Share time and small experiences with them. And they will build a bond with you.