Book Review: Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People

“Hi, I’m Vanessa, and I’m a recovering awkward person” is the first sentence of Van Edward’s book Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People. It is aptly dedicated to “anyone who has ever felt awkward in a social situation.” In other words, it’s written for most people. While not everybody will transform into a social butterfly after reading the book, the good news is that there are certain tricks, or hacks as Van Edwards calls them,  that everyone can learn to improve their social interactions.

Since people skills didn’t come naturally to her, Van Edwards decided to study and learn them just like math problems. She became so good at it that she made studying people her business and is now a requested teacher, writer, and speaker on the topic who has been featured on all major TV networks. Van Edwards also created the website Science of People.

She calls her approach human behavior hacking, which her company achieves by rigorous analysis of the latest scientific studies, creating actionable strategies and putting them to the test in her lab. The book is a synopsis of the company’s last eight years of research, which is supposed to illuminate “how people work.” According to Van Edwards there are hidden rules to human behavior that can be decoded and then be used to your advantage. She introduces the reader to 14 techniques or hacks to analyze and improve interpersonal relations. These hacks are worked into three parts of the book:

  1. The first five minutes
  2. The first five hours
  3. The first five days.

The first five minutes

The first part is all about the power of first impressions, how to read them, and how to make a good first  impression oneself. The author explains how social interactions work and what makes people likable. She introduces the first four hacks in this chapter, which give valuable and actionable input on how to best work a room at a social function, start interesting and memorable conversations, and form more lasting relationships.

The first five hours

As the title suggests, this chapter represents the next step in a relationship — taking it from first impressions and introductions to a deeper level. The reader is introduced to techniques for decoding and reading people and how to customize interactions accordingly. A large part of this chapter is dedicated to reading facial microexpressions. Microexpressions and theories behind them are well explained, but being able to decode them quickly in a conversation takes a lot more practice than just reading about them. Van Edwards offers more in depth practice and classes on her website, and readers who want to be able to actually use those decoding skills will have to invest more time and money to carefully study and practice what’s presented in the book.

For Van Edwards, the next step in establishing a lasting productive relationship is to decode peoples’ personalities, your own as well as others’. Her go-to tool for this is the five-factor-model, which she then introduces in detail and explains how it can be used to improve relationships with the people around us. Again, she presents valuable information, but in order to use the tool effectively the reader will have to put in a good bit of practice first.

The last part of this chapter deals with appreciation and value. According to Van Edwards, we will form the most meaningful relationships when we know how the people around us like to be appreciated and what their core values are. Along with the five-factor model, she presents techniques on how to do so. This is very insightful and falls into the category “easy takeaway” because some of the information presented in this part can be directly applied to real life situations.

The first five days

In this final part, Van Edwards wants to teach the reader how to level up their relationships and make them more meaningful. Meaningful relationships are formed around a good connection between people. An important tool for establishing connection is storytelling. Van Edwards proceeds to explain why storytelling is so important to connection and how to do it effectively. Again, this chapter represents an easy takeaway: Real life tips and tools the reader can adapt and use.

From forming connections, Van Edwards moves to empowering and leading people. The leadership “hacks” presented here are widely applicable, beyond people in formal leadership positions. They can be used by everybody and in everyday situations. Another hack to forming connection is to admit vulnerability. Admitting not knowing and asking for advice makes people more likeable according to the author.

Last but not least, Van Edwards presents her research on how to deal with difficult people. She presents tools on how to interact with frustrated and hurt individuals and steer the conversation back to a less emotional level. This part represents another quick takeaway for the reader.

Overall this is an interesting, engaging, and easy-to-read book with a wealth of information about interpersonal relations. After reading the book and using the tools, the reader will be much better equipped to handle interpersonal communication and relationships. However, some of the techniques presented in the book require careful study and practice. While most readers will walk away with good information and a couple of quick takeaways, interested readers can use the materials at Science of People (most of them are online courses available for a fee) to really deepen their understanding of human relationships and take them to the next level.

Written by Anne Nowak.