Introverts, Listen Up: Human Behavior Investigator Vanessa Van Edwards on How to Captivate and Lead

If you put the words Captivate + People in a single sentence, the neurons firing and wiring in my brain will fish out a core memory from when I was six years old: the time I had my Aubrey Posen moment.

By sheer twist of fate—the kid who made her grandma sit through hours of kindergarten lecture because the thought of making friends twisted an ugly knot in her guts—somehow, this was the same kid who’d ended up securing the opening performance for a school event. I had spent two weeks practicing Gabriella Montez’s lachrymose, tear-jerking solo, When There Was Me and You (yes, I covered all the dramatic pulling and gripping of railings).

I was going to see the whole thing through. Invested would be an understatement, and I blame Disney for (1) feeding my disillusioned desire of theatrical proportions and (2) for what the crowd (and my favorite glitter skirt) had to endure that one ill-fated afternoon. 

The stage was set. There I was. The blistering heat of the favored tropical afternoons prickled my skin. I sang the first verse, if you consider shuffling your feet awkwardly on stage while coughing up a tune singing.

At the time, I thought, “What a piece of cake. Imma finish this and go back to the literal cake on my plate.” 

My dear reader, confidence is good—it’s a necessity and a skill. But misplaced confidence can backfire and leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. Because when it was time to sing the second verse, what rolled off my tongue were not lyrics. It was everything I had for lunch and half of the cake that lay idle on my paper plate. 

Never mind the gaping mouths and collective gasps of the crowd, my skirt was ruined. Soggy paper mache-like goo covered the length of my chest all the way to my skirt. 

Now, every time I pull out a book that goes like this: How to Win People’s Hearts and Make a Lasting Impression, I taste the same sour tang in my throat. I recall the sound of feet being dragged off stage and the ugly crying sesh that followed the ride home. Definitely made a lasting impression. 

When I opened Vanessa Van Edwards’s book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, and was greeted by the toothy grin of a vest-wearing, twelve-year-old rocking the notorious Mr. Bean bowl cut, part of me knew this was going to be different from the rest of the books under that category which sometimes read like a fridge manual—distant, preachy, induces the ugly traits of narcolepsy.

My favorite chapter in Captivate is a story told and lived by the author herself. An excerpt—

“My dad’s birthday is November 4. This means that every August while growing up, I began the painstaking process of coming up with a spectacular gift idea. […]

At his birthday dinner, I would place my latest contraption in front of my dad and wait expectantly. Every year, he had about the same reaction: “Oh,” he would say cautiously. He would poke it, lift it up, and turn it around a few times. “I love it.” But he said this with the kind of voice tone reserved for telling a small child her imaginary friend had died or that the Christmas tree was infested with aphids. […]

Year after year, no matter how hard I tried, I missed the mark on my dad’s gifts. Then one fall, I got mono (don’t ask). That year on November 4, I dragged my sick, lymph-swollen, pale body to the couch and told my dad, “This year for your birthday I only have the energy to watch Sunday football with you. I hope that’s okay.” […]

That night, sitting down for her dad’s birthday dinner, he clapped her on the back and said it was the best present she had ever given him. 

The tender understanding of the many ways that people love teaches us how we, too, can show how much we love and value them. Van Edwards’s book is the farthest thing from a fridge manual. Nay, it is free of the unappealing manual-esque nature that permeates the self-help genre of literature. 

If you happen to prefer Friday Night Stay Ins to the first-rate boisterous ruckus of a beer-pong party, you’ll find that this book shines a particular light on the introverted struggle of maintaining the energy bar that always seems to get depleted with each social interaction.  

Captivate isn’t about artificially hacking relationships to feign genuine human connection. Rather, it speaks to its readers as one would a friend—a really smart friend with facts and research to back up each fascinating discovery—and encourages us to embrace vulnerability, to cross the threshold of crippling anxiety keeping us from forming bonds, and to simply open ourselves up enough to give it a try. 

Sprinkled throughout the book are little nuggets of good advice. Here are some of my favorites:

P.s. If It Costs You the Future You Want, Is It Really Worth It—Asking for a Fellow 20-year-old and The Burnout of Not Knowing Your Worth

Have you read this book yet? If you have, what are your biggest takeaways?