One of the parents of another player on my oldest child’s soccer team is one of those people that lots of people seem to like. At first glance, you’d think he was just the most ordinary nondescript person in the world, but he’s extremely good at coming up to people, getting to know them, and making everyone feel at ease. He makes people laugh without being cruel and walks away from almost every interaction with people having left them with a very positive feeling about him.
Not too long ago, he sent me an email out of the blue. He tracked down my email address from the team email list and just wanted to know if I had any feedback about an organization he’s involved with – some of the work they’re doing and how they present themselves. The thing is, I probably would not have taken the time to actually look very deeply for most people, but I had natural positive thoughts about this guy, so I spent some time actually reviewing their material and sending him some thoughtful feedback. He was incredibly thankful for the effort and actually sent me a thank you note because of it, reinforcing my positive thoughts about him.
I had a conversation with a close friend recently who also knows this guy and we both concluded that he seems like a great person to have in the community, even if we’re not close friends with him, and we’d both help him out if he needed help. I know that if I ever knew that he or his family needed help, I’d be glad to give them a hand in any way that I reasonably could.
For him, that’s a valuable asset, whether he sees it or not. By being a very likable person, he unconsciously (or perhaps consciously, who knows) adds a great deal of value to his life, in ways he might directly see and in ways he might not see.
Here are some of the benefits to be gained from being more likable.
Being more likable opens you up for more promotions. If you’re more likable at work, your boss is going to see you in a much more positive light, with your other positive traits shining brightly and your negative traits being pushed more into the shadows. Likability is a trait that is seen as valuable in positions where you may have to manage others and interact with clients and vendors, so the benefits in terms of promotion go beyond just what your boss thinks of you.
Being more likable makes it much easier to build a professional network. If you’re likable, it’s easy to build connections with people in your field, which can help you when it comes time to find a new job or move up in your field or go in a new direction. Knowing lots of people in your field and having friendly faces in many different organizations also makes it easy to build collaborations when needed, which are a vital part of many different career paths. Having a big network of people who may refer clients to you or be able to share advice and feedback is invaluable, and that kind of network is built on being likable.
Being more likable makes it much easier to find help when you need it. When you’re struggling with a project, being able to tap an existing personal and professional network for advice and direct assistance is incredibly useful, and being likable makes it much easier to build this kind of network. A likable person is likely to have far more people to ask when they need help with something, and they’re far more likely to get positive answers when they do ask. (My story above, with the likable guy from soccer, is a great example.)
Being more likable opens you up to lots of unexpected opportunities. If people have things to share and opportunities to give, they’re more likely to hand them out to people that they like. Thus, people who are likable are far more likely to have unexpected opportunities drop their way. I’ve experienced this myself, with people sometimes gifting us things out of the blue because they “like our family.”
Being more likable makes it much easier to build a broad social network. This might seem like a minor thing, but simply having a broad social network in your community can be an enormous advantage at times. It makes community events far more enjoyable when you know many of the people who will attend them. It also opens up many, many opportunities for leadership in communities, which can end up reflecting very well on your career.
Eleven Tactics for Likability
The question, one might ask, is how to be likable. For some, it comes naturally – they’re gifted with charisma and natural social skills. For others (like me) who were “gifted” with a streak of introversion and social awkwardness, it can be very hard to have a sense of what to do in social situations.
Here are eleven tactics you can use in social situations to be more likable. I suggest choosing one or two of these and practicing them until they become natural, then moving on to others on the list. A good way to do this is to give yourself a few daily reminders of the trait you’re working on developing so that you keep it in mind throughout your day, and stick with consciously building that trait for a few months with those daily reminders before moving on.
Ask questions. People love to talk about themselves and their ideas, and they tend to think well of others who express an interest in them and their ideas. This adds up to an easy recipe for likability – just ask questions, listen to the answers, and ask follow-up questions. This makes carrying on a conversation quite easy, and those conversations (as long as the questions don’t become antagonistic) tend to result in the other person seeing you in a very positive light.
When the conversation lulls, speak up. Dead spaces in the conversation tend to reduce the likability of everyone involved. People often feel uncomfortable in silence (unless everyone involved knows each other well and appreciates some silence). The best approach when a conversation lulls is to have a conversation starter ready to go. What’s a good conversation starter? A meaningful question. It’s a good idea to have a number of such “conversation starter” questions in your head and ready to go. If you’re struggling, look around you and use the situation you’re in together as the source for a question (“What brought you to this event?” for example).
Seek out the joy in every interaction. Look for joy above all else. Think of the things that the other person is saying or doing that are pleasing to you and drop the things that aren’t. Try to think of things from their perspective and consider what would bring them joy. The goal of most conversations is to bring about some sort of positive sentiment among the participants, so look for that and strive to feel it in your own heart. This will make you feel more joyful. Many people who offer likability practices tell people to simply smile more, but my approach is to simply look for the good things and smiles will come naturally, and natural smiles are far and away the best ones because they’re genuine.
Give of yourself without any expectation of return. When someone needs help and you can reasonably give that help, do so without any expectation of anything in return. Not only does this make you feel good internally (the joy in every interaction, as noted above), it often makes the other person feel great, as you’ve surprised them in a good way and helped to relieve a burden. It’s a net positive for everyone involved, and regardless of where that net positive leads, you’re going to be a part of it. You’re going to feel good about yourself and others are going to feel good about you.
Genuinely care about others. If your goal at the end of an interaction with another person is to genuinely lift up their life, you’re going to be likable. To do that, you have to care about them. You have to genuinely want their life to be better in some small way. If you approach every interaction with another person as an opportunity to make their life better (or the lives of third parties better), you’re going to be liked by almost everyone.
Remember things about others and follow up. The simple act of remembering a person’s name upon meeting them again is a great way to appear likable, and you can amp up that likability by remembering a few things about them to use as conversation starters. The simple step of recalling a project they were working on and asking how that is going is going to make you more likable, for example. Remembering an interest that they have, or the name of their child, or some accomplishment of theirs – all of those things will improve your likability in their eyes.
Listen when others are talking and actually absorb what they’re saying. The time when others are speaking is not the time where you stand there formulating your next talking point while ignoring what they’re saying. Instead, it’s the time to listen attentively and make an effort to understand what they’re saying and see things from their perspective. A great way to indicate this is through a follow-up question, as that indicates you were actually listening and valuing their thoughts. Again, notice how asking questions continues to pop up.
Admit to knowledge gaps and allow others to fill them in. Many people overcompensate for knowledge gaps in order to make themselves appear more skilled and knowledgable, but, quite often, it’s the admission of knowledge gaps and the asking of questions that makes a person appear likable. Minor flaws – such as not having full knowledge of a subject – are generally likable, and pairing that flaw with worthwhile questions that others can answer (again, notice how questions pop up!) can add to that likability.
Don’t take yourself seriously. Don’t be afraid to look for the lighthearted side of a situation, or for the lighter side of yourself. Seriousness has a place, but most of the time, taking yourself less seriously and being open to gentle teasing (or even teasing yourself through self-deprecation) is far more likable. Save the “serious” for truly serious and somber moments. At other times, go with a lighter touch.
Admit to flaws (but don’t brag about flaws). It is never a mistake to note a flaw about yourself. Often, your flaws will eventually be noticed by others, but the edge is taken out of those flaws if you notice them about yourself first. There’s no need to introduce them or make a central conversation topic about them, but a gentle self-jab about some personal foible when it is appropriate in the conversation is almost always likable.
Go for the (positive) laugh, even at your own expense. A bit of humor in non-serious situations is almost always a net benefit. Laughter makes people feel good, and if you cause that, they will feel good toward you. Having said that, you’re generally not going to score in the likability department if your humor is cruel, particularly toward other people or animals. Keep it lighthearted. My uncle used to live by the practice of having a good joke or two in his pocket that he refreshed at least twice a week, in order to make people laugh, and he was one of the most well-liked people I’ve ever known.
Don’t have stringent tastes – go with the flow, but offer good suggestions when asked. You’re far better off being the person that offers suggestions rather than being the person that vetoes suggestions. Rather than being the “picky” person, when a situation comes up where people are brainstorming ideas, focus on offering up a lot of ideas that are palatable to you. When someone wants to go out to eat, say something like, “I’m in the mood for Mexican or Italian food… and sandwiches would be good, too. Are you in for any of those?” This lets people feel relieved of having to choose and gives them options so they don’t have to veto. You’re seen as more likable and flexible because of that.
This Is Not An Equation – Don’t Treat It As Such
Many people treat strategies like these as equations, under the idea that “if you do X, you will immediately be likable.” That’s not how this works. Simply doing something a little different doesn’t instantly make you likable. Likability is a matter of degrees. These tactics will each make you slightly more likable, but their real effects aren’t felt instantly. Instead, they build over time.
In fact, I would suggest that you will see little positive benefit from these changes in the short run. Most of the time, you’ll be interacting with people who have already formed an opinion of you, and it takes a lot of interactions to change that opinion. It won’t change overnight, no matter what you do. You’ll likely see some better results from interacting with people you don’t know well, but that will also take time, as you won’t establish a great relationship with every single person you meet no matter how likable you are.
Instead, the benefits will appear over time. The people in your life, on the whole, will perceive you as more likable than before in gradual steps, and when that happens, some of the positive results you see above will begin to slowly emerge. If you back up likability with good character and other traits and skills that others value, you’ll gradually begin to build a positive reputation in the communities that you are a part of (or your reputation will improve from where it’s at).
This takes time, and it’s not an exact tit for tat. I like to think of it as being like putting drops of food coloring in a lake. Each step you take to be more likable is like putting a drop of food coloring into a big body of water. It takes a lot of drops before the color changes noticeably at all. However, a point will come when you look at the lake and you realize the color has changed. That’s what improving your likability and character is like. It’s not an immediate change, but a gradual and subtle one, one that you won’t really notice until a later time when the slow sea change is suddenly obvious to you.
The benefits of being likable are many, and taking steps to become more likable are incredibly valuable. It is a long journey, however, and the positive repercussions aren’t very immediate or obvious at first glance. It’s a long journey, just like a personal finance journey, but on the other side, there are innumerable benefits for your career, your finances, and your life as a whole.