“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me."
Michael Scott, "The Boss" on The Office
Charm. Likability. Charisma.
By any name, having people like you can change your world. There is universal agreement, backed by research, that in business, politics, sales, and life being likable can be critical to success.
In sales, we say the path to a close is having people “know, like and trust” you. In politics, candidates (in most election years) win or lose based on their likeability with voters.
In business, as Jeffrey Gitomer writes in The Sales Bible, “All things being equal, people prefer to do business with people they like. All things being not so equal, people still prefer to do business with people they like.”
That’s because people naturally gravitate towards people who are likable. We want to work with them. We want to have relationships with them. We want to be around them.
Are you born likable?
This is why many clients and friends have asked whether people are born likable, or is it possible to become likable? Can you take actions to make yourself more likable in business and life?
I believe the answer is “yes” and “yes.” Some people have a natural, innate likeability, but it is also possible to behave in ways that will make you more likable to others.
Yes, you can become charming. Likability is a trait that can be learned and developed. It’s about improving your dynamics with other people and how you relate to them.
You don’t have to be handsome, beautiful or incredibly smart to be likable. Those are potentially strong characteristics, but we all know “beautiful” people who are arrogant, mean or worse.
More important characteristics focus on how we interact with other people.
In a UCLA study, people were asked to rate over 500 adjectives based on their perceived significance to likeability. The highest-rated adjectives weren’t innate characteristics such as gregarious, intelligent, or attractive. Instead, the top adjectives were sincerity, transparency, and capacity for understanding others, all traits that can be learned and developed.
With this in mind, here are few tips to help you become more likable:
Become genuinely interested in other people
In Dale Carnegie’s classic book How to Win Friends & Influence People, he devotes a chapter to “How to Make People Like You.” The first principle: show interest in others. Carnegie writes, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
There are small, but powerful ways to show people you are genuinely interested in them and care. It could be as simple as remembering and repeating someone’s name; finding and exploring a true connection by asking about their family, hobbies or special interests.
People are happy to talk about themselves. Of course, you must be sincere in the attention you are paying to a person. Feigned interest can be more damaging than disinterest.
My first job out of college decades ago was in marketing with Procter & Gamble, which was notorious for having the most interviews of any company.
Through twelve long interviews, I survived and prospered by asking the interviewer personal interest questions and building connections and rapport. I’m fascinated by people’s stories and the interviewers ended up talking at least half of the time, which took pressure off of me, and started our relationship.
Be a great listener
The greatest gift we have to give others is our attention. In a digital world filled with noise and dominated by smartphone, sadly it is remarkable to have someone put down their phone, look at you, and really listen. It is in being a good listener that one becomes a good conversationalist, Carnegie argues.
People want to feel like they’re actually being heard and understood by someone else. It is rare to find a person who will devote themselves to being completely present and in the moment.
Carnegie quotes former Harvard president Charles W. Eliot, as saying, “There is no mystery about successful business.…Exclusive attention to the person who is speaking to you is very important. Nothing else is so flattering as that.”
Whether it is listening with great attention to a customer or your child, good listening can go a long way in improving your likability. Not only do people like to talk about things that interest them, but they enjoy being heard.
Make others feel valued
We also feel the need to be valued. In Brian Tracy and Ron Arden’s The Power of Charm, they say the secret of likability is to make others feel important because “the deepest craving of human nature is the need to feel valued and valuable.” They encapsulate charm in five A’s: acceptance, appreciation, approval, admiration and attention.
This is defined as “the attitude of unconditional positive regard.” It means accepting another person wholeheartedly, without reserve, criticism or judgment. An easy way to show this is to smile at people. It makes them feel happier and more important.
A person’s self-esteem is instantly boosted when you show them appreciation. Whether this is a specific acknowledgment of an action, or a thank you, appreciation can go a long way to make someone feel more important and valued.
All human beings have a natural desire for approval. It can be expressed in many different ways, but praise for an accomplishment is always a way to make people feel good about themselves.
By giving someone a sincere compliment about a personal characteristic or achievement, they feel recognized and seen by you. They will view you more favorably, as well as themselves.
Ah, here it is again: attention. Tracy and Arden believe this may be the most important quality to develop. I believe it is the quality now in shortest supply.
Our attention today is so sapped by information overload and mobile technology, that devoting real, unqualified attention to people is the ultimate gift. And how can you not like someone who gives you their undivided attention?
Now, I know there are leaders who say they don’t want to be liked, as they see it as a sign of weakness. They want to be respected or even feared.
It turns out you can be respected and liked. In fact, in terms of motivating people, being likable and approachable produces better, more long-lasting results than being feared.
Being likable doesn’t mean that you’re a doormat, it means that you fully engage, listen and show your sincere interest in people.
This week, think about the one skill or behavior you could use to become more likable. Try putting this one behavior into practice over the next 30 days and watch the results.
Who knows, maybe you can be even more likable.
Photo credit: Andreas Rønningen