Likability has always been a highly desired trait. In our hunter gathering days, it was the thing that kept you in the group even if you weren’t the fastest or strongest. And now, if the job opening is between two candidates with equal résumés, the tiebreaker is often the answer to the question, “Who’s the better person to be around?”
So it helps to be more likable and charming. And you might think that you’re already likable enough, which might well be the case. But the question is, “Can you be more so?” Yes, you could, and there’s no downside to trying. It doesn’t require a lot of thinking or extra time. It also doesn’t mean trying to be everybody’s friend. That’s being nice and that’s just going along and never getting below the surface.
When people like you, life is easier because you build stronger connections and a wider net for yourself when inevitably you need a ride, a job, or to borrow a ladder
Likability can mean a lot of things: listening, talking, telling jokes, pushing back. It’s whatever the situation calls for and it might mean a lot more people want to be friends with you, but you’re under no obligation to reciprocate. And so the payoff?
“It makes you a better person,” says Pamela Monday, marriage and family therapist in Austin, Texas. You’re putting yourself out there, being more authentic and more responsive to others. When people like you, life is easier because you build stronger connections and a wider net for yourself when inevitably you need a ride, a job, or to borrow a ladder. Here are a few simple things that will help tip the scales in your favor.
1. Use Positive Body Language
You want to have your arms uncrossed and a relaxed posture. You want to look the person in the eyes. You want to smile and laugh since you don’t do either with people you hate. All of this makes people feel good, because you’re conveying without words, “I’m comfortable with you,” says Philip Gable, professor of psychology and director of the Social Cognitive Emotive Neuroscience Lab at University of Delaware.
2. Pick Your Words
When you talk, it’s to support the other person. You listen and acknowledge that you’re taking in what’s being said. You want to say their name every so often — it makes people feel seen. You want to ask questions, not to grill, but because you genuinely want them to “tell me more.” If you ask nothing, remain silent, or speak only to change the topic, the person thinks that whatever they said wasn’t good enough, and they walk away feeling bad. Mission not accomplished.
“Our likability depends on how we leave the other person feeling,” says Inna Khazan, clinical psychologist in Boston, Massachusetts.
3. Share Your Thoughts
If you only listen, you’re making the other person do all the work and that gets old pretty fast. You’re also showing zero vulnerability and while it doesn’t allow for any depth, it’s all makes people defensive. “What secrets are you keeping?,” Monday says. “It’s a kind of phoniness.”
You want to give something the other person can latch onto and that shows some less-than-perfectness. If it’s only, “I’m having a rough day,” that can be enough. Even if it's just passing in the drop off line, it makes for an exchange of humanity.
“There’s a connection,” she says.
4. Bring a Counterpoint
You’re not always going to agree with someone and you don’t have to hide it. You just pick your spots and when you push back, it’s with respect, with wanting to further the conversation, and with no interest in winning an argument. But when you take a stand, you give a fuller picture of yourself and people know who you actually are.
“You’re being honest. It’s a deeper level of the relationship,” Monday says. “You have credibility.”
But you also have to …
5. Be Agreeable
It certainly is a factor when there’s a debate, but it mostly comes into play with something as simple as making plans. The topic: What are we gonna do? The thing not to say is, “Whatever.” That puts all the pressure onto the other person.
You, as the likable guy, offer up a time. The other person gives it a thumbs up and suggests the coffee shop. It’s not one you’d pick, but since the place isn’t horrid, there’s no reason to analyze the option. There are times to take a stand and there are times to just text back your own thumbs up. Knowing the difference resonates.
“You’re being socially smooth,” Gable says.
6. Give Compliments
People like to hear positive things about what they’ve done. That’s not mind-blowing stuff, Gable says, and maybe you did it right after the speech or performance. But say it again the next day or even the next week because the event hasn’t disappeared. “They still feel it,” Khazan says. “It’s nice for the other person to know they had an impact.”
7. Read the Room
All the above works, but there’s no formula. Sometimes the other person wants you to listen. Sometimes they need you to talk or draw them out with questions. Sometimes the last thing they want is advice; other times, they do, Gable says.
You could ask, “What would help?,” but mostly, you sense the moment and take a guess based on body language and any other qualitative measures. It means your choice could be right, or it might be wrong. Your comment or action doesn’t go over well, and that’s both unavoidable and far from the worst thing when you’re being genuine and not worrying about appealing to everyone.
“You don’t have to be perfect,” Monday says. “And some days you won’t. It’s about wanting to connect and showing up in the world as a friendly person.”