Likability: 13 Traits To Work On

How To Become More Likeable

At the core of most relationships is this idea of likability. Very few people are friends with, or do business with, people they don’t actually like (or generally enjoy the presence of). There is something to be said for the idea of “the brilliant jerk” — the asshole with ideas who gets stuff done — but in general, hiring that person is pretty toxic to your team, and adding that person to your friend circle probably sucks long-term (although maybe he tosses in a few witty quips at the bar now and again, like you’re living in a f’n Whit Stillman movie or some such).

Broad idea, then: you need to be likable to have friends, find contentment, and get the right types of work opportunities so you can make some $$$ and then gradually realize that has nothing to do with happiness either.

But how do you become likable? Thankfully, there’s a bit of research on that.

Here’s an article by Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and a dude I’ve quoted before on this blog. Here’s where Bradberry begins this journey:

In a study conducted at UCLA, subjects rated over 500 adjectives based on their perceived significance to likeability. The top-rated adjectives had nothing to do with being gregarious, intelligent, or attractive (innate characteristics). Instead, the top adjectives were sincerity, transparency, and capacity for understanding (another person).

OK, so we’re talking about an academic study. That doesn’t always correlate to the real world, but sometimes it’s the best option we have. Bradberry works (I believe he’s the CEO) at a place called TalentSmart, that works with a lot of research around EQ, CQ, etc. to determine how people can work better and more effectively. It’s interesting stuff.

In this case, they dug up key behaviors across one million+ people in terms of garnering likability from others. It turns out that if you have these 13, you’re actually more likable than others by a wide margin. Let’s list the traits first and then break it down a little:

  • Ask questions
  • Put away your phones
  • Be genuine
  • Don’t pass judgment
  • Don’t seek attention
  • Be consistent
  • Use positive body language
  • Leave a strong first impression
  • Greet people by name
  • Smile
  • Know when to open up
  • Know who to touch (and then touch them)
  • Balance passion and fun
  • Bring it all together

Alright, so … a couple of thoughts here.

A lot of this is about the idea of “CQ:” I wrote about that once before, and it’s the general idea that what matters isn’t how smart you are (IQ) or how emotionally-connected you are (EQ), it’s how curious you are about what’s going on around you. Look at the list above: a person with CQ would ask questions, wouldn’t seek attention (because they’re more curious about the others than about promoting themselves), would know when to open up, and wouldn’t pass judgment (rather, they’d seek information). CQ, and the related concept of C-Factor, are probably actually how we should hire for jobs — but those traits are really hard to prove empirically, and the old-school mentality is probably “curious is just a synonym for someone that doesn’t do work!”

Agree on smile: I actually think a smile is the most powerful thing in the world. I realize that sounds horrifically cheesy, but think about it.

Disagree on consistency: This is actually somewhat interesting. I’ve been to therapy before, but I just started going to therapy in Fort Worth a few days ago. (I find having additional people to talk to pretty helpful.) I often view myself as a super inconsistent person, and I started talking about that in therapy. The therapist was telling me that if I’ve tried to be consistent and consistency in certain areas isn’t working for me, then maybe I should look at things differently. I don’t think he means go and fly off the handle and be hideously inconsistent, but I think the whole notion of “consistency” is hard for a lot of people to achieve. Humans are complex creatures who react to things in different ways. This list already has a lot of aspirational qualities on it, and looking at it could terrify even the strongest person. (“I need to do all 13 of these things??!”) I’d strike consistency, within reason.

Many of these ideas are basic, Golden Rule-type stuff: Put away your phones. Be genuine. Don’t seek attention. Use positive body language. Greet people by name. Smile. Maybe being likable isn’t that hard a thing to chase after all.

Disagree on ‘leave a strong first impression:’ This has actually been disproven by research.

Think about how many of these things a typical boss/manager at work doesn’t do: They don’t usually ask questions. They’re not always genuine. They pass judgment. They seek attention for themselves. They’re rarely consistent. They do greet people by name, but they don’t often smile. Balancing passion and fun? Nope. (That scares most bosses, plus there’s this whole issue.) Maybe the reason that most bosses aren’t rated as good is simply because they don’t do anything to make themselves more likable in the eyes of those they interact with.

Ted Bauer

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