Want to be more likable in 2020? Try these five things

by | Dec 27, 2019

We are a social species and it behooves us to be likable. Here are five simple (but not easy) ways to be more likable based on research:

ONE: Show interest in other people

A recent Harvard study found a positive relationship between asking questions of another person and likability. “Verbal behaviors that focus on the other person, such as mirroring the other person’s mannerisms, affirming the other’s statements, or coaxing information from the other person, have been shown to increase liking.”

A perfect example of this occurred recently on the way to a Blues game with my friend Dave, my wife and my daughter. In the car, Dave, who is the head of sales for a large distributing company, spent the entire car trip asking my daughter questions about herself. He asked her opinion about world events, what is going on in her life as well as her likes and dislikes. It was a really skillful and authentic questioning. Later my daughter commented on how much she likes Dave. Of course she did – Dave’s a great guy, but also we love it when people show an interest in us.

The flip side is also true: if you want to be likable, don’t talk about yourself. According to the Harvard researchers: “The tendency to focus on the self when trying to impress others is misguided, as verbal behaviors that focus on the self, such as redirecting the topic of conversation to oneself, bragging, boasting, or dominating the conversation, tend to decrease liking,”

TWO: Ask people for their advice and/or opinion

You may think that asking another person for advice may make you seem incompetent or unintelligent. It turns out that just the opposite is true. Studies have shown that asking someone else for advice makes you appear more competent and intelligent in their eyes. Those who you ask for their advice and opinion will have a more favorable opinion of you and like you more.

THREE: Smile

A very simple way to be more likable is to smile. Studies have found that we find people to be more approachable and likable when they smile. Smiling is contagious – when you smile, other people around you will smile more as well. Note that an authentic smile is the best.

FOUR: Be Fully Engaged

A few months ago, I attended the memorial service of an amazing woman. She was really special: warm and caring and universally liked. Just magnetic. One of her friends, speaking at the service, noted that the deceased had at least six people at the memorial who considered her their best friend. Six best friends! This friend noted that one fantastic attribute the deceased had was that when you talked with her she made you feel like you were the only person in the world. She focused all her attention only on you. She was fully present.

Our modern world is full of distractions and it is hard to stop and fully engage. I know that I am really bad at this. In 2020 I’m going to work on being more fully engaged and present.

FIVE: Show Vulnerability and Admit Your Faults

It’s that time of year where we receive holiday cards with everyone’s family looking perfect. Like they have no problems and they all like each other. Ugh. Same thing with Instagram and Facebook – everything looks perfect. Don’t you hate that?

We like people who are real. People without faults don’t exist. Might as well admit it.

Anne Lamott in her fantastic book Bird by Bird had this to say about likability in the context of creating likable fictional characters:

Now, a person’s faults are largely what make him or her likable. I like for [characters] to be like the people I choose for friends, which is to say that they have a lot of the same flaws as I. Preoccupation with self is good, as is a tendency toward procrastination, self-delusion, darkness, jealousy, groveling, greediness, addictiveness. They shouldn’t be too perfect; perfect means shallow and unreal and fatally uninteresting. I like for them to have a nice sick sense of humor and to be concerned with important things, by which I mean that they are interested in political and psychological and spiritual matters. I want them to want to know who we are and what life is all about. I like them to be mentally ill in the same sorts of ways that I am; for instance, I have a friend who said one day, “I could resent the ocean if I tried,” and I realized that I love that in a guy.

Showing vulnerability and admitting our flaws and mistakes can increase our likability. According to psychologist Jim Taylor, “emotional openness” creates a sense of connection between people. Being open emotionally means being vulnerable and real. Similarly, author and business consultant Patrick Lencioni notes that vulnerability is one of the key aspects of creating trust among teams. Leaders and team members who lack vulnerability are less approachable and less trustworthy.

A Common Theme

There are many more science-backed keys to being more likable than the five listed above. In researching this topic I was struck by a common theme: being more likable is more about the other person and less about you. It’s counterintuitive but makes sense if you think about it. It’s not about you – it’s about them and how you make them feel.

Here’s a great skill from DBT that focuses on other people and can increase your likability: The GIVE Skill.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you, John; useful as always. I too am bad at #4, but I hadn’t realized it had an impact on my likability. Duh…

    One I’d like to add, that was a surprise to me when I read about it, is accept favors. When someone says, I’ll look after your dog, or pick that up at the store, or whatever, say Yes! When someone does you a favor, they apparently rationalize it by presuming you must be a good person, else they wouldn’t have done it. So think hard before you decline. You can of course always return a favor some time in the future.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Subscribe To The IFOD

Get the Interesting Fact of the Day delivered twice a week. Plus, sign up today and get Chapter 2 of John's book The Uncertainty Solution to not only Think Better, but Live Better. Don't miss a single post!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This
%d bloggers like this: