The Matter of Likeability

  • 6 mins read

Navigating the lightning-pace of the 21st Century is not always an easy task, even with technological advances. Those who excel are skilled in decision making, forming emotional bonds, and influencing others. It often comes down to a matter of likeability.

Peruse any book store and you can find a plethora of titles encouraging us to care less about what others think; to not give a !@#$. This recent trend reveals our vulnerability to conforming, people pleasing, and lacking healthy boundaries. But the truth is, likeable people cultivate skills that support, encourage, and unite others, often toward common goals.

New research published in The Economic Journal finds that likeability is an influencing factor in interactions between women, as well as interactions between men and women, but not in all-male interactions. The researchers conducted experiments where participants rated the likeability of other participants, based on photographs.

Likeability is more than a display of niceness, agreement, or even our looks. And, likeability can be learned, practiced, and improved. It requires great self-awareness, self-care, and people-skills.

What is Likeability?

Likeability is the combination of who, how and why: who we are (our personality and physical traits), how we interact with others (our social skills), and why—our motivations.

  • Traits: a characteristic
    • Personality/Character traits
      • Sense of humor
      • Open-minded
    • Physical Traits
      • Facial features
  • Skills
  • Attitudes
    • Positivity
    • Beliefs
    • Values
  • Behaviors

Your credibility is a critical factor in your likeability. According to marketing expert Rohit Bhargava, author of Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior, and Inspiring Action (Wiley, 2012), “People decide who to trust, what advice to heed, and which individuals to forge personal or transactional relationships with based on a simple metric of believability.”

Likeability is the congruence of values, attitudes and behaviors; it is proportional to your authenticity to self.

How Likeable Are You?

We like people who we find interesting, familiar, trustworthy, positive, non-judgmental, and authentic, who are interested in us and with whom we have similarities. To be sure, how we perceive others is our reality, and vice-versa: how others perceive us is their reality. Nonetheless, likeability does matter.

Subconsciously, we measure likeability by:

  • Friendliness
  • Interesting/Interested
  • Familiarity
  • Similarity (experiences, values, beliefs, physical attributes)
  • Positivity
  • Open-minded/non-judgmental
  • Authenticity/vulnerability

But what about those differences in values?

In 2017, the Pew Research Center published an article on the traits or characteristics of men and women valued most by (American) society. Surveyed respondents indicated honesty/morality as number one for men (33%), and physical attractiveness for women (35%). Also included in the list were:

Two questions arise from this survey:

  1. Is there a difference between what the individual values, and what they perceive is valued by society?
  2. Considering the aforementioned research published in The Economic Journal, how do we gauge honesty/morality based on a photograph, or physical attributes?

To be sure, our values, and differences in values, influence likeability. Scientific research has yet to identify exactly how much. We do know that likeability is the combination of characteristics including, (but not limited to) interest, empathy, and genuineness. Ultimately, likeability is defined and determined by the criteria of others.

"People will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel." ~ Maya Angelou

How to Improve Your Likeability at Work

The best co-workers are those who are trustworthy, empathic, and connect with us. They demonstrate social sensitivity: they pick up on cues, maintain healthy boundaries, and connect on a deep level. They are competent, genuine, and likeable people.

Similarly, likeable leaders impress us with special qualities, many of which involve good looks, charm, communication skills, and a leadership “aura.”  But as Michelle Tillis Lederman wrote in The 11 Laws of Likeability(AMACOM, 2011), “The worst thing anyone can do when trying to establish a personal bond with someone is to come across as manipulative or self-serving.”

We seek to be led by those who look like us (or what we think we should ideally look like), with similar values and a shared vision. This psychological drive is called homophily. We also hope our leaders will have some positive differences from us; heterophyly. We want our leaders to be smarter, as well as more competent, visionary, and articulate, than we are. We believe this individual is like us at some basic level, but also capable of directing us to a place we couldn’t reach on our own.

Questions to Explore

To improve your likeability at work, ask yourself these questions, and then ask yourself “why”?

  • What stories do you tell yourself, about you, your family, your work? How we perceive others is our reality, and vice-versa: how others perceive us is their reality. If we remember that our perceptions are the map and not the territory, then we realize we can be flexible in changing our beliefs and considering alternatives.
  • What stories do you tell yourself about your strengths and weaknesses? When we see ourselves mastering skills and achieving goals that matter, we gain a sense of self-efficacy. This is the confidence that, if we learn and work hard in a particular area, we’ll succeed; and it’s this type of confidence that leads people to accept difficult challenges, and persist in the face of setbacks. This overlaps with self-esteem: a sense that we can cope with what’s going on in our lives, and that we have a right to be happy.
  • What are your values and beliefs? Do you consistently walk your talk? When a situation impinges on our deepest values, we often leap to a place of righteousness and passion. Preparation is key: know your boundaries, your strategies, and tactics, before you react.
  • What motivates you? While we may seek to satisfy our interests differently from others (theoretical, utilitarian, aesthetic, social, individualistic, and traditional or religious), everyone has four basic drives: to acquire, bond, learn, and defend. Recognize the drives behind your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.
  • What is your purpose? Do your values, beliefs, and motivations align with your purpose?

Work through these questions periodically to improve your self-awareness. A qualified executive coach can help you identify bias and blind spots. Learnability, adaptability and ongoing choices and actions (or lack thereof) have a considerable impact on your likeability. Improvement requires you to recognize your attitudes and behaviors, shift your mindset, and develop new behaviors.

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