Being likable isn’t rocket science but it’s also not something you just happen to stumble into on accident.
We have an inner trigger that makes us want to be liked, but there is a big gap between wanting to be liked and actually being liked by everyone around us.
Why is being likable such a big deal, both for you personally and professionally? According to Science of People and John Kinnell, it’s because:
“Likability is the greatest predictor of popularity and social acceptance in a group for adults, more important than wealth, status or physical attractiveness.”
For some people, being likable seems to come naturally. Geniality and happiness just seem to ooze out of them like soap suds coming out of a wet sponge. But here’s the tough news: those people aren’t the majority.
In fact, I’m willing to bet that’s not really how you and I operate in our day-to-day worlds. Sure, it would be nice to just automatically be likable, but more than likely, you and I are going to need to work at it. But here’s where we take a turn shift towards more positive news: being likable isn’t impossible. Anyone, and I do mean anyone, can increase their potential for likeability.
Becoming more likable starts with releasing what you can’t control and focusing on what you can. It’s like building a bridge, you have to start on your side and build out before you can read the other side.
A recent article from Business Insider clarified this by pointing to how “Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of “The 11 Laws of Likability” and “Nail the Interview,” puts it, “You can’t make anybody like you, but you can enable people to see what is likable about you.” When working to become more likable, so many of us focus on the wrong side of the bridge, trying to control how others feel about us without ever intentionally focusing on our side of the equation: what can we do that enables others to see what is likable about us?
“You can’t make anybody like you, but you can enable people to see what is likable about you.”
Stephen Bronner of Entrepreneur had some great and simple tips to get us started on our side of the bridge. You can do a variety of things that can help enable others to see what is likable about you.
For instance, he recommends that you can: smile more, watch your body language, be engaged in others, and be engaging for others. Other examples are that you can show up (especially when you say you’re going to), you can cultivate a lifestyle of generosity, and you can make sure to validate and not just automatically pass over or shoot down other’s opinions.
Whenever we talk about increasing or enabling our ability to be likable, we tend to focus on what we can do, what actions we can take, or what tips we can try out.
While there’s a lot of wisdom in that, it’s also helpful to occasionally flip that narrative and spend a bit of time focusing on what likable people don’t spend their time doing.
You can learn just as much thinking about what to avoid as you can working out what to embrace. With that being said, here are 4 things that very likable people don’t do on the regular.
#1 — They avoid living in the past.
Popular basketball coach John Wooden operated for many years by a simple maxim: make today your masterpiece. He let those words drive much of how he viewed life, his players, and the job he had been given to accomplish for the University of California Los Angeles or UCLA. As John Wooden grew up, he came to value the importance of “today” or the moment at hand and he worked hard to impart this wisdom on his players.
For Wooden, making today a masterpiece all hinged on one very important factor: letting the past be the past. He is quoted as having often told his players, “Don’t live in the past; you can’t do anything about the past. It will never change whether it’s yesterday or last year. The future is yet to be determined and can be influenced by what you do today. Today is the only day that really matters.” Thoughts like these helped Wooden not only to win 10 national championships in 12 years, but they also helped greatly increase his likeability.
Whenever you bring up the past, people will always counter with “but aren’t we supposed to learn from our past?” To which I answer, of course, we are. But there is a big difference between learning from your past and living in it. Learning from your past can help you course-correct and avoid repeatable errors while living in your past tends to cause you to miss out on the beauty and joy of what today has to offer. Gleaning wisdom and humility from past mistakes is attractive. Being mired in former agony isn’t.
Becoming more likable starts by making a conscious decision to not live in the past. It’s far too easy to fall into what has been described as “a web of reflection and brooding, where only your past mistakes seem to matter.” Yet, if you want to enable others to see what is likable about you, choose to see the hope and joy that today has to offer. You’ll be amazed at the chain reaction your presence in the moment can bring. Once you start seeing the value of today, you’ll be more poised to help others see their value and their opportunity too. Helping others find joy is a great start to becoming more likable.
#2 — They avoid casting blame.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a likable person who spends a good amount of time either blaming others or complaining about their circumstances. We tend to love people who take responsibility for their actions (or lack of action) and complaining is often the companion of misery, which although it begets company, it’s good for attraction and likability.
The hard part about both blaming and complaining is that they are, in some ways, universal. Everybody has the propensity for both habits, making their traits terribly difficult to eradicate completely. However, even if we can’t eradicate blaming and complaining completely, they are still fixable, at least in the short term. If you want to become more likable, you’ll have to eventually address these two torpedoes before they sink your friendships and opportunities.
If you’re caught up consistently casting blame on others, Psychology Today writer Nancy Colier, LCSW explains that you likely need to spend some time figuring out why you’re projecting your feelings onto other people. What insecurity is triggering the need to put your negative feelings on others? Likewise, griping and groaning about the circumstances around you is another form of projecting insecurity rather than doing the hard emotional work of evaluating and then editing your own thoughts.
The most likable people are those who have discovered what it means to be content in all circumstances and who have mastered the art of not passing judgment. Said another way, they are open-minded to both people and situations. Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 says, “If you want to be likable you must be open-minded. Being open-minded makes you approachable and interesting to others.”
#3 — They avoid making everything a competition.
Competition, if done correctly, can be a great skill to have. It can push you to accomplish more, to find new answers to old problems, and to overcome previously daunting difficulties. If working on a team, shared competition can help bind together people from all different walks of life under one common banner of victory or success.
But more often than not, we see the negative side-effects of a competitive spirit. We see the willingness to win-at-all-costs, which often leads to cutting corners, manipulation, and unhealthy practices. We see the anger, the frustration, the lack of listening, or even a lack of willingness to admit the problem at hand. Competition often is rooted in the desire to be impressive. It’s easy to get caught up with the opinions and thoughts of others, and when that perception drives desire, competition isn’t far behind.
Likable people don’t make you believe that everything in life is about winning or losing. They don’t aim to make you feel bad and they wouldn’t step over you to get where they want to go. They’re not obsessed with always try to impress and they don’t interrupt to make sure that their side of the story gets told or that their idea gets picked.
They are even-keeled and passionate, hard-working, and easy-going. They know that life matters and that work is important, but it’s not life and death. It’s not a game with a race to an ultimate victory.
#4 — They avoid giving in to fear.
Fear is the greatest paralytic known to mankind. Fear stops people from pursuing their dreams, starting new relationships, and being genuinely happy. But if you ever look closely at the people that you really like, you’ll notice that they aren’t ruled by fear. In fact, they often seem to live outside of fear.
That doesn’t mean that the most likable people are stupid or reckless. It mostly points to the fact that they have unlocked the secret of the good life: They don’t try to control every little detail. Fear is always lurking in the shadows of our minds, waiting to slip in through any crack in our emotions and regain control of our lives.
Likable people don’t let fear take over. Daniel Wallen, for LifeHack, writes: “[Likeable people] know that the things they are afraid of doing are often the very same things that they need to do in order to evolve into the person they are meant to be.”
Most people enable their likeability with a few close people. We’re more apt to sacrifice for and listen to our close friends. But only practicing likeability with a few people doesn’t make you intentional. It makes you isolated.
Becoming more likable is a trait that you can practice. Start by thinking of the people that you like and enjoy spending time around. Then set out to make make a list of why you like being with that person or those people. See if you can come up with 7 traits or reasons you like that person. Then, go back through your list and score yourself on each of those traits. Be honest. You’ll only know where to start if you are vulnerable during this step.
Don’t confuse this exercise with the tension of needing to be all things to all people. No one can be a Superman or Wonder Woman. We’re all human. We’re not aiming for perfection, we’re just looking to make progress and grow in our ability to be more likable.