A Most Likeable New Year’s Resolution

Several top candidates compete for a promotion, each with their plusses and minuses. Why does the opportunity go to the person who seems more likeable and not to the most competent?

We just completed the last round of interviews of three finalist candidates we’ve been considering for a key promotion.  It’s now time to come to a decision to select the right person for the job.

“So, we’ve spoken in depth to all three candidates for the position and each has had an opportunity to present a plan for their first 90 days,” I ask. “Who is the right person for this promotion?”

Ashleigh thinks for a moment, then looks at us and slowly says, “All three can do the job…I think that’s clear.  All three have great track records here, and all three know what the job is.  There is no bad choice.  It’s just that Sam seems to be, you know, the person who is most likeable.  I can see Sam relating better to the people with whom this position has to interface, so Sam’s my 1A.”  

The rest of us nod affirmatively as Ashleigh speaks.  I take a deep breath, look around the table at each person nodding in agreement with Ashleigh, and say, “looks like each of us feel Sam’s the best choice…”

Conversations like this happen everywhere, every day, and in every different kind of industry and job level.  The person seen as most likeable gets hired or promoted. 

Why do likeable people succeed more easily?

Regardless of role or technology, it’s a people-centric world in which trust and likeability are key. Today’s world is built on relationships.  Technology has transformed the relationship patterns of the local community into a global neighborhood enabling connectivity with others anytime, anywhere, at the push of a button.  Customers and vendors have face-to-face conversations half a planet away in real time using screen sharing and streaming video. You and I routinely connect with people hundreds or thousands of miles away in a matter of seconds.   

Despite all the technology, relationships are people-centric and governed largely by two factors: likeability and trust.   We tend to gravitate towards people who are likeable as well as those who inspire trust.

Trustworthiness and Likeability

For most people there is no such thing as instant trust.  While experts like Stephen M. R. Covey (The Speed of Trust) point out that we should extend trust in order to receive trust, trust is something that tends to develop over time as we gain experience with a person.  In the example of promoting Sam all of us had experience with what Sam did in previous roles that led us to deem Sam trustworthy

On the other hand, likeability seems to be something that people size up more rapidly than trust.  While not instant, we can tell within a few minutes with a new person whether or not we like them.  Once our initial impression is formed we re-evaluate and begin adjusting that individual’s likeability upward or downward as a result of our experience with that person.  The persistence and power of our first impressions is the lens through which we modify the new person’s likeability factor.

Likeability and trustworthiness also tend to be mutually reinforcing qualities…we are indclied to lose trust in people we do not like.  Conversely, those who generate high trust improve their likeability.  The more likeable someone is the more we tend to give them additional time to build the foundation for a long-term relationship.  

Likeability is crucial for people needing to make a positive first impression, and to get trust-building off to a good start.  Think of all the customer-contact, market-facing, and people-facing roles where likeability affects whether or not someone will be effective in their role


Cultivating Likeability

How can someone enhance their likeability, especially when meeting people for the first time?  Here are ten ideas you can put to work today to become more likeable.

  • Understand what your face is telling others (it helps to get others to tell you what it says):
    • Your Smile: Do you have a warm, encouraging, and natural smile? Authentic smiles come from the eyes and hearts, not just the mouth.
    • Your Expression: Does your natural expression invite conversation or does it send a stay away message?
    • Your Eyes: Do your eyes express warmth, concern and interest? Do you maintain a pleasant level of eye contact with others?
  • Your non-facial body language sends a strong message, too. Open and relaxed body language is inviting; closed body language tells people to stay away, that you are not open to them.  When you are simply comfortable being yourself and not posed, you’re authentic…and that’s likeable.
  • Being others-focused, not self-focused, wins the day. When you meet new people, are you focused on them, their interests, and what’s important to them, or are you thinking about how to get to what is of interest or importance to you?  Tipping the balance of focus in the direction of the other person increases your likeability.
  • Be curious: ask more, talk less, listen hard. Curious people are more likeable than the uncurious. Why? Because curious people really want to know, and their interest is sincere.  They place themselves in the role of learner and let the other person lead the discussion.  Curious people tend to get excited when learning new things, and when directed at the person leading the discussion, the curious person’s likeability rises.
  • Find common interests. We like people who share the same interests as we do.  Common interests bring down barriers and transform the awkwardness of speaking to a stranger into a lively conversation to which each person can contribute. 
  • Mirror them. Studies show that likeability increases in people who naturally mirror our own expressions and gestures.  They smile so you smile.  They tilt their head so in a moment or two you stilt your head in response.  They lean in slightly and you follow.  Mirroring creates a sense of intimacy and warmth.
  • Use their names. Dale Carnegie taught us almost a century ago that one of the sweetest sounds on earth is someone hearing their own name spoken in a positive, caring way.  Learn their name, pronounce it correctly, and sprinkle it into the conversation naturally.  A positive brain response occurs each time someone hears their own name.   Note: overusing someone’s name can sound insincere.
  • Be positive. Positives are attractional while negatives repel. Most people want to escape the encounter with a chronic complainer since it is depressing.  On the other hand, someone who always has something positive to say is so much more likeable.

Bottom Line

Likeability is an important quality to develop and master.  Likeable people progress faster and farther in their careers, relationships, and in life in general, compared to people who are not likeable.  How much farther ahead will you be this time next year if you invest yourself in developing your own likeability?

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

  • Improving your (or your team’s) management and leadership skills: Leading Through People™. This acclaimed program equips participants in thousands of current and emerging best practices of leadership, hiring, and talent development.
  • Raising your (or your team’s) selling and sales management effectiveness: B2B Sales Essentials™ (among the 30-plus courses we offer are ones on selling with emotional intelligence and storyselling!)
  • Conducting a more effective job search: Get a Better Job Faster™

About me: For the past 25 years I’ve worked with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. Over the last decade our B2B Sales Essentials™ program has won numerous awards.  I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s highly regarded career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search.  To find out more, please visit us at www.boyermanagement.com, email us at info@boyermanagement.com, or call us at 215-942-0982. 


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