Too many people succumb to the mistaken belief that being likeable comes from natural, unteachable traits that belong only to a lucky few—the good looking, the fiercely social, and the incredibly talented. It’s easy to fall prey to this misconception. In reality, being likeable is under your control, and it’s a matter of emotional intelligence. In a study conducted at UCLA, subjects rated more than 500 adjectives based on their perceived significance for likeability. The top-rated adjectives had nothing to do with being gregarious, intelligent, or attractive (innate characteristics). Instead, the top adjectives were sincere, transparent, and capacity for understanding (another person).
These qualities are not innate characteristics. They are critical components of emotional intelligence. Likeable people are invaluable and unique. They bring out the best in everyone around them, and generally seem to have the most fun. Being likeable doesn’t just feel good. It can also have a dramatic impact on your ability to achieve your goals in life. A University of Massachusetts study found that managers were willing to accept an auditor’s argument with no supporting evidence if he or she was likeable, and Jack Zenger’s research showed that just 1 in 2000 unlikeable leaders are considered effective.
When I speak to smaller audiences, I often ask them to describe the most likeable people they have ever worked with. Just like in the UCLA study, people inevitably ignore innate characteristics (intelligent, extrovert, attractive, and so on) and focus on qualities that are completely under people’s control, such as approachable, humble, and positive. So, I did some digging to uncover the key habits that set ultra-likeable people apart. Add these habits to your repertoire and watch your likeability and your emotional intelligence soar.
1. Ask a lot of questions
Likeable people ask lots of questions. The biggest mistake most people make when it comes to listening is that they’re so focused on what they’re going to say next or how what the other person is saying is going to affect them that they fail to hear what’s being said. The words come through loud and clear, but the meaning is lost. A simple way to avoid this is to ask a lot of questions. People like to know you’re listening, and something as simple as a clarification question shows that you are not only listening but also care about what they’re saying. You’ll be surprised how much respect and appreciation you gain just by asking questions.
2. Put away your phone
Nothing turns someone off to you like a mid-conversation text message or even a quick glance at your phone. When you commit to a conversation, focus all your energy on the conversation and nothing else. You’ll find that conversations are more enjoyable and effective when you immerse yourself completely in them. While you’re having more fun, the people you’re interacting with will like you all the more, and that’s a winning proposition.
3. Greet people by name
Your name is an essential part of your identity, and it feels terrific when people use it. Likeable people make certain they use others’ names every time they see them. However, you shouldn’t use someone’s name only when you greet them. Research shows that people feel validated when the person they’re speaking with refers to them by name during a conversation. If you’re great with faces but struggle with names, have some fun with it, and make a game out of remembering people’s names. Most people who struggle with names tend to forget the name of the person they’re introduced to right after they hear it. When this happens, don’t hesitate to ask their name a second time. People won’t be offended because they appreciate you making the effort to learn their names.
People naturally (and unconsciously) mirror the body language of the person they’re talking to. If you want people to like you, smile at them during the conversation, and they will unconsciously return the favor and feel good about you as a result. Smiling doesn’t just make you look happy; it makes you feel happier, too. Multiple studies have shown that smiling (even when the subjects are instructed to do so) stimulates the release of mood-enhancing endorphins and serotonin. Smiling also lowers your blood pressure and can even boost your immune system.
5. Don’t seek attention
People dislike those who are desperate for attention. You don’t need to develop a big, extroverted personality to be likeable. Simply being friendly and considerate is all you need to win people over. When you speak in a friendly, confident, and concise manner, you’ll notice that people are much more attentive and persuadable than if you try to show them that you’re important. People catch on to your attitude quickly and are more attracted to the right attitude than what—or how many people—you know. When you’re being given attention, such as when you’re being recognized for an accomplishment, shift the focus to all the people who worked hard to help you get there. This may sound clichéd, but if it’s genuine, the fact that you pay attention to others and appreciate their help shows that you’re appreciative and humble—two adjectives that are closely tied to likeability.
6. Know who to touch and when to touch them
When you touch someone during a conversation, you release oxytocin in their brain, a neurotransmitter that makes their brain associate you with trust and a slew of other positive feelings. A simple touch on the shoulder, a hug, or a friendly handshake is all it takes to release oxytocin. Of course, you have to touch the right person in the right way to release oxytocin, as unwanted or inappropriate touching has the opposite effect. Just remember, relationships are built not just from words but also from general feelings about each other. Touching someone appropriately is a great way to show you care.
7. Follow the platinum rule
We all know the golden rule, and it’s pretty easy to follow. The platinum rule is harder to follow because it requires us to treat people the way they want to be treated. Not only does doing so make the other person more comfortable (and therefore more likely to open up and connect with you), but it also proves that you’ve been listening and have really heard what they’ve been telling you. That shows valuable extra effort on your part. The trick is that when you’re engaged in conversation, you have to focus more on the other person than you do on yourself. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to understand what makes them tick and, therefore, how they want to be treated.
8. Balance passion and fun
People gravitate toward those who are passionate because their zest for life is appealing. That said, it’s easy for passionate people to come across as too serious or uninterested because they tend to get absorbed in their passions. Likeable people balance their passion with an ability to have fun. They are serious but friendly. They minimize small talk and gossip and focus on having meaningful interactions with others. They remember what you said to them yesterday or last week, which shows you’re just as important to them as anything else they are passionate about.
By consciously avoiding these unlikable habits, you can pave the way for stronger relationships, enhanced trust, and greater likability. Embrace self-awareness, monitor your behaviors, and make intentional choices that foster positive connections. Remember, the path to likability lies not only in what you do but also in what you choose not to do.
These strategies were adapted from the new book, “Emotional Intelligence Habits” by Dr. Travis Bradberry. To order, click here. For more strategies that can help you improve engagement at your organization, check out our training programs or contact us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Travis Bradberry, Ph.D.
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and the co-founder of TalentSmartEQ® the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence assessments and training serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries.
Dr. Bradberry is a LinkedIn Influencer and a regular contributor to Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, The World Economic Forum, and The Huffington Post. He has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Fast Company, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.