Sure, everyone knows blunt, impolite, and even rude people who are somehow extremely successful. (I know a number of them.)
But since we’re all more likely to do business and build professional and personal relationships with people we like, we’re naturally drawn to people who are polite, modest, agreeable, kind.
In short, people who are genuinely likable.
I know a number of them too, and here’s how they do it:
1. They show vulnerability.
Two Masters of the Business Universe meet for the first time. Instantly, they play an unstated but nonetheless obvious game of “Who’s More Successful?” They work hard to one-up the other. (After all, life is about winning, right?)
Likable people don’t try to win any unstated competitions with people they meet. In fact, they actively try to lose. They’re complimentary. They’re impressed. They’re even willing to admit a weakness or a failure.
You can too. It’s really easy. Say you meet Admiral Trump and he says, “I just closed a fabulous deal to build the world’s best golf course on the most amazing oceanfront property on the planet.” Don’t try to win. Instead say, “That’s awesome. I’ve wanted to open a gym for years, but can’t line up the financing. How did you pull off such a huge deal?”
Likable people are confident enough to not worry about showing a little vulnerability. They know that while some people may be — at least temporarily — impressed by the artificial, everyone instinctively appreciates the genuine.
2. They look for agreement.
We’re trained to discuss, to challenge, and to advocate for the devil because exchanging opinions, especially different opinions, is how we separate the wheat from the idea chaff. Automatic agreement doesn’t help.
Unfortunately, going contrary is an easy habit to fall into. It’s easy to automatically look for points of disagreement rather than agreement. It’s easy to automatically take a different side.
And it’s easy to end up in what feels like an argument.
Likable people don’t actively (or unknowingly) look to disagree; they look for points of agreement. Then, if it’s appropriate, they gently share a different point of view — and in that way, they help foster an outstanding conversation.
3. They (selectively) use the power of touch.
Nonsexual touch can be incredibly powerful. (I’m aware that sexual touch can be powerful too, thanks.) Touch can influence behavior, increase the chances of compliance, make the person doing the touching seem more attractive and friendly, and can even help you make a sale.
For example, in one experiment the participants tried to convey 12 different emotions by touching another blindfolded participant on the forearm. The rate of accuracy for perceiving emotions like fear, anger, gratitude, sympathy, love, and disgust ranged from 43% to 83% — without a word being spoken.
Say you’re congratulating someone; shaking hands or (possibly better yet, depending on the situation) gently patting that person on the shoulder or forearm can help reinforce the sincerity of your words.
4. They happily laugh at themselves.
Likable people willingly admit their mistakes. They don’t mind serving as a cautionary tale. They don’t mind being a source of laughter, for others and for themselves.
And they’re also not afraid to look a little silly. They don’t mind being in situations where they aren’t at their best.
(And oddly enough, people tend to respect them more for that — not less.)
When you genuinely own your screw-ups, people won’t laugh at you. They’ll laugh with you. And they realize it’s OK to let down their own guards — and meet you at a genuine level.
5. They’re masters of the ancient art of social jiu-jitsu.
Some people have a knack for getting you to talk openly yourself. They ask open-ended questions. They sincerely want to know what you think, and that makes you open up to a surprising degree. You feel like the most interesting man (or woman) in the world.
And you like them for making you feel that way.
As soon as you learn something about someone, ask why they do it. Or how. Or what they like about it, or what they’ve learned from it. Likable people ask sincere questions that make it easy to answer in a thoughtful, introspective way. They make you think, in a good way, about yourself … and in the process make you feel likable, too.
6. They pass the server test.
Some people put on a great show in certain situations, but they don’t try nearly as hard when they think a person is “beneath” them.
I like to call it the waiter test: If you really want to know how an individual treats people, take him to lunch. How he interacts with the waiter is a much better indication of his interpersonal skills than how he interacts with you.
Likable people treat everyone the same way: as deserving of respect and kindness.
7. They seem genuinely glad to meet you.
When you feel someone “gets” you, respecting your opinion, your point of view, your experience — whatever you’re communicating — then you naturally feel more important. The other person doesn’t have to agree with you; they just have to show they respect you.
How do likable people do that?
They maintain eye contact. They smile when you smile. They frown when you frown. They nod their head when you nod. In simple, nonverbal ways, they mimic your behavior — not slavishly, but because they’re focused on and in tune with what you’re saying.
That feedback loop helps two people bond — and the ability to bond is the essence of likability.
8. They’re great with names.
If there’s one thing almost as bad as that sinking feeling you get when you forget someone’s name, it’s realizing that another person has forgotten your name.
Likable people remember names and even small details, often to a surprising degree. The fact they remember instantly makes us feel a little prouder and a little better about ourselves. And that makes us feel better about them.
But even though likable people remember names …
9. They never name drop.
I have a friend who somehow manages to squeeze the fact he once met Jeff Gordon into every conversation. “I’m planning to stain my deck this weekend,” I might say.
“You know, I was sitting on my deck last weekend listening to the race,” he’ll say. “Jeff Gordon was leading for a while then had engine trouble. Knowing Jeff Gordon — and I do, I met him at Bristol last year — I bet he was really disappointed.”
Likable people may know cool people, but they don’t talk about it. And that only adds to their likability.
10. They always say less.
Likable people already know what they know. They want to know what you know.
That makes you feel more likable. That makes you feel important. As well you should — because you are.
And likable people know it.