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The Secret to Likeability

By Pam Holloway


Strange as it might seem, likeability is not a gift – it’s a skill set.  Is it worth developing?  You decide.  Here’s what we know about likeable people:

  • They are more successful in business and in life. 
  • They get elected, promoted, and rewarded more often than those less likable. 
  • They close more sales and make more money. 
  • They get better service from all types of service providers, including Doctors and other health care providers – which means they probably live longer as well!

Still not sure?  Take a look at these studies.

A Columbia University study by Melinda Tamkins shows that success in the workplace is guaranteed not by what or whom you know but by your popularity. In her study, Tamkins found that, "popular workers were seen as trustworthy, motivated, serious, decisive and hardworking and were recommended for fast-track promotion and generous pay increases. Their less-liked colleagues were perceived as arrogant, conniving and manipulative. Pay rises and promotions were ruled out regardless of their academic background or professional qualifications."

The Gallup organization has conducted a personality factor poll prior to every presidential election since 1960. Only one of three factors - issues, party affiliation, and likeability, has been a consistent prognosticator of the final election result.  Of course, the factor is likeability.

Doctors give more time to patients they like and less to those they don't. According to a 1984 University of California study, there were significant differences in treatment, depending on the characteristics of the patient: The combination of likeable and competent was significant.  Patients perceived as likeable and competent would be encouraged significantly more often to telephone and to return more frequently for follow-up than would the patients who were either unlikable and competent or likeable and incompetent. The staff would educate the likeable patients significantly more often than they would the unlikable patients."

In a survey of twenty-five hospital doctors initiated by Roy Meadow, a pediatrician at St. James’s University Hospital in Leeds, England, researchers studied what happens when both likeable and unlikable parents bring in children. Considering what you’ve already learned about likeability, it’s not surprising that children with likeable parents received better health care and were more likely to receive follow-up appointments.

What makes you likeable?

We find a plethora of opinions as to the specific elements that contribute to likeability.  Tim Sanders in his book, The Likeability Factor notes these 4:

  1. Friendliness: your ability to communicate liking and openness to others
  2. Relevance: your capacity to connect with others' interests, wants, and needs
  3. Empathy: your ability to recognize, acknowledge, and experience other people's feelings
  4. Realness: the integrity that stands behind your likeability and guarantees its authenticity

Webster's defines likeable as ….having qualities that bring about a favorable regard: pleasant, agreeable. 

Synonyms include: agreeable, amiable, appealing, attractive, charming, engaging, enjoyable, friendly, genial, good-natured, nice, pleasing, sympathetic, winning, 

7 Components of Likeability

In our own research and experience, we see these seven elements:

Positive mental attitude
Likeable people exude a positive mental attitude. That does not mean they are silly or giddy.  They don’t ignore hardships or failures, but consciously reframe those difficulties and negative emotions to healthier positive ones.  Positive means that you can find a better direction out of a problem, rather than wallowing in the problem or negative emotion.


Non judgmental
The truly likable are non-judgmental. They recognize that everyone is trying to get by the best they know how, and they treat everyone with respect and understanding.

Passing critical judgment is a sign of inflexibility, a highly unlikable trait.  The opposite of that is what we call “openness.”  The truly likeable are open to new people, other ideas, and different ways of doing things.  They demonstrate openness in their behavior, the tone of their voice and in their language.

Likeable people are, “comfortable in their own skin.”  They don’t feel the need to talk over, correct, constantly make jokes or laugh nervously. They don’t brag, talk incessantly or hide behind details or humor.  

One of the most likeable characteristics is vulnerability.  People who can say, “I don’t know,” who are able to admit mistakes or show a sensitivity, are seen as more likeable.


Able to get outside the Self
Those whose primary focus is themselves rate low on the likeability scale.  Conversely, those who are secure in themselves and able to turn their focus outward rate much higher.  It’s part empathy – our ability to recognize, acknowledge and experience other people’s feelings, which is a key attribute of likeability. This is more than the ability to be empathetic.  It is the exercise of this ability.  It is about becoming relevant. We become relevant in the lives of others when we learn about their interests, wants and needs.

Like me

We like people who like us.  We also like people who are like us.  As humans we are constantly seeking points of similarity.  We look for and are attracted to people who are like us in terms of values, interests and experiences.  Studies suggest we are also attracted to people who physically look like us. 


We like people who are like us
Ever notice how we tend to naturally gravitate to people who are like us – those who share our experiences, interests and values.  Studies suggest we also gravitate to people who look like us.  It seems we are constantly seeking points of similarity.  Dr. Karen Stephenson describes it as “an ancient skill encoded in us by our forebears.”

“In the small talk of cocktail parties, humans are at random walk, desperately seeking points of similarity through visibility: height, girth, dress, gender, race, accent, hair and eye color, etc. Reading the audience and working a room are ancient skills encoded in us by our forebears who sat cheek by jowl around the campfire; an earlier and more primordial form of cocktail party. I confess to having attended countless cocktail parties and continue to be amazed how, after just a few drinks, I end up with people who are like me in some way – same experiences, same clothes same interests, etc. It's not the alcohol talking, but the ancient drive of seeking similarity: 'You look like me, you think like me, you dress like me ... you're one of us.' When people connect at this basic level, they are engaging in an embryonic form of trust with each other. What began as a room full of disconnected people may end up as a network of people connected in invisible lines of trust.

As a fun illustration – take a look at the two photos below.  I found Dr. Karen Stephenson’s articles on the web quite by accident. I connected with her work and her words immediately.  It wasn't’t until much later that I noticed the physical similarities.  That’s Dr. Karen on the right and me on the left.






More Exposure: Familiarity Breeds Likeability

Recent studies have shown that more exposure is sufficient to increase the likeability of a person (or an object).  In short, we are more attracted to and tend to like people who are familiar to us.  So, in a selling situation, if the prospect likes you a little when you meet the first time, he may like you even more the second time and so on.  With that in mind, your objective is to continue to increase the numbers of exposure to your prospects.

How Likable Are You?

How well would you say you demonstrate those likeability characteristics in your meetings with prospects?  The key word here is “demonstrate.”  You can “feel” as though you are being open, relevant or empathetic, but that doesn't’t necessarily mean that’s how you are being perceived by the prospects.  

On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is Extremely High,  how would you rate your demonstration of:

  • Positive Mental Attitude
  • Non-judgmental
  • Open
  • Secure
  • Vulnerable
  • Able to get outside of self
  • Like me

In Conclusion.  Likeability is not magic.  It’s not luck.  It’s not a gift inherited by only a few anointed people.  It is merely a skill set.  Luckily for you, it happens to fall into our area of expertise.  If you want to learn how you can become more likeable, just give us a call at:  (509) 465.5599.  Try us, you’ll like us. 

Stay Tuned for Part II.  Part II of the Likeability series provides specific tools and techniques you can use to raise your likeability.  Stay tuned!