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5 Keys to Make Yourself Super-Likable

communication likable relationships
man hugging a woman and they both are smiling


“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy, both.  I want people to be afraid of how much they love me."

Michael Scott on The Office

By John Millen

Charm. Likability. Charisma.

Whatever you want to call it, having people like you can change your world. There’s universal agreement, backed by science, that being more likable will make you more successful in business and in life.

So today I’m breaking down the five best ways for you to become more successful by improving your likability.

Sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer says “All things being equal, people prefer to do business with people they like.  All things being not so equal, people still prefer to do business with people they like.”

You’ve seen that yourself. That person who just seems to go out of their way to annoy you, to criticize everything, to talk about themselves all the time. It’s frustrating.

That’s why people naturally gravitate toward likable people. We want to work with them. We want to have relationships with them. We want to be around them.

And that brings up a question I get all the time from clients and friends: are people just born likable, or is it possible to become more likable? Can you take actions to make yourself more likable?

The answer is “yes” and “yes.” Some people have a natural, innate likability, but it’s also possible to behave in ways that will make you more likable to others.Yes, you can become charming, you can develop charisma.

In Dale Carnegie’s classic book How to Win Friends & Influence People, he devotes a whole section to “How to Make People Like You.” 

So here are five practical tips, mixing advice from me and Dale Carnegie, to make yourself super-likable:

1. Develop your likability

Likability is not something that just happens. It’s a trait that can be learned and developed.  It’s about improving your dynamics with other people and how you relate to them.  

You don’t have to be handsome, beautiful or incredibly smart to be likable. Those are potentially strong characteristics, but we all know “beautiful” people who are arrogant, mean or worse.

The most important character traits focus on how we interact with other people.

In one scientific study, researchers at UCLA asked people to rate over 500 adjectives related to likability. The highest-rated adjectives weren’t innate characteristics such as outgoing, intelligent, or attractive. Instead, the top adjectives were sincerity, transparency, and capacity for empathy, all traits that can be learned and developed.

But you have to adopt a mindset to change your behavior and how you relate to other people at work and at home.



2. Show sincere interest in other people

It’s human nature for us to want to talk about ourselves. Some people think that the secret to winning friends is to make themselves interesting to others. But that’s not Carnegie’s path to making friends.

He says we need to show more interest in others. Carnegie writes, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”  

There are small, but powerful ways to show people you are genuinely interested in them and care.  It could be as simple as remembering and repeating someone’s name; finding and exploring a true connection by asking about their family, hobbies or special interests.

People are always happy to talk about themselves.  Of course, you must be sincere in the attention you are paying to a person.  People will sniff out and hate fake interest every time.

My first job out of college decades ago was in marketing with Procter & Gamble, which was notorious for having the most interviews of any company.

Through twelve long interviews, I survived and prospered by asking the interviewer personal interest questions and building connections and rapport.  I’m fascinated by people’s stories and the interviewers ended up talking at least half of the time, which took pressure off of me, and started our relationships.

3. Show appreciation

Carnegie’s central idea is that we can influence others with the simple act of showing respect and appreciation. It’s a universal longing for humans. We all want to feel appreciated, encouraged, heard, and understood.

Carnegie credits appreciation as “one of the most neglected virtues of our daily existence.” Since we tend to focus on ourselves, we often forget to encourage and compliment our coworkers, children, spouses, or others we might meet on our daily journeys. 

He tells the story of a boy named Stevie Morris who lived in Detroit. One day, a teacher asked him to help her find a mouse that had been lost in the classroom. The teacher appreciated Stevie’s strong sense of hearing because the boy was blind.

It was the first time in this young man’s life that someone had shown appreciation for a talent he had. He now says “this act of appreciation was the beginning of a new life.” The boy had kept developing his keen sense of hearing and went on to become one of the world’s most famous and accomplished musicians –– Stevie Wonder.

Carnegie urges us not to use false flattery, but to observe the talents and attributes of others and bring them to the light with an honest compliment.

As a constant traveler, I can’t tell you how many upgrades in flights, hotels, and other services I’ve had by simply observing and giving honest compliments to people who suffer negative feedback all day long. 

4. Learn to pay attention

With our attention today so sapped by our phones, social apps and information overload, I believe that giving people real, undivided attention is the ultimate gift.  

Some research has found that what we think of as charisma is really just hyper-focused attention. Check this out for yourself. Next time you are in person with someone who seems to have charisma, you’ll probably notice that they are completely focused on you. 

These kinds of people are not looking over your shoulder at someone else, they make you feel like you are the only person in the world at that moment.

And how can you not like someone who gives you their undivided attention?

5. Be a great listener

While you’re giving someone your attention, don’t just sit there. Listen, really listen. 

People want to feel like they’re actually being heard and understood by someone else.  It is rare to find a person who will devote themselves to being completely present and in the moment.

Carnegie quotes former Harvard president Charles W. Eliot, as saying, “There is no mystery about successful business.…Exclusive attention to the person who is speaking to you is very important.  Nothing else is so flattering as that.”  

Whether it is listening with great attention to a client or your partner, good listening goes a long way in improving your likability.  

Now, I know there are leaders who say they don’t want to be liked. They see it as a sign of weakness.  They want to be respected or even feared.

It turns out you can be respected and liked. In fact, in terms of motivating people, being likable and approachable produces better, more long-lasting results than being feared.

Being likable doesn’t mean that you’re a doormat, it means that you fully engage, listen and show your sincere interest in people.

And if you want to learn to become a better listener, check out this post on learning to listen like Oprah

As I teach my clients, I urge you to think about one skill or behavior you can develop to become more likable. Try putting this one behavior into practice over the next 30 days and watch the results.

Who knows, maybe you can be even more likable.


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John Millen

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