In the past week, I’ve had two people tell me that I have a rare quality: likeability. One of these people proclaimed it loudly to others, delighting me, of course.
Some people are instantly likeable. They have an easy manner, a ready smile and their energy is attractive to others. It’s been shown that people who have this characteristic go far in life, from politicians to employees.
The good news is it’s something you can learn.
You see, likeability isn’t something that came naturally to me. It’s a skill-set I’ve been working on for quite awhile. I began life painfully shy and introverted. I also have a face that, when resting, looks like I’m contemplating the darkest problems of the world. The Joker would definitely ask me “Why so serious?”
Being a former prosecutor hasn’t helped. My tone of voice can become so intense it occasionally sounds like I’m trying to convict the person I’m speaking with of some heinous crime.
Here are a few ideas on how to improve likeability:
1. Connect with Others
When you see someone, friend or stranger, smile at them. Ask them how their day is going, then don’t settle for the standard answer of “Good or Fine.” Ask some follow up questions. A friend recently told me about a study where participants spent five hours on a plane solely asking questions about their seat-mate’s lives. Participants would always turn the conversation back to the person and never gave any information about themselves. After the trip, when asked what the seat-mate thought of the other person, they invariably said “They’re the most interesting person I ever met!” Even though they knew nothing about them.
Davy Rothbart, an author and filmmaker, told a story about how he and his dad would eat at a diner somewhere and, over the course of the meal, his dad would start asking their waiter about their life. Where are you from? What are your interests? What do you hope to one day become? His curiosity was so kind, genuine & gentle, it was never long before the server glanced around for the manager and sat down. By the time they left, his dad had a new friend. He wasn’t trying to promote anything or network. He just believed our lives are made richer when we can engage strangers and take time to connect meaningfully with people who cross our paths in everyday life. He always seemed to effortlessly, magically befriend people who crossed his path from waiters to a person in front of him in line at the grocery store to a ticket scalper outside a football game. Simply by asking questions about who they were and what made them tick. These encounters left both his dad and the people in brighter spirits.
2. Be Present
We all do it. Someone is talking to us and we’re thinking of what we’re going to say or other things. We stop looking into that person’s eyes and giving them our undivided attention, our minds elsewhere. We’re jonesing for our smartphone, which we haven’t touched for 2 seconds. There’s probably an email or text waiting for us. Or a move to make in Words with Friends.
Stop. Focus on the person in front of you and really, truly listen.
Recently I saw a former colleague and noticed he wasn’t quite his usual happy-go-lucky self. When he saw I genuinely cared to find out what was going on in his life, he disclosed that his niece had been in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She’d require 24 hour care the rest of her life. When I saw him again a few weeks later, I made sure to ask after his niece.
We all have problems. We’re all wrapped up in getting through our days and figuring out our lives. The thing we have to remember: so is everyone else. Take time to notice.