I write a lot about how people have to be likeable to get what they want in life. I get so frustrated, though, because everyone thinks they are likeable. Maybe to their dog, yes, but in my experience most people are not nearly as likeable as they think they are.

I thought of this because I was reading a list of five tips to be likeable:

1. Be positive
2. Control your insecurities
3. Provide value
4. Eliminate all judgments
5. Become a person of conviction

And I thought, this is a great list. I should put it on my blog. Then I thought, forget it. People will read the list and think they have all these qualities and then move on. But don’t do that.

The problem is that the most unlikeable people are the most clueless so they are the least able to become more likeable. Harvard Business Review ran a whole issue on incompetence (via Ben Casnocha) and the conclusion is, among other things, the incompetent don’t know they are incompetent.

So here’s an idea that can apply to likeable and unlikeable people while avoiding the uphill battle of getting the unlikeable to confess: Find the item on the list that is your weak point and force yourself to get better at it. No one is equally good at all five things. Improve on one. Taziana Cascario, professor at Harvard, does research in this area, and she told me that the biggest barrier to being likeable is not caring. So just pick something on the list and improve on it and stop analyzing whether or not people like you.

I am going to improve on number four by being less judgmental. After all, I just wrote a whole post about the misguided-and-unlikeable and how much they annoy me.

20 replies
  1. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    The item I’d most need to work is eliminating judgments.

    On all the Meyers-Briggs tests, I’m always heavily on the Judging side versus the Perceiving side.

    On the other hand, I think that my ability to form quick judgments is a strength, not a weakness.

    Perhaps the item should be phrased, “Be open to changing your mind, and don’t let judgments prejudice your actions.” Not as clear, though!

  2. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Good point, Chris. On the Meyers-Briggs test I’m an ENTJ, and I like that. So maybe I should not try so hard to stop judging. But I have a feeling that I’m off the deep end on the J. I wish I could, one day, take the test and wonder, for one moment, if I’m maybe a P. Maybe then I would feel a little more balanced…. and be more likeable, of course :)

  3. Emily
    Emily says:

    (Thought I’d responded to this before but I guess it didn’t take…)

    “Control your insecurities” is a good one – I once nervously but perversely confessed to a group of people I was trying to impress how scared I was of public speaking, which they were asking me to do. Felt like an idiot for days afterwards. I don’t know about likeability, but it sure wasn’t professional!

  4. laurence haughton
    laurence haughton says:

    I came over because of the smart comment you left on businesspundit.

    C’mon, this list is awful. Ditch the whole thing. “Make people laugh” or “flatter, flatter, flatter” will beat everything on that list of “chicken soup” strategies.

    PS I like it when you are judgmental.

  5. Eva
    Eva says:

    What strikes me is that numbers four and five are contradictory. I guess I think of convictions entailing an idea of right and wrong, which means judgment about what falls into which categories.

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  7. Rob
    Rob says:

    The one I have most trouble with in a social interaction is “Provide Value”. It seems to be so intangible. Is providing value in a social situation being a good listener? A chatty talker? An advise giver? Someone who flatters, encourages, challenges, intimidates, coerces? It could also be someone who makes judgments, or is honest about their insecurities so others can be comfortable with their own foibles, or someone who commiserates… which would contradict half of the list. I guess you just have to be all these things and more, while knowing just when to apply each as the situation changes second by second. I guess that’s why I avoid social situations… too much work. But I am working on it… :)

    • mariane
      mariane says:

      Rob,
      can I suggest something? it is abt value… the thing we all like the most is to have someone that cares and really… listen… when we talk abt something important… it does NOT matter if you have an answer, actulaly it is better if not / just to acknowledge / if that is so / that you are a searcher as well is enough… and if it is really really FAR from anything you have ever heard or thought of just say wow, that is an interesting/different/unusual/weird/cool whaddeva point of view, would you like to explain/explore/tell me more abt it?
      and then LISTEN
      you will have made a friend for ever
      \

  8. matchmaker
    matchmaker says:

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  9. Bhavany
    Bhavany says:

    If I asks any one of my friends am I likeable immediately they asks me to first tell about them. Based on that they will tell their opinion. :-)

  10. alat sulap murah
    alat sulap murah says:

    for me being likeable are stressful.. everybody have their different point of view.. after read your article, i pick one i like 1. Be positive.. i will try to always positive
    Thanks, very helpful article

    • Chris
      Chris says:

      If it’s not immediately obvious, spend more time thinking about it until it makes sense.

      Quote: “4. Eliminate all judgments
      5. Become a person of conviction

      Hmmmm – how exactly is someone supposed to do both of those at the same time?”

      #4 can be reformulated as “Focus on results, not blame”
      #5 doesn’t mean being judgmental either, but find out what you are passionate about and gives you lasting meaning at the end of the day

  11. Chris Hansen
    Chris Hansen says:

    Judgmental means to me, not willing to lower expectations or standards in the face of perceived underperformance.

    If no one was ever judgmental, how would things ever improve? We’d all still be watching b&w television and driving old cars.

    Judgmental behavior (used appropriately) forces people to perform.

    So what we’re really talking about then is the wisdom of experience and introspection to know when to use certain behaviors, and when to shut up.

    I like your list a lot. It’s a good starting point for self-awareness.

    • Chris
      Chris says:

      “Judgmental means to me, not willing to lower expectations or standards in the face of perceived underperformance.

      If no one was ever judgmental, how would things ever improve? We’d all still be watching b&w television and driving old cars.”

      That’s not being judgmental. That’s the meaning of integrity. Holding to one’s integrity is performing to those standards.

      Judgmental people spend more of their time blaming others for not living up to their standards than they do actually acting on their standards themselves.

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