Likeable people are the ones you want to be around. And while virtually everyone wants to be liked, it seems many people never consider how to be likeable.  

Our digital interconnectedness keeps growing, along with our anxiety, depression, and loneliness. How can we form relationships that are meaningful and lasting?

Let’s start by making sure we are likeable and then helping those we influence to be more likeable as well. Here are nine helpful behaviors to either practice or avoid. Several of these were suggested in an e-mail from my friend, Dick, a retired executive. He gave me permission to use as I wished.

Likeable people are committed listeners

“Reloaders” stop talking long enough to let you speak, but don’t be fooled. They aren’t listening to you, they are just reloading, waiting for your next breath when they will begin talking once again. One of the primary reasons I was attracted to my wife, Judy, is that she is a great listener. She hears what I’m saying and seeks to understand what I mean.  

Likeable people ask genuine questions

Questions are undervalued. You can pump someone for factual information and sometimes that may be needed. You can ask questions that are open-ended and draw the person out. Question-asking is related to listening because as you are sharing your ideas I am able to frame up my next question. I am listening and engaged in what you are saying, rather than merely taking your words as prompts for stating my own views or correcting yours.  

Likeable people follow the norm of reciprocity

There’s a natural give and take to conversation. Earlier in a relationship, people are attracted to those who match one another’s contributions. I ask about your work. You ask about mine. I tell you about my family. You talk about yours. The longer you have known someone and the deeper the relationship, the less that the norm of reciprocity must be followed in each exchange. Contributions still need to even out over time, but one conversation may be dominated by a person without the other feeling the relationship is out of balance.  

Likeable people are self-deprecating to a point

Confidence is attractive. Arrogance is off-putting. Recognition that you are less than perfect and having the ability to laugh at your shortcomings is attractive, but press this too far and people begin to find your apparent insecurity unsettling.

Likeable people are able to laugh

Having a sense of humor is important, but obviously you need to gauge how your humor pairs with that of others. You love Dumb and Dumber; she loves Annie Hall – these are not the same. Even how you laugh may be important. My boisterous laugh has startled babies and led them to cry. Consider your audience and the setting and know when to rein it in and when to let it out.  

Likeable people draw others out so they have the opportunity to fit in

Some people are quiet. While I know Introverts have many thoughts they don’t need to express, I don’t understand this experientially. When in a group, look to draw out those who are quieter by watching for their reactions – evidence they may be wishing to contribute – or by asking a question that is a safe opening into the topic being discussed. Don’t press. Someone may be entirely comfortable listening and isn’t looking for the spotlight to rest on him.

Likeable people don’t overstay their welcome

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the quip: “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” When you are first establishing a relationship, start with small doses rather than trying to discuss everything of interest in a single sitting. Know your audience. Be culturally on time and leave before you must be asked. Better to leave the other person wanting more than hoping to avoid you in the future.  

Likeable people avoid controversy

Until you know someone, stick to safer topics that draw people together. Even among close friends, there are often conversational paths better left unpursued. In a world that says it values complete transparency, just know that sane people don’t (see last month’s newsletter for more on this topic). The goal is to build relationships not to drive away all but those who entirely agree with you. In my case, I would not even be able to talk with myself since I often don’t agree with everything I say.  

A likeable person doesn’t gossip

Gossip erodes trust. It misrepresents the behaviors, views, and ideas of others. It uses people as objects for our enjoyment. Gossip may be juicy, but the fruit you consume is rotten.   Want to be liked? Be likeable. Want to build a work culture people enjoy? Encourage team members to be likeable. Some may need reminders of these nine behaviors to employ or avoid.

About Julian Consulting

Dr. Stephen Julian is President of Julian Consulting, a firm specializing in team health, effective communication, and leadership development. He has worked with leaders and their teams for nearly 30 years in a variety of settings – including Africa, South and Central America.

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