When it comes to success in life, don’t count on the “X factor” to give you a boost. Consider your “L factor” instead.
Are you likable? Are you sure? It could determine whether you get raises, promotions and invitations. It could also trump competence and skill in certain cases.
Can you make yourself more likable? Absolutely, experts say.
“The reality is social skills, being happy and being positive around others — that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people,” said Patrick King, author of "The Science of Likability: 27 Studies to Master Charisma, Attract Friends, Captivate People, and Take Advantage of Human Psychology."
“It’s not easy. It takes practice… [but] it’s learnable.”
The “L factor” looms large when companies choose who to hire. It’s all about that elusive fit: Most applicants are capable, but it’s a lot harder to find someone who is easy to get along with, King noted.
When people have a choice of who to work with, likability can sometimes matter a little bit more than competence, said Tiziana Casciaro, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, who researches likability in the workplace.
“When somebody lacks basic rapport with a colleague, they will not work with them; they will try to avoid them, even when they recognize their competence,” Casciaro said.
What can you do to increase your chances of being liked? These strategies can help:
Find the little thread that links you with another person
“The biggest driver of liking is similarity. We like people like ourselves,” Casciaro said. “It increases warmth and the sense of camaraderie.”
You can induce a sense of similarity with almost anybody by finding things you have in common. They may not be apparent right away, so be observant. Great salespeople do this all the time by studying potential customers for bits and pieces of their lives they can relate to, she noted.
You could look for little clues on a person’s desk or ask about her hobbies. Perhaps you’ve both been to Paris or you’re both addicted to Nutella or you both love “Game of Thrones.” Be sure to let the other person know about your shared common ground.
Like someone and they’ll like you right back
We like people who seem to like us — it’s almost irresistible, Casciaro noted.
Flattery can convey fondness, but she doesn’t recommend using the fake manipulative kind, even though it may work. “People believe compliments even if they are absolutely absurd. We want to believe them,” she said. “[But] flattery that is completely made up is exhausting and morally reprehensible.”
Instead, let a compliment come from a real place. See the positive in a person and express it to them: “I really appreciate what you did yesterday.” When you give people kudos, it goes a very long way towards them liking you back.
Be a familiar presence
Humans like things that are familiar, so just seeing you around in person makes you more likable to others.
“This concept gives a whole new meaning to the idea of face time,” Casciaro said. “When you have the opportunity to relate to your colleagues face-to-face, do so.”
Swing by a coworker’s desk rather than messaging him. Go to after-work drinks if you have time and would find the outing enjoyable — if not, just try to talk to people as much as possible in person during work hours, she advised. You want to maximize rich interactions and cut down on the drier ones, like texts and phone calls. Be sure to be seen.
When you give people kudos, it goes a very long way towards them liking you back.
Be a little vulnerable
In a recent study, people liked a robot that made mistakes “significantly more” than a robot that performed flawlessly. The findings confirm the “Pratfall Effect,” a psychological phenomenon that found when someone we consider superior or distant makes a clumsy blunder, it makes him more likable. The effect is endearing, whether it's committing a small gaffe or revealing a slightly awkward personal detail, so be OK with sometimes sharing something that makes you a bit vulnerable, King said.
“People seem to enjoy the fact that I was a fat kid,” he noted. “Introducing a weakness or a flaw about yourself … is about showing your humanity.”
A person who seems absolutely beyond reproach and fabulous in every way can elicit envy, so showing a little bit of vulnerability can help, Casciaro added. Celebrities do this all the time by sharing self-deprecating stories, often with a bit of humor.
Ask lots of questions
Have a genuine sense of wonder and curiosity about the other person, King advised. A recent study found people who asked more questions, particularly follow-up questions, were better liked by their conversation partners.
“When you have curiosity and when you care about someone, the conversation takes care of itself,” King said.