The Likability Factor: 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Make It Work For You


As I was driving to a speech, I decided to listen to the radio. The first station I turned on was discussing an actor who was dealing with a substance abuse issue. One of the radio personalities said, “I hope he does well. He is such a likeable guy.” I then began to think to myself, “What does it take to become a likeable person?” I have found it is not a mystical esoteric human quality; it is a factor everyone can enhance with a few simple techniques.

Show Gratitude. Never forget to thank people for kind acts. It only takes a moment to express this appreciation, but it has a long-lasting impression. When I was a child, my mother always had wonderful birthday parties for me. My sense of anticipation was high as I eagerly awaited these festive events. From an early age, my mother emphasized the importance of thanking people for their kindness. After my parties, before being allowed to play with my new gifts, I had to write the thank you notes first. It is easy to send a quick “thank you” email, however if you really want to make someone feel special send him or her a handwritten note or card.

Demonstrate Empathy. When you think of empathy, think of shoes. Empathy involves thinking of what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. If a person had a flat tire on their way to an important meeting, how do you think they are feeling? Upset? Frustrated? Let people know you are trying to understand their feelings. I remember driving and stopping at a red light. While the light was red, I opened my briefcase to get an energy bar. While I was doing this, the light turned green and the person behind me started beeping their horn. At first, this horn blowing irritated me. Then I thought about times I was in front of a car where the light turned green, but they were not moving, so I had to beep my horn. I wasn’t angry anymore because I realized I had “been in their shoes.” In developing empathy, critical judgments are replaced by acceptance, compassion and understanding.

Honesty is the Best Policy. One of leading deterrents to likability is being seen as dishonest. This seems like a very obvious bad trait. Of course, we don’t like dishonest people! However, this factor could also be very subtle. For example, I agreed to chair a committee. I found a person who was willing to be my vice chair. When we chatted at a meeting, he was very enthusiastic about helping on the committee. However, after the meeting, he never returned any of my phones calls or emails. I perceived that action as dishonest. Could I ever trust him again? Probably not. We need to put our attention on being genuine and trustworthy.

Be Positive. People like optimists. Negative people are very draining to be around; they can suck all the positive energy out of any situation! Unlikable negativity can includes a wide variety of behaviors such as pessimism, complaining, blaming, jealousy, and criticism. These negative behaviors are often associated with people who do not believe in their own power to change things for the better. A negative mindset often develops from a few early failures that have spiraled out of control with negative self-talk. If you are leaning toward negativity you risk being seen as unlikable. Now is the time to challenge those feelings. A positive change in attitude starts when you notice the connection between negative thoughts and poor results. Focus on the link between positive thoughts and favorable outcomes.

Observe Body Language. Each person has their own style of body language. Some of us are gregarious and have big gestures, while others are more subdued with smaller motions. People feel more comfortable being with others who have similar body language attributes. Does this mean we need to change our style for every person to be more likable? No, we do not need to completely morph into something new for each individual. However, what we can do is pay attention to the body language of people and try to adjust ours to make them feel more comfortable. For example, I am a high-energy person; I could easily overwhelm a more introverted person. When I am with someone who is reserved, I tone down my style to make them feel more comfortable.

Pay Close Attention. When you are talking to someone, make them feel like they are the only person in the world at that time. No one else matters, but them. We do this by direct eye contact and facing the person shoulder to shoulder. Say the person’s name during conversation. This is especially important when you first meet. Stating the person’s name upon the initial meeting will help anchor the name in your mind. As you are first greeting a new person, say their name in your head three times to help cement it in your mind. Please do not use the lame excuse, “I am not good with names.” Work at it and you’ll remember names! Make a game of remembering names! For example, a lady from my bank is really sweet. Her name is “Joyce.” I always remember her name because I remember her as a person with “Joy.”

Put on a Happy Face. The smile factor counts! Likeable people are cheerful people. My wife, Beth, and I were at a convention dinner. I had spoken at the event that morning. At our table was a young man, Andy; we are both members of the National Speakers Association. Later that evening, Beth and I both discussed what a great guy Andy is – we just felt good being around him. What was it about Andy? We believe it was his upbeat personality. The fun factor plays a role too. Humor is a sign of playfulness, openness, and happiness, which are all highly attractive behaviors.

Control Anger. People want to be in an environment of harmony and peace. Expressing anger and aggressiveness is a very quick route to being perceived as unlikable. In reality, most anger is a secondary emotion that really represents more basic feelings of hurt, frustration, disappointment, insecurity and fear. People often direct anger outwardly onto others and life in general, when they should be aiming it more inwardly at motivating themselves to take responsibility for making different choices to stop failing and start succeeding. We need to find out what is making us angry and work at more constructive ways to handle life’s difficult times.

Talk About Yourself, Appropriately. During my programs, I often share personal stores because that is what connects us to each other. People often come up to me and say, “When you told that story about your dog, that reminded me of an experience I had.” People may feel embarrassed about a certain life experience, however sharing that you had a similar experience will make the person feel more at ease. When self-disclosing, it is important to be appropriate, in that your sharing fits the moment. Do not tell personal intimate details of your life with people you just met. People will want to run in the opposite direction! Also, do not constantly overwhelm conversations with stories about you. People who are likeable engage in dialogues not monologues. Of course, always be humble.

Notice the Details. Think about eye color. What are the eye colors of your family members? What about your co-workers? Likeable people think in terms of details. When I am talking to a person on the phone and they mention a certain restaurant they like, I will make note of that fact. A few weeks later, I may say, “Let’s have lunch this week. How about if we go to that Bistro on Main Street? I know that is one of your favorites.” Start picking up on details!

Establishing rapport with people is a critical skill in life. It is not an innate gift you were born with, rather it is a learned behavior. You can increase your likability factor by following a few simple rules outlined in this article. The door to happiness is there for you in life, you just need to find the right “likability keys” to open this gate.

Edward Leigh, MA, is a high-content entertaining keynote speaker and seminar leader.  For more information about his programs, visit: or call 1-800-677-3256


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