Likeability In Business: Why We Need It More Than Ever
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When we do business, we do it through relationships. We select whom we want to engage with, and whom we come back to for more. The ability to make a real connection, and make the other person like you is a big part of your success or failure.
It can be useful to look at it from the angle of positional and personal power. Sometimes positional power makes it possible for us to engage in any way we want. The people we are trying to reach simply have to respond. But the way they do, of course, is affected by our likeability, or lack thereof. In the new gig economy with more and more entrepreneurs, we cannot lean on positional power only. Even for employees inside organizations, an entrepreneurial mindset is often desired. Part of that mindset is knowing how to navigate and connect, while making ourselves likeable.
I’ve supported several stellar professionals make the transition from a big corporate position to create their own venture and brand, witnessing their surprise when they discover a need for a whole new approach. On the journey of acquiring personal power, likeability changes from a nice-to-have to a vital career resource. Defining likeability is a strange thing; at the same time, an intuitive gut feeling, and a series of different traits. In his book, The Popularity Illusion, Mitch Prinstein describes likeable people as cooperative, able to keep a conversation going, while giving others a chance to speak, and creative at solving awkward dilemmas. In short, they’re good at being part of a group. It’s finding that gentle balance of feeling comfortable in our own skin to share and lead, without the need to dominate.
The road to get there starts right at home. Before anything else, we need to like ourselves. In the same way as the instructions for oxygen masks in the airplane, we need to put our own mask on first, and then we can begin to help others. When we let go of judgment towards ourselves, it’s so much easier to like people around us. The relationship between the two is parallel. Once we’ve landed in a safe haven of self-acceptance, we make it easier for other people to join in and like us, too.
Here are three strategies that have made it possible for me to create that special link with strangers and collaborators across almost any distance, be it geographical, socio-economical, or among different business sectors.
1. BE ROOTED
When we meet a new person, the first thing we pick up is a quality of trust: friend or foe? And the way we know is that feeling of presence. When it comes to trust, it doesn’t typically show up in grey scales or a continuum, it’s an either-or. One of the reasons it’s not always that easy to come across to others as authentic is because we tend to be in a mental space. Or, using the poignant description by James Joyce, “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” When we stay up in our head, it’s easier for others to manipulate us, both physically and on an emotional level. Without connection to our core, we have a hard time drawing boundaries when confronted with a strong will we don’t agree with.
And it’s not all feelings and sensations. Modern science has named it the gut brain, or the little brain. We have an enteric nervous system inside our intestines, impacting our immune system, decisions, and our presence in the room. Most of us haven’t been taught to tune in with our gut brain, and the messages it has for us. During your days with different conversations and meetings, find your own way of integrating that question inwards. “What does my gut brain say to this?” You might have some startling insights. And it’s easier to like someone when they’re bringing their whole self along.
2. BE REAL
One of the factors that have the strongest oscillation on the scale of likeability is the voice. When was the last time you were listening to an automated voice assuring you of how much it cares, while cringing inside? It’s almost violent to sit through a longer call with robotic recordings, each menu option pushing us further into frustration. And the opposite? The magic of an auditorium joining in the wordless mixture of heartbreak and promise of a new tomorrow, as they are showered by the velvet in a human voice. Nothing touches us the way the voice does. It’s not only when we listen to beautiful concerts that the voice has an impact on others. In everyday conversations, each time we speak, our voice is telling a story on top of or under the words we are using. It’s the story of what we are feeling. Feeling about the words we’re saying, about the person we’re talking to, and feeling about ourselves.
When we make a call, and our conversations are pure audio without facial expressions and body language, all of our nonverbal signals are concentrated into the voice. It’s so obvious to us whether the person on the other end of the line believes in his or her own words. Even in situations when we all know that the words are part of a formality, we can still hear if the person is adding that personal touch. During your days with different conversations and meetings, pause in between to check in with yourself. Are you choosing the words that resonate with your personal truth, and if not, is there a way to align your words and your voice? It’s such a likeable trait to say what we mean and mean what we say.
3. BE RESPONSIVE
In the cult movie Pulp Fiction, Mia Wallace asks her guy: “Do you listen, or do you wait to talk?” Unfortunately, we have a tendency to do just that- there’s a lot of waiting to talk. Not necessarily because we are selfish, but because listening requires discipline and dedication, it’s not easy. As listeners, we have a longing. “Make this moment memorable. Tell me something that’s relevant. Make me feel like you have never told this story to anyone else in this way.” We want to feel special. We want our exchanges to have meaning.
One of the most tangible ways of creating that meaning is to listen to the person we’re talking to, and adapt our content along the way. It’s the opposite of repeating the same old script. During your days with different conversations and meetings, make sure to make space for the part of the exchange that no one knows where will land. You’ll be more likeable for sure, and you’ll have more rewarding conversations as well.