The Power of Likability

© 2002 William Cottringer, Ph.D.

Do you want to get results and be successful? Do you want to make quick progress in closing the gap between where you are and where you really want to be? There is a natural solution. Be likable! It is actually easier done than said.

A healthy dose of likability will get your further in anything you do. Likable people have the most positive influence with others. They get better results and are happier and more successful.

Over the years I have studied likability, trying to identify the most common characteristics that influence one person into seeing another as likable or unlikable. Recently, I conducted a widespread survey to verify and clarify my intuitive impressions of these two judgments.

I simply asked a wide variety of people to tell me the top five things that influence them in seeing another person as likable and the top five that influence a perception of unlikability. Ten characteristics appeared most frequently from the combined lists. The results make for an excellent likability prescription. These are things you can easily do to increase your likability and achieve success.


Honesty vs. dishonesty is clearly the number one issue in determining likability or unlikability. Dishonesty of any sort is quickly perceived as a very disturbing and unlikable trait. It also carries a "permanent" connotation that isn't easily erased. Honesty is a deeply held value and can run all the way from a person's surface sincerity and "realness" to his or her fundamental morality, truthfulness, and trustworthiness.

Conversation or behavior that isn't totally honest waves a red flag that causes other people to back off and not trust you. Trust is necessary for good communication and good communication is the heart of satisfying and productive interpersonal relationships, which in turn are a big part of any success.

The reason that dishonesty is such an important issue in leading to a quick and permanent perception of unlikability is that we tend to personalize it. Present dishonest behavior reminds us of a past occasion where we were deeply hurt by a person's dishonesty. All the negative emotions rise to the surface. The best approach is to concentrate on becoming the most sincere, integrated, genuine, honest and trustworthy person you can in all inter-personal relationships. Leave the dishonest person to disappoint him or herself, not you. Be honest!


People clearly do not like arrogant, selfish or conceited people. We all prefer to be around humble, generous achievers. Knowing this reality, it should be easy to control your tendency to be self-centered, aloof or overbearing when dealing with others. Why would you want to do anything that is sure to brand you as unlikable and lead to inevitable failure?

We all want to be "somebody" and our egos can easily become too noisy and annoying if we don't keep them in check. Being a quiet, likable achiever is a better way to draw attention and be seen as the important, successful person you are. Be humble!


Empathy is high on the list of characteristics that influence likability. After all, we all want to be understood, valued as individuals, treated fairly and equally, accepted unconditionally, and given genuine respect. Empathy is the quickest way to dissolve the differences that keep us apart. Empathy also helps us all feel the way we want to feel. It is a powerful tool.

In developing empathy, judgments are replaced by acceptance, understanding and compassion. The best way to convey empathy is through your eyes and ears. The easiest way to show it is by practicing the Golden Rule. And remember, what you can't describe in words can be demonstrated. Learn empathy!


The next most important thing that influences peoples' perceptions of others as being likable is a sense of humor. Displaying good humor may mean anything from laughing easily to being fun-loving. The point is, showing some type of appropriate humor is extremely valuable in being perceived as likable. Humor is reflective of playfulness, openness and happiness, which are all highly attractive behaviors.

Check out your humor level and restock it if need be. Visit the zoo, check out some humor web sites, browse the comedy section of your local video store, read a good joke book or buy a Farside desk calendar. Life has its serious moments, but it is healthier to view it as a comedy of errors. Besides, don't take life too seriously because you are not going to get out of it alive! And remember, if you can't laugh at yourself then others will probably do it for you. Laugh often!


Just like dishonesty, negativity of any sort is a quick turnoff with people. Unlikable negativity can include a wide variety of things such as pessimism, complaining, worrying, blaming, frustration, jealousy, helplessness, moodiness or criticism. Negativity is generally associated with people who do not believe in their own power to change things for the better. This may have been developed from repeated early failures that influenced the person to expect future negative results, which in turn put success farther out of reach.

If you are leaning toward negativity and risking being seen as unlikable, it is time for you to deal with whatever it is that is making you unhappy. The negative belief in the inability to control your life is only a belief and a false one at that. You may have to make a few uncomfortable exchanges or sacrifices to undo some previous bad choices, but the opportunity to make the right choice now is always here. Being positive always brings the finishing line closer. People who can be positive during adversity are the most likable. Be positive!


Expressing anger, aggressiveness, bitterness, hate, prejudice or loudness is the third quickest way to be perceived as unlikable, behind being dishonest and egotistical. In reality, most anger is a secondary emotion that really represents more basic feelings of hurt, frustration, disappointment, fear or insecurity. Showing such anger is probably intuitively perceived as another version of dishonesty.

Hostility may also be the result of a person's sense of not being able to control things in his or her life. In that sense it is directed outwardly onto others and life in general, when it should be aimed more at motivating the person to take responsibility for making different choices to stop failing and start succeeding. The best way we can all decrease the amount of anger going on today is to not react angrily. Control hostility!


Good manners influence the perception of likability. Aspects of fundamental politeness such as being respectful of others, showing patience, not interrupting, and being kind, nice, thoughtful and friendly, are probably all on the front end of empathy. Even the most minor and infrequent displays of rudeness greatly influence a lasting perception of unlikability.

Treating people reverently and politely is putting the Golden Rule into practice and can never be perceived as being anything but likable behavior. Showing politeness by practicing good manners is the surest way to receive the respect you want in return. It is a little thing that gets big results. Be polite!


Of all the characteristics that people use to determine another person's likability, this is the one that is most unclear. Intelligence can be assumed from many things such as good judgment, common sense, creativity, competence, open-mindedness, memory, clear expression, focused attention, or several other mental "skills." It could be that people assume degrees of intelligence from the results they see.

Without knowing for sure how someone else is defining "intelligence," it is a difficult characteristic to demonstrate in order to be seen as likable. Personally, I think that growth is our main goal and that using whatever mental or social skills you have to become likable is the best application of intelligence. If you are likable you are using your intelligence productively to get where you want to be. Act smart!


An attractive appearance that influences likability is not one based on innate physical looks alone. In fact it is based more on things like proper grooming and hygiene, good eye contact, alluring voice, clean "friendly" clothes, social poise and inner confidence and harmony. All these things work together to make up a pleasant overall appearance. A friendly smile is the single best clue to showing a likable appearance.

Practice good grooming and hygiene and dress neatly and interestingly. Develop your poise and the power of your eyes and voice. Also build inner confidence and contentment by taking advantage of the power of choice you have in doing what you need to do to get where you really want to be. Add a frequent smile and your appearance will then take care of itself. Appear attractive!


People generally like good listeners and dislike talkers and interrupters. This is because we all want to be understood, have our say and be treated politely. We think we have a lot to say, but when we take the time to listen better we may find that we don't really need to say as much. And, good listening always tells you what you need to know in order to give the best response. It pays to listen well.

Probably the easiest way to increase your likability is to become a better listener. You can do this by talking less and giving the other person your full attention. Listen carefully to what is being said, along with how it is being said to get the full meaning. Be patient and tune out all your distractions so you can truly understand the other person. What could be easier and more productive than good listening? Listen more!

My suspicion is that all these inter-related outward characteristics really represent something much deeper inside us. This is the common mission of mankind, which is "to improve and grow in developing and using our special talents fully and effectively in entertaining, guiding and helping ourselves and others achieve a productive, meaningful and satisfying life." Any behaviors that are perceived to resist, inhibit or attack this primary value are judged as unlikable. Behaviors that are perceived as helpful, encouraging and conducive to moving toward this common purpose are perceived as likable.

Practice these 10 simple habits in order to increase your likability and improve your chances for success in helping your self and others achieve our common mission. Being likable is just a matter of letting your natural self take over. Being unlikable is actually more difficult. You have to work harder to be unnatural.

Here is a suggestion. Have some intimate conversations with important people in your life about what is most influential in the determination of another person's likability or unlikability. Discuss what these things mean and represent. You will be surprised at the amount of interesting and useful dialogue this will open up.

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is a business consultant, college teacher, sport psychologist and writer from St. Louis, MO. He is also author of You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too. He can be reached at (314) 531-2000 or or

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