Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coaching Lessons: The Likeability Factor

How often do you think about what you need to do to become more likeable? Our culture wants you to think about what you need to do to be more loveable or more attractive, what you need to find true love or true lust. About likeability, it does not have too much to say.

And how often do we think about the simple fact that it is altogether possible to love someone without liking them very much. It is certainly possible to lust after someone you do not like at all. Beyond that, you are related to your family whether you like it or not, and whether you like them or not.

When it comes to friendship, however, you cannot very long be friends with someone you do not like. And you will not have a very pleasant work experience if you do not like your coworkers or if your coworkers do not like you.

Likeability is social glue. It is not the same as blood ties; it is not the love that consumes you; and it is not the lust that goes bump in the night.

And yet, the therapy culture has largely ignored likeability. Freud, to choose one of its major influences, did not really have much of anything to say about likeability.

For Freud it was all lust and violence. He wanted you to think of your life in terms of drama, and if you see everything in terms of lust and violence, you will be well on your way to a life filled with drama.

Likeability might give you serenity and contentment, but it will not give you the thrill you will find in a life of lust and violence.

Placed next to love and lust, likeability feels banal. Yet, it forms the basis for one of the great questions in recent American culture, Rodney King's: Why can't we all just get along?

King was not asking for very much. He was asking for a measure of civility, for friendship, for neighborliness. He was not requiring us to bare our souls, to lust after our neighbor's wives, to react to every injustice with extreme violence.

How can you become likeable? Simon Stapleton has some suggestions in this post (linked here), and I will add a few of my own.

Stapleton is talking about how to be more likeable on the job, but clearly, his advice applies well to the world beyond work.

Stapleton begins with the most obvious point, so obvious it must be underscored. The first step to being more likeable is to show other people that you like them. Note that I said "show" not "tell."

Being nice is a great place to start; it involves polite, courteous, and respectful gestures, especially small gestures.

What kinds of small gestures? Everything from salutations to smiles to links about topics you know interest the other person.

Showing that you know something about the other person and that you are thinking about him will make you likeable. Showing off your ability to think of no one but yourself will produce the opposite effect.

And you should be nice to everyone, indiscriminately. Some people will go out of their way to reject your gestures, but then, that will be on their account, not on yours.

Stapleton does not mention it, but calling people by their names is a nice gesture. You should try to make it a habit.

A second point, taken from Aristotle, not Stapleton, is that being nice involves seeing the best in other people and trying to ignore the worst.

In a culture based in celebrity, we are prone to gossip, to tell tales about people. And tales are not interesting unless they have a dramatic quality, unless they contain lust and violence. You do not gossip about the fact that the woman who just walked by has excellent manners and is nice to everyone.

This means that many of us have lost the art of finding the best in other people. We are often not even prone to put in the effort.

The next point comes from Stapleton. He recommends that you go our of your way to engage people in conversation. It is certainly a nice thing to do. He does not mean to say that you need to have a weighty topic on your mind. Anything can start a conversation: the weather will do, the quality of the coffee, the financial crisis, the World Series.

Once you start the conversation, you should work hard to keep it going for a reasonable period of time. A good and durable conversation is like a good and durable relationship: it lives on common ground. So, try never to contradict or criticize the opinion of your interlocutor. Try to agree, because agreeing is more agreeable... by definition.

Advanced conversational skill means having a discussion about politics with someone you do not agree with and keeping the tone civil while working to find something you can agree about.

Another point, not from Stapleton, but true nonetheless is this: If you want to be liked you need to be trustworthy. That means that you need to be good to your word, that your word must be your bond. When you say you will do something, do it. When you say you will be somewhere at a specific time, make it your business to be there at that time.

Trustworthy is likeable. Unreliable causes drama and passion. It might revive your flagging lust; it will not make anyone like you.

Next, from Stapleton, you should go out of your way to involve others, to invite them to events outside of work, to include them in activities you are planning. It could be a trip to the movies or a group dinner at the sports bar. Whatever it is, the more people you include the more likeable you will be.

Treat people as members of your group and they will treat you as members of theirs. Everyone wants to belong and if you are the agent of belonging you will be liked.


Anonymous said...

That's a great post. That's the kinda stuff I come here for.

>>Treat people as members of your group and they will treat you as members of theirs.<<

Self deprecation and humor goes a long way here.

But the first step is to like yourself, even with all your foibles and failings; and then it is easy to like others.

I work with a good team of guys who are likeable. Who like each other enough, based on trust, to pick up some slack for each other with a smile and a friendly ribbing so that no favors are owed.

Example: My boss is Garfield the Cat. Really.

In every way, he is Garfield: he's messy, self-centered, fluffy, unpunctual and smug. He's loyal, trustworthy, honest, inspired, funny and intelligent.

Very likeable.

He makes me happy to break my ass to do what he needs done 'cuz I trust him. Heck, I even scout out restaurants he might like when we travel together.

Lasagna and steak, y'know....


Anonymous said...

Oh, I enjoy your writing and ideas, but I liked you based on your photo. Well done.