Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Likeability Matters

In the very old days students were taught rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. It’s about how to influence people. It’s about convincing an audience to accept or to respect your point of view.

The art extends to everyday relationships: how can we use language more effectively to connect with others, to inspire confidence, and even to convince others to do what we want them to do?

Note well that the art of rhetoric involves other people’s feelings. It does not emphasize how closely you are in touch with your feelings. It directs you outward toward others, not inward toward yourself.

Could it be that people rationalize their failure to connect with others by saying that they are in touch with themselves?

Of course, persuasion is not the same as manipulation. Demagogues are most adept at the latter, but, most often, they succeed with groups more than with individuals.

Moving a large audience is not the same as connecting with an individual and conducting a friendship over time. A moving dramatic performance is a one-off event. It is difficult to judge anyone’s character by a one-off event.

When friendship is at issue, a series of different interactions will tell you what you need to know about the person’s character.

Taking on the topic in the Wall Street Journal Sue Schellenbarger rightly emphasizes the fact that your ideas or proposals will better received if you are more likeable.

She refers to an excellent book by Tim Sanders, The Likeability Factor. Several years ago I wrote a post on the book. If you read to the end of the post you will see that Sanders himself graciously offered some comments on it.

Schellenbarger concerns herself with the way likeability helps you on the job:

Likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven. A study of 133 managers last year by researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that if an auditor is likable and gives a well-organized argument, managers tend to comply with his suggestions, even if they disagree and the auditor lacks supporting evidence.

The basis for likeability is good character. Aristotle said that good character makes you more persuasive, too.

You will like and believe someone you can trust, someone who is responsible and reliable. At a time when we are implored, on a daily basis, not to be judgmental, it turns out that your ability to present yourself as a person of good character is essential to the way people accept or reject what you have to say.

Ostensibly, Schellenbarger wants to address how people can project likeability when they are speaking to a camera. And yet, the same lessons apply off-camera. They even apply in personal relationships:

Listeners tend to like speakers who seem trustworthy and authentic, who tell an engaging or persuasive story and who seem to have things in common with them, says Noah Zandan, president of Quantified Impressions in Austin, Texas, a provider of communications analytics. 

As Sanders has emphasized, likeability is not an innate quality, but it is something that can be taught and that can be worked on.

Schellenbarger explains:

But coaches say that likability can be taught. "Likability isn't something you are born with, like charisma. It's something you can learn," says Ben Decker, chief executive officer of Decker Communications, San Francisco, a training and consulting firm.

Decker explains that a speaker who wants to be likeable should make eye contact, smile naturally and vary the tone of his voice.

More important he should work to find common ground with his interlocutor:

Mr. Decker also urges clients to "really think about the listener" and figure out goals he or she might share with you. The ability to find common ground with others is a cornerstone of likability.

You connect with others by sharing an experience or by referring to the same facts. That’s why people often open conversations with strangers by referring to the weather.

You will make a better connection if you remark about the cold winter than if you share some details about how you really, really feel.


Ares Olympus said...

re: "You will make a better connection if you remark about the cold winter than if you share some details about how you really, really feel."

I saw a link to different article today that contrasted well:
"Traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others—are also shared by politicians and world leaders."

Perhaps its not important to share how you feel, but it seems like confidence comes from unity of awareness, and perhaps psychopaths confidence comes from this ability, an ability to discount all feelings that have a chance at exposing self-deception, an act that is meant to "be likeable" at any cost.

I agree on theory "The basis for likeability is good character.You will like and believe someone you can trust, someone who is responsible and reliable."

But apparently there is a slippery slope of power that is not conducive towards "good character", and as soon as you want anything from anyone, you have to have some awareness of your motives, and the feelings behind those motives, and put them in check.

The funny thing about the appearance of "good character" is that you only have to "look good" among those whose opinion matters, and you can dismiss, or step on anyone who doesn't matter to you, and all you need is just a bit of mud to stick to those who you've wronged, and then they got what they deserved.

And it all makes sense, as long as you don't question your own feelings, and motives that define them, and project them onto others.

Anyway, I'm all for likeability, and good character, but accept that ultimately good character only exists in the individual conscience, and if your likeability makes you into a yes-man, then you're also responsibility for the truths you ignore to keep a shallow peace.

Anonymous said...

The original 2010 post shows a predicament of respect:

"If you have given your life over to a political or ideological struggle, to the extent that you actively despise people who hold opposing opinions, you have simply made yourself unlikeable."

How do we help others respect our point of view at all?

Politics does show the relativity of likeability - if you tell people what they want to hear in a mutual admiration society, you'll be likeable with the home team at least.

I think of artist and poet William Blake had an idea he called "Fourfold vision", in his quest to dethrone Scientific Materialism, calling it single vision and "Newton's sleep" because it reduced the universe to a deterministic mechanical clock.

I don't think Blake was particularly likeable, but perhaps he was endeared by some of his neighbors for standing up for the underdog like a good devil's advocate.

I'd say the ideal devil's advocate helps people think for themselves, refrains from simple judgment, but asks questions to help people deepen their own understanding of what they think they know.

Respect is a tricky thing - if you focus on listening to ideas, then you'll hear naivity and confusion that you want to swat down, but if you respect the person, you see the seed being planted, and see the slow growth of understanding from a unique point of view and striving to see how that point of view can be expanded to something greater.

That process is worthy of respect, but intellectuals like me will be impatient, and squash the seed before it had enough time to germinate on its own accord and timing.

Unknown said...

The one thing I remember from the book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," is the use of the word "because." That one word increases your ability to persuade others toward your point-of-view. Not sure why, but perhaps it gives your point-of-view more credibility by supplying a perceived logical reason. And apparently, that's all that's needed to persuade others.