Nina Spencer

Like it or not…likability counts!

George Bernard Shaw suggested, "In the right key anything can be said. In the wrong key, nothing. The only delicate part is the establishment of the key." Think of those "charmed" people you know, who can get away with comments that are eyebrow raising, outrageous or politically provocative, all the while with a smile on their face and keeping those around them smiling and engaged, as well! What's the name of your person who is like this? There's usually one in every workplace and in every family and in every circle of friends, too! Perhaps you're the one! How do they get away with it? A high likability factor is probably the answer.

Likability makes the difference in how you are received and how your message and direction is embraced...and, often times, it matters not what your positional status is within the organization or group. One's ability to inspire, persuade and influence is often tied to one's "likability" score. And who gets to rate this score? Everyone else but you!

Some people naturally come by a high likability factor. All the more power to them. But when they're asked, "Why do people like you so much?" -- they don't have an answer. A lot of what makes an individual likable is soul deep. Often times such people are unaware of their own "magic". To a large extent, projecting likability can't be externally taught. It has to be learned and demonstrated by the heart...from the inside out. Yet, despite this truth, there are a number of small and seemingly insignificant ways to increase rapport and trust with those with whom you interface, that will maximize your probability of elevating your likability rating. Some people may feel it's manipulative and "dirty" to take such a controlled and clinical look at their own likability factor, but there's nothing "dirty" or "shady" about contemplating what makes you the "nice guy" that you already are, and wanting to do your best at keep your positive reputation growing. This falls under the category of knowing your strengths as a leader (whether or not that leadership is personal or positional).

Here are 12 suggestions for maintaining or escalating your "likability" score:

1. Remember people's names, and use their name in conversation, where appropriate. Don't let yourself off the hook with that tired old excuse, "But I'm terrible with names!" Get over it! Being "terrible" with names is a choice. Choose to figure out a way to get better at it. Make a game of it, if you must. Use rhymes (in your head, of course), or some other triggering link, eg. do they have the same name as someone in your personal or professional circle, or someone famous, that you'll remember? When meeting, look them right in the eyes, and say their name outloud, eg. "How do you do, Nina", while also saying their name in your head, 3 times while shaking hands, to firmly anchor the name with the face.

2. If/when you find yourself in a formal presentation role, and someone from the group or audience asks you a question, echo back that person's exact words and "run" with the metaphors that they use to illustrate their points. People will best understand and relate to your answers and thoughts if you echo their original choice of words.

3. Thank people, sincerely, and in various ways...often, eg. it only takes three minutes to write a thank-you card with three or four sentences in it (and even less if you prefer email). Can you find one extra set of three minutes a day to write one thank-you note, or even leave a voice mail of appreciation? It takes a little time and effort, but the rewards of staying connected are worth it!

4. Smile. Smile often! Victor Borge said "The shortest distance between two people is a smile". I've noticed that most people do not walk around much with a smile on their face, however, if I smile first, nine times out of ten, they'll smile back!

5. Don't just look at your colleagues, clients, friends and family (especially children)...see them! Use your eyes to really see another. Make sure you look long enough, upon meeting and greeting, to note the colour of the other's eyes. You may be surprised to know how many spouses do not know the colour of their own partner's eyes! So much of the time we look at each other, in professional and in personal situations, without seeing the other. Most people, whether they realize it consciously, will know when you are sincerely seeing them. When you sincerely look at and see another, there is an automatic twinkle in your eye. That's the twinkle that adds to one's indescribable charisma!

6. When dealing with a difficult or closed colleague, client, friend or family member, keep your professionalism at all times. Try thinking this internally, as you deal with the person externally: "I respect you and I acknowledge you even if I don't understand you." Reminding yourself of this, and truly believing it, will cause the one in question, as well as the others, to realize you're open to them, no matter what. This strategy may work wonders in a heated debate over a delicate issue during a strained team meeting.

7. Observe the other's body language in one-on-one situations and subtly mirror it back to them. Of course, this is recommended as long as it is in keeping with your own integrity. Sometimes we don't know why we like a particular person so much, but when it comes down to analyzing it, it's because they move and talk as we. That feels safe and comfortable and so we open up. If you desire the other person to be more open, honest and expressive with you, make sure that you are consciously aware of your own body language...uncross your arms, examine your body orientation compared to the other's, eg. are you shoulder-to-shoulder during your conversation, or squarely face-to-face? Your conscious choice of body orientation may vary depending on who the other is in relation to you, eg. a friend, a client, your biggest "boss", a man or a woman. Keep in mind that a "head on", squarely face-to-face body orientation is the most communicative, and at times, also the most confrontational.

8. Consciously observe other's preferred learning style eg. auditory, visual or kinesthetic/sensual/hands on. People's word choices will help you figure this one out, eg. "I hear you", "I see what you mean", "Describe how it works". Once identified, mirror back the learning style and word style that the other has unconsciously telegraphed to you. Delivering your message in the other's preferred learning or comprehension style will maximize the probability of getting your message clearly and accurately across to the other.

9. Practice conscious voice inflection. Remember the old saying, "It's not what you said, it's how you said it". There must be more times than we've ever been aware, where we have "turned off" another with an offensive tone of voice. Is the melody of your voice tone exactly as you wish it to come across? How can you be sure? Practice daily by:

a. deciding how you want to come across on your voice mail message, eg. happy, enthused, warm, etc.
b. record your message with this energetic tone in mind
c. play back your message
d. ask yourself if you captured the voice tone you intended to put across
e. if not, rub it out and do it again! Even if it takes a half a dozent tries! You'll know you've got it right when people regularly leave positive comments about your voice mail greeting!

10. Be a chameleon when communicating with others by voice mail or email. Some people are "friendly" and need a few words of socializing; others stay on task and get right down to the facts of the communication. When the other person starts the cycle, or when you are especially desirous of building relationship with such an individual, communicate with them in the manner they share with you. Sometimes this may go against your natural grain, but if you can stomach it, it will help the other person relate to you.

11. Self Disclose. Develop the fine art of what is appropriate in this regard (people don't want to know the boring or embarrassingly intimate details of your life) but do get comfortable sharing personal anecdotes that directly relate to the point you are addressing. Self disclosure can add humour, make powerful metaphoric points and turn you into a three dimensional person in the other person's eyes. It often makes the other laugh, and when we laugh together a relationship bond, and likability, grows.

12. Pay attention (even if you have to write it down) to the self disclosures that your participants or clients share. For example, I learned that one of my clients had a sick puppy (the same breed as I have, a Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier), and she didn't know a vet, because she was brand new in Toronto. I recommended mine: I recommended mine, Dr. Allen Gignac, Yorkville Animal Hospital, 416-923-8896, yorkville@yorkvilleanimanlhospital or The puppy recovered, and now, every once in a while we bump into each other at the vet's! I recorded her dog's name and breed in my client notes. Our breed association has an annual picnic - I let her know of the date and she just delightfully attended for the first time, last month!

Practicing rapport and likability as a conscious and honest art (not as something slimy and manipulative) goes a long way in doing your job superbly well, and will definitely help you stay connected.

Developing instant rapport and likability with colleagues and clients isn't just a natural gift and talent--it's a learned skill which, as a professional, you can master. It's not what you get from's how much further you can go, or how much more effective the two of you can be, together, because of it. Rapport and likability are the prerequisites for establishing trust. Once others trust you, eg. as their learning guide, manager, friend, mentor, etc., the heavens open. And that's the big win for everyone concerned!