Likability is one of the most important traits of any leader, but it can feel elusive. New research from psychologists at Cornell, Harvard, Yale and University of Essex discovered a “liking gap” — people “systematically underestimated how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company,” the researchers found.
The good news is we can develop the habits and traits that make us more likable and charismatic. To pinpoint some of the most effective markers of likability, we asked members of the Thrive Global community to share the qualities that make the most likable people they know so charismatic.
Make people feel special
“The most likable people I know have the ability to make you feel like you’re the only person they’re interested in at the moment. Even in a room full of people, they’ll be intent on finding out more about you, listening to you, and can make you feel like you’re the only person there. They’re positive and they enjoy connecting with others.”
—Drema Dial, Ph.D., psychologist and life coach, Aix-en-Provence, France
Reflect others’ emotions
“Being likable boils down to the ability to listen to and reflect others’ emotional experiences. When we do this, we listen others into existence. They feel deeply heard and validated, even when there’s a disagreement on a substantive issue or belief. Here’s how to handle this: (1) ignore the words, (2) guess their emotions, and (3) reflect the emotions back with a simple ‘you’ statement. This is counterintuitive to many people. However, listening in this way has been shown in fMRI scanning studies to have a profound effect on the speaker’s emotional centers. I have been training people in this skill since 2006, and have seen transformations in likability — from inmates serving life sentences to senior federal government officials. The skill also translates across cultures and ages. If I were to advise anyone to develop a skill to improve likability, this would be the one to learn.”
—Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA, mediator, teacher, author, Clovis, CA
“Energy is everything: I love being around people who are excited about life, are motivated to do good things personally and professionally, and who inspire others by getting in the game. You need energy to stay consistent and motivated. My mentor is Bo Eason, a former NFL player. He’s incredibly physical and immersed in his audience when he speaks. I can’t take my eyes off of him!”
—Lisa Pezik, business strategist, Ontario, Canada
Help others feel at ease
“The warmth of someone’s aura makes them likable, as well as their ability to clearly engage and communicate. They also make you feel at ease without saying a word.”
—S.H., ad sales agent, Albuquerque, NM
Have two-way conversations
“The most likable people I know genuinely care about others, are funny, and are empathic listeners. They’re great at engaging in two-way conversations, are deep thinkers, and enjoy exchanging stories. Caring and active listening are key.”
—LB, learning specialist, Boston, MA
“I think that it’s really quite simple to be likable at work and beyond! Being an approachable person means a lot, like greeting others in the office and being down-to-earth, regardless of role and power. It also includes spreading optimism while rising above tough situations.”
—Megan Garheart, corporate recruiter, Baltimore, MD
Radiate calm and confidence
“As a hyper-active, over-analytical and super-fast speaker, I’m always enchanted by people who manage to rule the room and hook their audience with their soft voice and slow, elegant moves. They radiate calm, confidence, and reliability. They either make me want to be friends and run to them whenever I need some peace of mind, or inspire me to be like them. Either way, I long to be around them — I even married one of them! That’s real proof of what I consider to be likable, right?”
—Matina Pamia, creative content writer, Slovakia
“I think being approachable is the most basic trait of a likable leader. When I assemble a new team, the first task on my agenda is to make sure I’m demonstrating warmth. Three things I focus on are:
1. Does my posture indicate that I don’t mind being approached?
2. Do I face my employees when they talk to me?
3. Do I make an effort to make eye contact during meetings and genuinely smile at my team?
In my opinion, these three tips are the foundation for an inspiring leader.”
—Camille Sacco, meditation instructor and author, Winter Park, FL
Listen and talk in equal measures
“I like uplifting people — their energy improves mine. They’re authentically optimistic, with a healthy dose of realism. They listen and talk in equal measures, and don’t judge. They’re also kind and compassionate, and make me want them to be just like them. That’s why they make good leaders — they naturally inspire uplifting behaviour in others.”
—Jacqui Macdonald, conscious leadership trainer, London, England
Don’t sell too hard
“The most likable people I know are not defined by their success (though they often are very successful) and don’t feel the need to toe the line, sell their achievements or adapt. What they share is a sense of being at ease with themselves: enough to project outwards (rather than focus inwards), they’re resilient in the face of arguments or insults, and have an open-mind. I’ve noticed that this means they do what feels right to them, rather than what’s expected. They also don’t mind if they occasionally trip up, and are enormously fun, relaxed and energising to be with.”
—Erika Clegg, agency co-founder, England
Match the room’s energy
“Most of the ‘likable’ people I know all hold a presence. They enter a room and make themselves known subtly and make you ‘feel’ something (usually calm or support) just by showing up. It’s like they match the energy of the room and provide what it needs.”
—Katelyn Pfeffer, business manager and coach, Little Rock, AR
“Likable people emit beams of self-love and inclusion of other people’s love of their own universe. They joyfully share stories of their personal evolution. They’re also conscious of the gaps they have yet to close, but are hopeful about getting there one day. Their humility, courage, resilience, and eccentricity make them unbeatable, like Marvel heroes, yet human.”
—Vicky Chiu, culture and learning designer, Hong Kong
Be curious and non-judgmental
“The most likable people I know are kind, good listeners, clear communicators, have integrity, show interest in others, and are generous with their attention. I think likable people show up for life with an optimistic attitude, a can-do spirit, and non-judgmental curiosity. They are warm, humorous, at ease with the world, sincere, and seek to find a common ground with those they meet. Likable people light up the space they occupy with their energy and heartfelt presence. They’re like magnets — they draw us towards them, inspiring us to seek connection. Likable people seem to live more from the heart and enjoy sharing theirs as well.”
—Lisa Cypers Kamen, optimal lifestyle management expert, Los Angeles, CA
Remain collected under pressure
“The most likable people remain calm under pressure, establish trust with others, and lead by example. They practice what they preach. On the whole, the most well-liked people also have a sense of humor — which can help to lighten up any situation — and see the positive side of things while dealing with challenges.”
—Aileda Lindal, business executive team development specialist and mindset coach, Denver, CO
Showcase your sense of humor
“I find that I like different things in different people. I like some because we share common interests, and others because they’re so different from me. But here are three things both types seem to have to common that resonate with me:
1) They have a sense of humour and don’t take life too seriously, regardless of what is happening with Brexit and Chump. They remember that there’s always something to smile about or be grateful for.
2) They pay attention. When we talk, their phone is off or not in sight — if it bleeps, they ignore it and we still finish the conversation. Out of respect, I also turn off my phone, and put it away or on silent when I meet with people, attend functions, dinners, and movies.
3) They are open-minded and interesting: they read books, watch movies and see plays. They also have opinions and are open to discussing them.”
—Amanda Renwick, HR manager transitioning to travel writer, Johannesburg, South Africa
Stand up straight
“Three traits do it for me: Good posture shows that you’re confident. Having your shoulders up, subtly back and your chin level with the floor is a strong stance. Add to that a constant, gentle smile that shows you’re feeling good or positive about something. Seeing someone who’s confident and positive is sexy. Finally, your eyes should engage with with world. Not overly done, where it looks like you’re distracted, but in a way that shows it’s not just about you,’ you care and will listen. Presenting yourself like this will immediately grab my attention! Practice doing these in front of a mirror so you’re honestly aware of how others will actually see you. Learn how it physically feels to do these and make them habit.”
—Craig Dubecki, singer/musician, speaker, and author, Ontario, Canada
“Highly likable people are active listeners. They care about what others have to say and how they feel. They create genuine connections in order to share meaningful moments, vulnerability, and other experiences that bring about inspiration and understanding. In other words, highly likable people care deeply.”
—Heather Reinhardt, self-love aficionado, Los Angeles, CA
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