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The Difference Between Being Liked and Being Likeable

be likeable

The need to be liked, also known as the disease to please, is not the same as being likeable.  The need to be liked by others relates to the need for approval and affirmation.  In a leadership position, this can portend disaster and failure when a leader believes being liked by followers is the gateway to getting supported or accomplishing the team's objectives.  It is better to be respected than liked.  I have coached many leaders about this distinction.

On the other hand, being likeable is positive because it is not rooted in pleasing a particular person or group of people.  Being likeable is a strategic skill learned by leaders and sales professionals to become successful in any vocation.  Likeability is rooted in the attraction toward an individual.  It is emotional and instinctual because we are social creatures.  Have you ever liked someone almost instantly?  Synonyms with likeability are pleasantness, affability, and friendliness.

I teach aspiring leaders and sales reps how to be likeable without needing to be liked.  Following are some of the skills you can learn to be more likeable.  First, be genuinely interested in others.  Instead of making conversation by talking about yourself, ask open-ended questions about others. I call these gateway conversations.  If you are an introvert and do not know how to start a conversation, begin using the topics of family, pets, and hobbies to get started.  I have found these three conversation starters to be helpful with most people.  Resist the urge to find common ground by talking about yourself.  At some point, the other person will ask about you.  Be brief and honest, then ask them more questions.

Smile big and often.  There is a science to smiling that starts when we are babies.  Smiles are "the symbol that gets rated with the highest positive emotional content," says scientist Andrew Newberg.  Smiles stimulate our brain's reward mechanism in ways that chocolate cannot match.  Scientists studied our ability to distinguish between genuine and fake smiles.  Most are unable to make the distinction. 

We feel happier around children because they smile more. On average, they do so 400 times a day. Happy people still smile 40-50 times a day, and the average person only does so 20 times.  If you desire more success in life, start smiling more often.  Smiling also leads to a decrease in the stress-induced hormones that negatively affect your physical and mental health.  Just do it!

Remember people's names.  Not blessed with an excellent memory and self-diagnosed ADD, I work hard to remember names.  A person's name is the sweetest and most important sound.  It is usually the first word we recognize as an infant.  It may not be the first word we speak; however, we often hear our names, resulting in imprinting our brains.

According to The Institute for the Study of Child Development (2006 study), hearing your name is considered a self-representational behavior. Other self-representational behaviors include recognizing your image in a mirror, using adjectives to describe yourself, or expressing your mental state.  They found that there is unique brain activation when a subject hears their name. These patterns are like the patterns the brain exhibits during other self-representational behaviors. Hearing your name causes your brain to react as if you're engaging in the behaviors and thought patterns that serve as some of your core identity and personality markers.  You will be more successful when you remember and use people's names often.

Be a better listener.  While this is closely related to showing genuine interest, it is not the same.  You can show genuine interest and not listen to what someone is saying.  There is a difference between hearing someone and listening to understand.  Extroverted sales reps struggle with this skill.  They listen to form a response instead of listening for meaning.  I teach the use of three labels; it seems like, it looks like, and it sounds like to listen more effectively. These labels force the listener to discern a deeper understanding of what someone is saying.  If you want to become a better listener, you must see every conversation as an opportunity to learn and expand your knowledge and understanding.

Suspend your agenda.  We all have an agenda. It can be how we want to move forward with a business project, lunch, or our views on a discussion.  If we always have our agenda in mind, we are unable to understand and empathize. It's natural to have an agenda, but we need to suspend it to better understand and engage with others.  In my training, I call this the message behind the conversation.  It can also be referred to as the problem to be solved.

Finally, make the other person feel important.  Remember, every human is the hero of their life journey.  Sincerity is essential with this skill.  Mary Kay Ash said she learned to imagine an invisible sign around each person's neck that reads, make me feel important. We all want to be noticed, appreciated, and respected.  We want to believe that what we are doing matters.  This quote reminds us that if it is true of us, it is also true of the people around us.  Make them feel important, and you reinforce their self-esteem and that vital need to belong.  The more you help fill this need, the better people are likely to be.

The need to be liked and the skill to be likeable are distinct.  One is rooted in finding self-worth, and the other is a skill to be learned and mastered.  I can be likeable and not need you to like me.  I can be likeable and not feel compelled to please you.  Whether holding someone accountable as a leader or closing a deal as a sales representative, you can be likeable without fear of not being liked.  You can learn to trust likeability skills without the insecurity that accompanies the need to please others.