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The Most Important Success Factor: Likeability!

Author : Dilip Saraf

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Tweet: One of the key elements in human interactions is your likeability. Follow the 10 rules & improve your likeability; see how it works for you!


After working with over 6,000 clients globally and having had a few careers myself (Im now in my fifth career) one single success factor stands out in my experience that trumps almost all others: Personal Likeability. Dictionary defines likeability as pleasant, friendly, and easy to like. Some also call it charm. I think that charm is an elevated level of likeability.

Time and again I find clients and people getting what they pursue not just because they were qualified to attain it, but also because those who mattered in their interactions liked them and were willing to grant them what they wished. The opposite is also true: No matter how qualified you are for a given role or position, if those willing to let you have what you seek, do not like you, it is game over for you! Most people do not realize that the choices they make dont shape their life as much as choices other people make about them, which is mostly based on how much they like you!

As an extreme example I remember a character in the TV series Get Smart in the 1970s. Get Smart was a spoof on the then popular James Bond franchise, in which Agent 86 (James Bonds bumbling, accident-prone perverted alter-ego in this series) is always screwing up his assignments, but somehow accomplishing each mission in the end. In one episode they introduced a character, Simon the Likeable, who was an affable old man wearing a beret and with a twinkle in his eyes. In his character Simon the Likeable was quintessentially the epitome of likeability. No one could say no to him, no matter where he went and what he asked for, including top-secret government agencies. He always got what he wanted. Of course, he worked on the other side (for Kaos!) and agent Smart had to deal with him (he couldnt!).

Parody aside, Likeability is a key attribute for anyone in business and for anyone who relies on social interactions for their livelihood, let alone their success. Over the years, Ive read many books and articles on negotiations, including salary and other elements in a new job or even in your existing job. One factor that is common across all the authors exhortations is the constant refrain to their readers: Throughout your interactions from the get-go make sure that those in the decision loop like you as you cross your hurdles and qualify yourself through the selection process.

I find this also during interview debriefs I get from my clients. If they have ingratiated well with the interviewer and made all the right moves (see the list below) they get a helping hand when they fumble. In contrast, when they do the opposite, despite their snappy responses to interview questions (I was able to answer every single question, but still did not get that job) they failed to cross the likeability chasm. Often, in such cases the selection process is waiting for them to fumble, even just once, to catch their wrong and to reject them.

So, what do you have to do to be likeable? Here is my list. This list is derived from my own experience and on how people make their choices in selecting whom they want to associate with or help. Being able to answer all interview questions (as an instance) is mere table stakes; being also likeable can be the tipping point:

  1. Be aware of your image. This means how you come across to others and how they perceive you as their first impression. Once you are aware of this projection you can soften (if you need to) your edges and learn how to connect with people in a more positive way. Learning to smile and to show genuinely being glad as you shake the other persons hand can be a good start.
  2. Learn how to listen well. This is one of the most underrated skills in a human interaction. When you are listening to the other person manage your body language to show that you are responding to how they are communicating. You can do this through your body motions, facial expressions, eyes, and other physical vocabulary (nodding your head).
  3. Learn how to pick up on subtle (and not so subtle) signals. If the other person is telling you a story about what happened when he first met his CEO in another country and inserts, as he is narrating his story, how he lost is passport going from the airport, do not forget to ask after the main anecdote is done, how he dealt with the lost passport in a foreign land by saying something at the end of your conversation, by the way, how did you deal with that lost passport?
  4. Be authentic, always. During interviews, especially, candidates have a tendency to inflate their accomplishments. Some even will go out of the way to package what they want to say to come across as what they perceive the other person wants to hear. This compromises your authenticity. When you do that you inevitably get trapped in some other place where the contradiction in what you said and what you are now saying jumps out to the interviewer. Once you lose your credibility it is game over for you. Learn how to tell your story truthfully and honestly. People will like you more if you show your vulnerabilities and tell them what you learned from your failures.
  5. Make yourself relatable to the other person. This is called ethos (I am like you). At a human level we are all equal. So, without taking a big detour in your exploration try to find little things that connect you with the other person and without trumpeting the similarities let the other person say to themselves, youre just like me.
  6. Empathy is the ability to mentally, psychologically, or emotionally identifying oneself (and, so, fully comprehending) another person. It is not pity or sympathy, which stem from feeling sorry for the other person. Rather, it is feeling sorry WITH someone. This is a learned skill.
  7. Self-control has to do with your ability to not get excited in a conversation where your emotions rule what you do. For example, if the other person is taking a point of view on a particular topic of discussion and you do not agree with it, then there is a discord. If you now take a strong view of this disagreement and get emotionally carried away, you have lost it. Self-control is an important element of emotional intelligence.
  8. Be respectful to the other person. So, in #7 above if you disagree with the other person you can do that without becoming disagreeable. This, too, is a learned skill. In such situations learning to smile and injecting some humor in the argument can quickly defuse the situation.
  9. Show your value. In any interaction, especially in a business context, you can hold the other persons interest as long as they are able to see the value you bring in that interaction and the future (potential) relationship with you. Unless you are clearly able to articulate that value in your conversations with them this importanteven criticalelement will remain unaddressed. So, any chances you get keep hammering away at your value proposition.
  10. Make a memorable point. This final element has to do with your ability to talk less and listen more in such conversations. So, if you spend time thinking about what the other person is saying and talk less in the process you have a better chance of capturing that persons essence of what they are saying. If you are able to then respond back to that person with something that they will take away as memorable or witty you will have succeeded in making an impression on that person. Being likeable is an integral part of this element.

So, there you have it. Likeability is not something mysterious or unattainable because you lack something that is obvious and missinggood looks, witty personality, or some other endowment. It is a learned skills and easily conquerable. Try it!

Good luck!

About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.

Website: http://dilipsaraf.com/?p=2486


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