Likable is powerful. And it’s so ridiculously easy. Or should be.
Back when dinosaurs roamed the planet and I got my first real #1 job running a company – a retailing company – I knew something that didn’t seem apparent to my competitors. For that matter, it didn’t seem it was being practiced by hardly anybody who served the public. It was 1982. I was 25. I held a morning meeting with just one focus, being polite. I remember saying, “Who knew there’d come a time when manners would be a competitive edge, but here we are?” For half an hour or so we talked about making sure we always (100% of the time) incorporated, “please” and “thank you” and “sir” and “ma’am.”
It’s at the core of being likable. Without it, we don’t even get out of the gate successfully. It’s true in our personal relationships. And with our customers. And with our employees.
We could direct any discussion about being likable to a host of worthwhile points. It’s such a valuable quality you’d think it’d warrant more attention. Maybe it just seems so elementary people discount it.
But once again, I’m going to say what I remember first saying 36 years ago. Who knew there’d be a time when being likable would be a competitive advantage? Truth is, being likable is always – and has always – been an advantage.
To be liked by some requires a willingness to be hated by others.
That means you’re going to stand out. Stand apart. Growing up, it’s not something many of us wanted to achieve. High school taught us how invaluable that could be. The pressure was intense to be like everybody else, and not stand out. Fitting in was the objective. We wrongheadedly thought that was the path to success.
Then life showed us how foolishly wrong we were.
It’s funny. Through the years I’ve talked with people about their 10th, 20th and even more advanced high school reunions. No, I’ve never been to one. My family moved to a different town when I was in the middle of my junior year so I was forever scarred by a horrible high school ending. 😉 (yes, I’m kidding)
People often talk about the people they thought would rise to the top of some endeavor because they were so popular in high school. Sometimes it happens. Often times, based on the stories they share, it doesn’t. I pretty regularly hear people say, “It’s like they peaked in high school I guess.” What a sad time to peak, huh?
Some of those kids were snooty. Unapproachable. Downright mean.
And sometimes those sweet, kind kids were seen as weak.
I’m old. I hope things have changed since I was in high school. Something tells me kids can still be cruel and mean. And popular at the same time. Just consider the venom being published today. The comedy shows that feast on a President, and making fun of anybody else available…well, is there a show that doesn’t follow that model? Insulting people is a full-time job for some. A part-time hobby for others.
Civility is gone. Popularity is King. And being likable isn’t polarizing enough to be popular. Last week the President decided to slam LeBron James using his favorite medium, Twitter. Trash talking has reached galactic heights, or maybe it goes the other way. Maybe it’s reached abysmal lows. No matter, it’s a professional pastime.
Back in January 2013, NPR’s Alix Spiegel wrote an article entitled, “No Mercy For Robots: Experiment Tests How Humans Relate To Machines.”
In the article, Alix cites some research going back to the late 90’s where computers interacted with people with politeness versus computers that were more direct without the niceties. She quotes Stanford professor Clifford Nass…
“Every culture has a rule of reciprocity, which roughly means, if I do something nice for you, you will do something nice for me. We wanted to see whether people would apply that to technology: Would they help a computer that helped them more than a computer that didn’t help them?”
When robots/computers were polite people behaved in kind. In fact, in one experiment where people were told to unplug the computer if the computer begged politely for them to not unplug…people displayed an apparent moral quandary. They’d engage in dialogue with the machine as though they were speaking with another person. Proof that likability pays, even if it’s our digital devices like Siri, Alexa, Echo or some other digital assistant. Do you say “thank you” or “please” to your digital assistant? 😉
Politeness is a big part of being likable. It’s part of our ability and desire to connect.
I see it every day during early morning walks. There are people I see almost daily. As we pass each other, they’ll make eye contact, smile and reply to my greeting, “Good morning.” There are other people I see almost daily who never look up, clearly wanting to avoid eye contact…and others who are looking up, but acting as though they don’t see you. Uninterested in replying to your, “Good morning” or your subtle wave. There are about 3 people who have never responded to me, but I keep greeting them. It’s a challenge to see if one day they’ll become more polite. So far, they’ve chosen not to.
I see it every day in the gym. Except there the circumstances may warrant different behavior. If a person is dialed into a weight lifting session, etiquette requires the polite thing to do is to give them space and don’t distract them. It’s interesting to watch people selfishly invade somebody’s space. Politeness fosters likability. Impoliteness (aka rudeness) fosters us being annoyed.
I’ve never seen a person or company gain new customers, much less serve existing customers better, by annoying them. I’ve seen annoying people make a sale, but never create a happy customer, which is the first leg of hitting the trifecta of successful business building.
It’s equally impossible to serve existing customers better without kindness, politeness and being likable. Being likable is marketable. And not just to prospects. It’s also marketable to potential employees, suppliers and anybody else we hope to attract.
In short, being likable is attractive!
Being real, truthful, honest, forthright and human are just a few elements of being attractive. There are some elements of likability that may be less general, and more specific. When I was single, I mostly was attracted to blondes. I don’t know why. Sometimes we just like what we like. It works if we – and our company – are liked by the prospects we hope to serve. It doesn’t work at all if our likability factors aren’t congruent with the market we hope to serve. I’m attracted to candid conversation, but not everybody rolls that way. Some people are intent on keeping the mask of “I’m great, and everything is fine!” on. I’m disinterested in working with people like that, so I suspect neither of us find each other attractive. That’s fine. It works. For both of us.
You’ve got to figure out who you’re attracted to, and who finds you attractive. It’s a big part of marketing. But for today, let me leave you with a challenge to incorporate being nice – kind, generous, polite and whatever other terms you want to incorporate into it – into your daily behavior and culture.
Be likable. Genuinely so. You’ll figure the rest of it out from there, and it may change your life and your business because it remains a competitive edge.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!
P.S. Steven Page, one of the founding members of the BareNaked Ladies (now a solo artist), posted this a few days ago on Instagram. Fitting. “If you must, point out your politeness.”