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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

4 Psychology-Backed Ways to Be More Likable (That Anyone Can Pull Off)

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Humans are a quirky lot. We like to believe we’re hyper logical, but our behavior—and research—suggest otherwise.

We’re heavily swayed by the people, messages, and circumstances around us—but, wait, this is actually a good thing! Understanding the peculiarities of our psychology can be advantageous.

Specifically, there are four psychological insights that you can use as a starting point to build strategic relationships and garner goodwill throughout your network.

Why do this?

Well, to get ahead, of course. I’m not talking about manipulation. I’m talking about making small, simple moves to cultivate professional relationships and be more likable.

1. Show Up

If you want to connect with someone, you have to be near that person, preferably in the same physical space.

Obvious, right?

But there’s some interesting research that suggests that people tend to favor people they’ve seen before—even if they didn’t interact—over those they’ve never laid eyes on. And, the more they see those individuals the more they like them (this also works on things, FYI).

Known as the Mere Exposure Effect, it suggests that a starting point for connecting with others is creating opportunities for paths to cross.

How to Do It

Get creative, but don’t go overboard. If there’s someone you want to connect with, maybe you find yourself grabbing coffee at the same time, or you strike up conversation while you both wait for the elevator.

Why it Matters

You can’t connect with someone you never see. There are lots of ways to pursue an introduction to a key person, but just getting in front of them first may boost your likability and improve your chances of hitting it off when you do meet.

2. Find Common Ground

In The Best Place To Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace Ron Freeman explains, “The more we have in common with others…the more we tend to like them.”

This similarity doesn’t have to be a deep, philosophical belief, nor does it need to be work-related. You might like a certain musician, app, game—whatever. The options for finding common ground are endless.

How to Do It

Be genuine. Surely, you can find one area to connect on, and when you do, don’t forget it. Build off of your mutual interest in cold brew coffee or outdoor concerts, and find a way to work it into future conversations.

Why it Matters

Discovering you share a similarity with a co-worker helps to form a trusting relationship. And when you have trust, there’s room to grow and collaborate together.

3. Be a Giver

Several years ago I helped a friend move in the sweltering Texas heat. It was a truly miserable day. But I did it because my friend had helped me in the past. Enter the rule of reciprocity. In his book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success Adam Grant details how “givers” often come out ahead in the long run compared with “matchers” and “takers,” in no small part because their actions endear themselves to others.

How to Do It

Think of a problem you can solve or practical aid you can offer someone you want to connect with. Even just lending something small can work beautifully: “I read this book recently about leadership; I thought you might enjoy reading it, too.”

Why it Matters

With gestures like these, you’re not only proving your chops as a dependable colleague and team player, you’re setting yourself up to be able to request help when you need it. That’s important—considering that no one makes it to the top without support.

4. Do as They Do

If you really want to boost your likeability, research out of Duke University suggests mimicking the person you’re talking to. That’s right—do as they do and speak as they speak. When you understand how this dynamic can literally make you better liked, it’s a no-brainer thing to begin doing.

How to Do It

The key here is subtlety—overdoing it could backfire. If the other person leans forward as they speak to you, gently lean forward as well. Don’t get caught up in trying to literally copy every move. You want to look natural, not forced.

Why it Matters

Mimicry is part of what connects us to others. It signals our alignment with the person we mimic. In fact, people intentionally behave differently from people they don't want to be associated with.

Bear in mind that none of these approaches are magic. These are, at the end of the day, simply insights that might be helpful if used correctly. If you want to build strong professional relationships and be liked, start by treating others well, use these psychological insights to give you an edge.

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