Are You Likable or Unlikable? Science Says the Rule of Presence Provides an Immediate Answer

Posted by cpoblog on April 14, 2022 in Newsworthy |

Sure, it helps to be outgoing and gregarious, but science shows that presence — or just anticipated presence — makes a major difference in likability.

First up, the outcome-driven reasons. Research shows genuinely likable people tend to be more successful in sales. More likely to enlist the help of, and even lead, other people. More likely to be promoted or hired.

In short, genuine likability is a driver of success.

And then there’s this. Genuine likability is crucial to building and maintaining great relationships. Likability is crucial to influencing, in a good way, the people around you. Likability is crucial in helping other people feel better about themselves.

In short, genuine likability is a driver of positive, lasting connections and relationships.

So are you likable?

Answering that question could mean considering how thoughtful you are. How giving. How self-deprecating. How attentive. There are a number of different ways to assess whether people think you’re likable. (Because that’s one assessment we all instinctively make when we interact with other people.)

Or you could just ask yourself two questions.

“Do I Show Up?”
Imagine that you attend an in-person college class for a semester. You never speak up. You never speak to anyone. You’re just there. Will the people in the class consider you to be likable?

It all depends on how often you attend.

In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the same four women attended a number of different classes. Sometimes certain women would attend every class. Sometimes they would attend about half the classes. Sometimes they only attended one or two.

What didn’t vary was how they communicated. They never spoke to anyone.

At the end of the semester, students were asked which of the women they liked best. The ones who attended the most classes were consistently rated as most likable, the ones who attended the fewest classes were rated as least likable.

That seems odd, since none of the women rated ever interacted with anyone. How can you decide that I’m likable, or unlikable, if you’ve never talked to me?

According to the researchers:

Mere exposure had weak effects on familiarity, but strong effects on attraction and similarity.

Which is a fancy way of saying, “The more often I see you, the more I will like you.”

One way to know if you’re likable? Whether you show up regularly.

Or barring that….

“Do People Know I Will Show Up?”
Say your business involves multiple locations across the country. Even if you’re Roger Penske and log over 600,000 air miles a year visiting your worldwide operations, you still may only see many of your employees a few times a year. How can you be likable if you are rarely present?

In a classic study first published in Human Relations, researchers gave participants profiles of two people and told them that one would be a partner in future discussion groups.

Oddly enough, when asked, the participants said they liked their future partner more — even though the profiles were basically identical.

According to the researchers:

When a person is in a unit relationship (meaning you’re part of an organization or team or even just a discussion group) with another person, there is a tendency toward making the relationship harmonious.

This harmony may be achieved by liking the other person.

Which is a fancy way of saying that if I know I’ll see you, I’m more likely to like you because I would greatly prefer to like you. No one likes to be in a “unit relationship” with people they don’t like.

Deciding ahead of time that I will like you helps me avoid cognitive dissonance, the natural discomfort that comes from holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time.

If I know I’ll see you again, it feels better to me to assume I like you.

Which means I’m already primed to like you.

Which means you don’t have to be exceptionally likable when we do meet. All you have to do is avoid screwing things up.

Exposure Effect and Anticipated Presence
Research shows a major factor in likability is frequent, consistent presence. That’s the exposure effect.

Research also shows that knowing someone will show up is a major factor in likability. That’s anticipated presence.

So start by showing up. Stop by. Make a call. Send an email. Be a consistent presence, whether in person or virtual, if only for a few minutes at a time.

And if you can’t do that, let people know when you will show up. Let employees know when you’ll visit their location. Set regular Zoom meetings, even if those sessions are months apart. Send regular update emails.

When people know you will show up, even if those moments are infrequent, they will like you more.

Whether you’re outgoing and gregarious, or not.

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