Years ago, I met a financial executive who had sold the first $100 million life insurance policy. When I asked how he did it, he said, "relationships." You don't "pitch" a $100 million policy, he told me. "If your client doesn't like you, you have no chance."
Since that day, I've immersed myself in the field of cognitive and social science. Specifically, why we 'buy' ideas from some people and not from others. After all, we can't connect with other people if you we don't understand how the brain works.
Although there are several excellent books on the subject, The Art of Thinking Clearly is a fantastic overview. Author Rolf Dobelli is a novelist and PhD in philosophy. He approaches the subject of mental shortcuts--heuristics-- in a way that non-scientists can understand.
The chapter where Dobelli dives into the "liking bias" is particularly valuable. The liking bias is "startlingly simple to understand," writes Dobelli. "The more we like someone, the more inclined we are to buy from or help that person."
Dobelli offers three specific qualities of people who others consider likable. Anyone can study these attributes to make themselves more appealing.
"We see people as pleasant if they are outwardly attractive," writes Dobelli.
This is where likability studies get tricky. 'Don't judge a book by its cover' is a popular adage because we're uncomfortable with the notion that people snap judgments of us based on our appearance. For those of us who don't look like super-models, there are many ways to elevate the outward appearance we show the world. I'll use myself as an example.
I don't have the body type of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, but I can exercise a minimum of four days a week to stay in shape. I don't look like George Clooney, but I can make sure I'm always dressed in high quality, tailored clothes, especially when I speak to an audience. And I can always put on a smile--the simplest way to make a good impression.
Recently, we've seen a counter movement in the advertising industry. Instead of air-brushed models whose appearance is unattainable, brands are using real customers and real people who look like the rest of us. This trend plays into the second attribute of likable people--they're like us.
Likable people "are similar to us in terms of origin, personality, or interests."
Advertisers who run real-people campaigns choose people 'like you and me,' the customers who actually buy their products. "In short, the more similar, the better," says Dobelli.
Great speakers use this technique to connect with their audience. I met a high-profile attorney who shares many personal stories in his public speeches, but he almost always starts with a story about his grandmother. "Everyone has a grandma," he told me. "It's an instant connection."
Trying too hard to find similarities can lead to inauthentic behavior, however. Be careful. We've all heard the jokes about politicians running for office and showing up at the county fair dressed in work boots, straw hats and overalls. They look out of place because they are out of place.
The key is to find something you share in common while expressing your authentic self with others.
According to research, "we find people appealing if they like us," writes Dobelli. "Compliments work wonders."
According to Dobelli, the evidence that everyone likes a compliment is so conclusive, "if you're a salesperson, make buyers think you like them, even if this means outright flattery."
I recently had an experience that reminded me of this final attribute. I surprised one of my daughters with tickets to her favorite band. Unfortunately, the show sold out instantly and the best I could do was to find two seats in the second to last row of a large stadium.
During the opening acts, I walked out to the lobby and spotted a security guard I had seen earlier. I gave her a genuine compliment on how calmly she handled 20,000 screaming teenage girls rushing into the stadium. A few minutes later, I was surprised to see the guard walking many rows up the stairs to find us.
"We have two empty seats near the stage. Would you and your daughter like them?" She asked.
And with that, me and my daughter enjoyed an experience we won't ever forget. People don't just like compliments--they crave compliments. And they don't hear enough of them.
My column space is filled with specific techniques to help you communicate effectively, deliver engaging presentations, and sell your ideas more persuasively. The strategies will work far more successfully if your listener finds you appealing. Fortunately, likability research can give you an edge.