Why are some people likable while others come off as grating? I discussed this question a while back with Michael St. Lawrence, co-author of the classic how-to sales book If You're Not Out Selling, You're Being Outsold.

Michael and I compared notes on the people we'd met in business (especially in sales but elsewhere, too) and discovered that they all seemed to follow the same seven rules:

1. Develop a friendly greeting.

When you meet somebody face-to-face, your smile, handshake and eye contact should be top quality. Rehearse these with a colleague who'll give honest feedback. Your phone greeting should be equally top-notch. Rehearse that, too.

2. Get names right.

Since people tend mispronounce my own name, I can say from personal experience it's irritating (and feels unprofessional) when people get my name wrong. Be fanatical about pronunciation with unusual names. It will be appreciated. Trust me.

3. Focus on the other person.

While it's OK to talk about yourself, if you find yourself talking too much about your weekend, your golf game, your family or your job, then you're probably not listening enough. Ask a question; then listen carefully. Ask a follow-up. Repeat as necessary.

4. Remember personal details.

Take note when a business contact reveals something personal, like the names of family members, birthdays, and special events. Bringing them up when appropriate lets the other person feel special.

5. Speak well of others.

Whatever the temptation, avoid criticizing anyone, especially a competitor, in front of a business contact, especially a customer. Criticizing others makes you seem underhanded, insecure and small-minded.

6. Stay upbeat and positive.

Likable people are typically genuinely interested in others, enthusiastic, and eager to help. A positive, upbeat attitude, along with honest curiosity, plays a big role in creating mutual respect, which is the basis for friendship.

7. Consider other people important.

Building rapport and strong relationships requires more than just exhibiting common courtesy and a friendly attitude. It means treating the other person as if they were one of the most important individuals in your world.

In my own experience, it's this last rule that really makes the difference. People can tell when you're just going through the motions. It's when you really focus on the other person and believe that he or she is important that people warm to you.