Although most of us have been told not to worry what others think, it's understandable to wonder whether being liked will help sell more products, land that coveted position, or woo angel investors.

Turns out, likability helps.

To be sure, it's not the be-all and end-all of getting ahead in business. At the same time, raising the likability factor can push professionals toward their corporate and personal goals.

Winning the likability lottery

Most people know who fits the "likable" description in their workplace or circle of friends. Generally, the likable member of any group becomes a magnet for good times. She's the one who brightens the mood, brings the pizza, and even makes long meetings seem to fly by.

And what about the guy with the delightfully self-deprecating sense of humor? He's probably benefiting from the pratfall effect, a researched phenomenon that suggests people who can admit their flaws seem more human and therefore more attractive to be around.

People who fit the likability bill tend to snag lots of goodies, including job offers. Even if they lack some technical skills or education, they seem trustworthy to bosses. The overall expectation is that they can learn anything because they're so open, warm, and focused.

Plus, they make good first impressions. As one study noted, first impressions are powerful stuff. A likable photograph was all it took to create a strong first impression in the minds of study participants, and their positive impression lasted for at least a month.

Worried that perhaps you aren't coming off as an affable soul? You can learn the rules of the likability game by doing these five things.

1. Seek out the positive.

See the glass as half empty? Rather than immediately pointing out the bad aspects of a situation, focus on something positive, such as the opportunity to learn after your sales team experiences a lousy week.

Ironically, you don't even have to say a word to appear positive. A smile can encourage others to mirror your perceived behavior and attitude, according to research. Pretty quickly, they'll associate that positivity with being around you.

2. Find common ground.

Have you ever had the experience of trying to sell to a tough nut who won't budge? You're at your wit's end until you bring up your upcoming trip to, say, Costa Rica. Suddenly, your prospect changes her tune and starts rattling off Costa Rican hotspots. By a happy coincidence, you found a connection, and your likability score just went way up.

Every time you find common ground, you make yourself seem more familiar. This helps reduce resistance to talking or doing business with you, not to mention opening the door for future shared experiences based on commonalities. And you needn't rely on a lucky coincidence, either: Unearthing similarities is easy with a little old-fashioned scrutiny of pictures on desks, viewing of LinkedIn profiles, and social-media account browsing.

3. Own your faults.

Perfection is highly overrated. Be willing to talk about your mistakes and laugh off the blunders you make. Walked out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe? Don't be afraid to have a chuckle at your own expense. Of course, some missteps won't be cause for hilarity, and in those cases it's even more important to acknowledge your mistake and do all you can to make things right.

Mike Monroe, digital strategy manager at Vector Marketing, believes this type of behavior boils down to basic self-awareness. In fact, he notes, likability and showing a human side go hand in hand. "Being likable means more than not burning bridges," he explains. "It means being aware of what it's like to work with you." Admitting your faults and working to overcome them will make you a more valuable--and likable--colleague.

4. Ask questions.

Do you have a habit of doing all the talking in meetings? Rather than commandeering conversations, turn on your inquisitive side. Ask others about themselves and spark discussions that circle around their life and work, not yours.

As you practice, be sure you're actively paying attention to people's answers. Don't allow your mind to wander, or you'll seem insincere instead of charismatic. Rather than thinking about what you're going to say next, listen intently to what the other person says, repeating key phrases or getting clarification when necessary.

5. Open up to the power of praise.

To be likable, you have to learn to both give and receive compliments. A huge error many people make after receiving a compliment is arguing with the giver. Even if you don't feel you deserve merit, be gracious. Flash your pearly whites and say a sincere, friendly "thank you."

At the same time, look for chances to genuinely point out others' good deeds and attributes. Just telling a team member "I liked the way you handled that tough client" can mean a great deal.

You may not be topping the likability charts yet, but it's never too late to improve. Start small, and you might be surprised by the positive experiences a little amiability will send your way.

Published on: Nov 11, 2018