I recently had a university graduate going for an interview with a large bank and the interview was over Skype. Even though he was in my office, we did the practice on Skype and I was in the next room to see what the experience would be like for the panel chair.
My experience of him in person was different to that of him on Skype. He came across as warmer and friendlier in person but that part of his personality was lost quickly online. So we had to really amplify those character traits to show that he was likeable.
We know that in a recruitment context, a candidate can be extended the offer more than 50% of the time if the recruiter likes the person. According to the Wall Street Journal, a study of 133 managers by the University of Massachusetts found that if an auditor is likeable and gives a well-organised argument, managers will tend to comply with his suggestions, even if they disagree and the auditor lacks supporting evidence.
So can likeability be taught? I believe it can. I spent over 15 years teaching rapport building and connection in the retail industry. Every time I went into a situation where sales needed to be lifted, I focussed less on the dollars and more on the staff and how they connected with people. As a result, in one store the turnover doubled in 12 months. So the 5 steps I reckon make the biggest difference to your “in-person” likeability are:
- Read people: Watch all the non-verbal cues and body language. Look for micro expressions and their eye contact. I was in a hurry to catch a flight to a conference last week and my shoe broke on my way to the check-in counter. I ran to one of the stores in the airport frantically looking for a new pair of shoes to replace them. I was quickly scanning the shoe section, trying on styles and looking for something that would fit me to get me to the conference. My flight was boarding in five minutes! The sales assistant casually came up and asked me if I was happy browsing. Now, maybe they had other things on their mind but clearly I wasn’t there because I had nothing to do. This was serious shoe shopping! They didn’t read my body language and pace to realise that I was in desperate need of help to solve my issue. I had to say “no, I’m not just browsing, I need help!”. If you can read people you can anticipate their needs which leads to asking the right question. A better question to ask would be “You look like you’re in a hurry trying to find something, let me help you”.
- Asking questions: Everyone loves to talk about themselves. Each person is their own favourite subject and everything you say they will relate their own experience to it and tell you what that means for them. The way to shortcut this process is to just go straight to asking questions about how they are, their weekend, how their last meeting went, how their project is going, how their kids are, is the dog back from the vet? The likelihood of someone taking too much interest in them that day is quite low so it’s easy to connect by helping them feel as important and as special as they are. Ideally a conversation flows 30 seconds to one person and 30 seconds to other. Keep an eye on how long you’re speaking for and if it’s too long or too short to connect.
- Knowing what the person might be thinking: This shows empathy and that you understand the person’s world. The more you can connect with what they’re not saying, the more you’ll remove the barrier between them and you. They will like you because you understand their pain or challenge.
- Give compliments: People are absorbed in their world of daily problems of dealing with kids, colleagues, issues and things that need to be fixed. They’re often in overwhelm and stress. A simple compliment like mentioning their hair, an item of clothing or if they have nice shoes, saying they have really nice shoes. It’s important to be sincere and show that you noticed. Don’t say they look nice if they look terrible, that’s just being inauthentic. People love compliments. It was Maya Angelou who said “people will forget what you said but they will remember how you made them feel”.
- Appropriate touch: This one you really need to be able to read people well. I’m a natural toucher and by that I mean I often hug my clients, when I work with them and that’s my style, but I know when I need to keep my distance. If you can read people well, a gentle touch on their sleeve can make them connect quickly with you. For example, when I coach people and they have wins I will always shake their hand. It changes the energy and the personalisation of the experience amplifies.
- Friendliness: Smile. I know this seems so simple. Did you know your smile can be a predictor of how long you’ll live? Regardless of what country you live in or language you speak a smile cuts through everything and is contagious. If you wrote down how many times you smile in a day how many would there be?
- Eye Contact: Direct eye contact builds trust quickly. By looking down or away makes the person feel like you’re not interested in what they have to say. When they speak look them in the eye. By maintaining eye contact when you speak will help keep them engaged and more likely to hear what you said.
- Lighten up: I know I said 7 tips but you get a bonus! Banter, having a joke and not taking yourself too seriously adds volumes. Jennifer Hawkins showed this when she was sashaying down the catwalk in her beautiful Bora Couture skirt and it fell off. Rather than blame the designer or the organisers she simply laughed and said “Geez, I wish I had better undies on”. Her likeability factor went sky high in the one comment.
These steps are not about inauthentic or fabricated in anyway. The heart of likeability is making it less about you and more about them. If you take a moment to watch, observe and listen, ironically the more you’ll influence and get the outcomes you’re looking for.