This year, my work on Forbes, Huffington Post, and LinkedIn has allowed me to connect with millions of people I never would have had the chance to without these avenues. It’s been a deeply rewarding experience on many fronts, and surprising and eye-opening on other levels. In hearing from so many people around the world, I’ve become aware of one thing more than ever—some individuals are easy to like, support and engage with, and others simply are not.
In my coaching work, clients often want to explore how to better connect with colleagues and peers, and we’ve explored what makes some individuals enjoyable to be with and others far less so. Obviously, each person’s assessment of “likable” is subjective, and will be different from other people’s definitions. Our ideas about what is likable are based on our unique histories, filters, perceptions, cultural training, and even gender. I know too that behavior that is deemed “likable” is not set in stone, and varies with different cultures and societies. That said, I’ve observed nine common traits among people who are widely well-liked – people who connect well, make friends easily, generate great supporters, are easy and fun to be around, and in short, make it easy for others to like, respect and trust them.
Below are what I’ve found to be 9 essential traits of likable people, along with some behavioral tips to help you boost your likability through subtle but important shifts in your mindset, language and approach to others:
1. They relate open-heartedly to others
Have you ever met someone who feels like they’re completely closed off—keeping things tightly bottled up and close to the vest, who acts as if engaging and connecting with others is an arduous chore? People who operate as if everything and everyone are a danger or a threat are hard to be with. On the other hand, those who behave in a trusting, loving manner, with an open and kind heart, are easy to like.
Watch yourself in the next month. When new people approach you, how do you receive them—with your heart open or with guarded, reserved looks and language that say “Beware! Stay away!”
2. They’re kind and gentle, not critical
While many thousands of people engage each day in mean-spirited gossip and backstabbing behavior, almost all of us recognize this as nasty and off-putting (even if we can’t stop ourselves from doing it). People who have any self-awareness at all know that being critical, judgmental and harsh is not a recipe for engaging productively with others. Merciless critics may find themselves in the spotlight for a brief moment because their unkindness can be funny and entertaining to some. But you’ll find that it’s the kind, generous and gentle-minded individuals who have the largest community of friends and colleagues who truly like them.
This month, watch your language and your messages. If you make many more critical and unkind remarks than gentle, positive ones, your likability is in danger.
3. They are able to walk in others’ shoes
Think about the friends you have now and the people you know. Do you like and admire people who can empathize with others, and stand in others’ shoes? Or are you drawn to people who are snobby, condescending, and act as if they’ve never had a problem, flaw or crisis? Likable people don’t separate themselves from others or hold themselves above. They are fully able to step into another’s shoes and experience with understanding and empathy the plight of another human being.
Be honest with yourself about your ability to empathize with others. Are you able to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and feel what they’re feeling, with compassion? If not, what stops you from doing it?
4. They have a ready laugh and easy sense of humor
E.E. Cummings shared that “the most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” Humor brings with it joy, lightness, and a remembrance that everything in life isn’t so grave and dire (and that this too shall pass). People with a ready laugh and a keen sense of humor are easy to like because they lighten our loads and remind of us to be more joyful and easy with what’s in front of us.
How often do you laugh, down to your toes? If it’s a rare occurrence, take some time to tap into what makes you laugh and smile, and bring that forward in your life and work any way you can.
5. They don’t take themselves too seriously
People who take themselves too seriously and make mountains out of every molehill are difficult to like. It’s all about comparing, perfection, winning, and amassing achievements and accomplishments like notches on a bedpost. Likable people, on the other hand, have learned to avoid taking themselves or what happens too seriously—good or bad. They let their slip-ups and missteps go (even laugh at them), and don’t beat themselves (or other people) up for their flaws and foibles. They know that all humans have imperfections, but that knowledge doesn’t make life any less sweet.
Are you looking at your situation and your life as if there are no positive solutions or options in sight? Are you able to see that you can take the reins and make even slight changes next year that will have important and positive ripples and repercussions? Can you lighten up a bit this year?
6. They have high integrity and generate trust easily
Likable people say what they mean, and mean what they say. You look in their eyes, and believe them and trust in them because you can see and sense that they are honest – with themselves and with others. We are drawn to those who have well-defined boundaries, and have developed principles and values that guide them, and aren’t afraid to communicate them. These folks don’t lord their principles over us, but are satisfied to live authentically by their own values with grace, ease and clarity. That makes them a joy to engage with because we know where we—and they—stand.
Are you living from the highest place of integrity, honesty and trust? Do you say what you mean and mean what you say? If not, can you commit to expanding your integrity next year? (Read the great book The Four Agreements for some powerful tips on this.)
7. They seem genuinely happy to be in their own skin and to relate to others from that confident place
At the next gathering or party you’re attending this season, sit back and observe those around you. Can you tell who seems genuinely comfortable in their own skin and excited to connect with others from that place? Sure, some folks are more introverted or shy than others, and a bit awkward, but I’m not talking about extroversion. I’m referring to self-knowledge and self-acceptance – knowing who you are, and feeling good about that. Your likability expands as you expand your ability to like yourself.
Take this special time of year to do a thorough inventory of your relationship with yourself. Do you like yourself? Do you honor your own thoughts, values and preferences in life rather than make yourself wrong? If that’s a challenge for you, get some help to forge a stronger, more loving relationship with yourself.
8. They are grateful for what they have and who they are
Gratitude is a critical component to a happy, well-lived and fulfilling life. People who are never satisfied in life are tough to like. No matter what happens, they seem to find fault in it, and can’t access gratitude and thankfulness for the blessings they do have in their lives. On the other hand, likable people acknowledge their blessings and bring gratitude to the forefront every day.
Take Shawn Achor’s 21-day Happiness Challenge. Commit to bringing gratitude forward in your life, and to recognizing (and relishing) all that you have to be thankful for.
9. They’re happy for other people’s success and joy
Finally, likable people have honed the ability to be happy for others. They exude joy at the success and goodness that other people experience. They’re not grasping, clawing and fiercely protective of what’s around them, operating from a scarcity mentality. They know there is enough in life for everyone to benefit from and enjoy.
Do you feel jealous and upset when you hear of another person’s good fortune, and think “Why isn’t that me?” If so, 2015 is the year to tap into your wellspring of goodness, generosity and happiness for other people. The more you can heal your past traumas and pain and find a way to be genuinely happy for others, the more that joy will flow back to you.