Fulfillment at Any Age

How to remain productive and healthy into your later years

9 Ways to Win Fans and Influence People

Getting people to like you in 9 easy steps

If you care about being liked, and most of us do, how can you improve your chances?   Getting along with people and being liked are two very different issues.  To get along with someone requires that you figure out how to balance meeting your needs with that of another person until the two of you arrive at a resolution.  Your best chances of being liked occur when you go along with the desires of other even if it means sacrificing your personal goals. To be liked means that other people have positive associations to you so that when they see or think about you, it's with a mental smile.

What about if you don't particularly care about being liked? You have a job to do, for example, that involves your making tough decisions that possibly cause other people to resent your or, at best, prefer to stay out of your way. When they think of you, it's with an active sense that being with you will cause them more pain than pleasure. However, even in these situations, you don't have to be saddled with a bad reputation. You can do your job and still be regarded positively by the people you supervise, your bosses, and your peers.

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Being disliked or, to put it more neutrally, not being particularly liked, may not seem as important to you as staying true to your ideals and values. At the end of the day, though, being liked does matter. The way that you're regarded by others can affect your mental and physical health. People who are liked have larger social networks which, in turn, provide them with more social support during times of stress or crisis. When you're liked,  people will also go out of their way to help you when you need a favor, an act that can greatly reduce your sense of emotional isolation and, concretely, give your assistance in completing a task that needs to be one that you can't do yourself.

The desire to be liked gets a bad reputation when it's associated with giving up your principles or manipulating people so that you can get them to do what you want them to do. You may feel that it's phony to show interest in people you don't care about at all.  In the worst case scenario, this is what politicians do when they are trying to win votes. They'll promise anything just to get them to like you, a process they figure is cental to getting you to vote for them. When Mitt Romney criticizes Barack Obama, he's always quick to point out that Obama is a "nice guy." This makes Romney seem more likeable because he's not directly attacking his opponent.  We can't fault Romney, so the argument would go, because he doesn't seem mean or attacking. By calling Obama a nice guy, Romney seems like a nice guy, so nice that we'll like him. If we like particular politicians, we're more likely to vote for them so seeming likeable works to their advantage.

One of the chief ways to get people to like you would seem like the least likely to work  in your favor. This is to take advantage of what's known as the "underdog effect."  You might think that a strong winning record is to your advantage when you're trying to show that you're qualified for a job or accomplishment-based recognition. However, being too strong of a contender can cause people to feel less sympathetic to you when there's something you need from them. After all, if you have so many things going for you, why should you get more? According to the underdog effect, people who are losing arouse our sympathetic emotions. When we feel sympathetic toward someone, we want to give them something to make them feel better. That something might be our positive regard. We may be more likely to give a job to people with strong winning track records, but we'll be more likely to like people whose losing record needs to gain a few points.

With this background in mind, let's review the 9 key ways to win points in the liking game:

1.  Don't overemphasize your successes.  If you're going to get the underdog effect to work in your favor, you may have to shine your light underr a barrel. You shouldn't lie about your record of successes, but there's no need to make it overly apparent to everyone in every situation.

2.  Show geniune interest in others.  Wanting to be liked gets a bad reputation because it's associated with phoniness.  There's no need for you to put on a false front just to get people to like you, though.  When you show a genuine interest in others, you benefit by learning from them as well as getting them to think positively about you.

3. Make sure that you become a rewarding presence.  The "Debbie Downer's" of the world are difficult to like because they make us uncomfortable when we're around them. It's fine to be critical once in a while, or when it's appropriate for the situation, but if you're constantly whining and complaining, people will just find you unplesant to be with -- hardly a formula for gaining people's affection.

4. Remember to smile. Being a rewarding presence means that you decorate the social environent with a pleasant expression on your face. You'll seem like a nicer person, but also according to the facial feedback hypothesis, you'll actually also feel better on the inside, which will further add to your likeability.

5. Be genuine and honest.  When you lie you make yourself seem both unlikeable and untrustworthy. Being caught out in a lie, which is more likely than not to happen, will cause people to be suspicious and avoid being with you for fear of being entrapped or cheated.

6. Don't become known as a gossip. People not only avoid liars but they avoid people who they think will tell things about them that are untrue.  Lies, or at least distortions, are the primary substance of gossip.  If you gossip to person A about person B, person A will figure you'll gossip about himr or her to person C.  To get people's trust, you need to show that you can keep secrets, not spill inappropriate personal details that they reveal to you.

7. Bring personal resources to your relationships. You can demonstrate that you're a competent person without being an unlikeable show-off. If people believe that there are things you can do, they will ask you for your help. When you show you're a helpful person, you also become more likeable.

8. Act in a mature way.  Fans of NBC's The Office know how awkwardly other people respond to the immature antics of the socially inept characters, especially those of  the original boss Michael Scott.  As you can see from this depiction of a highly immature, ridiculous character, being temperatmental and silly can make you both unlikeable and irritating. 

9. Don't be too judgmental. Critics may get great ratings when they're serving as judges on American Idol or Dancing With the Stars, but in everyday life, it's those of us who root for the successes of our co-workers, friends, or family to do well who get admiration in return. When you show your snarky side, you don't seem particularly loveable. Over time, you may actually become so jaded that you lose your ability to appreciate people for who they are, foibles and all. You don't need to build your own reputation on the failings of others but instead can let your own stellar qualities stand out for themselves. Leave the criticism to the professionals, and you'll seem both kinder and gentler. 

Some people are born likeable but others need to work at it. Even though you may not realize it, we never escape the junior high mentality of wanting to be in the "in crowd." If you're the type who's usually passed over for the invitations you want, don't be discouraged. Take it one small step at a time to build your likeability and soon you'll be reaping both the emotional and social benefits of your new and more positive reputation.

Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne 2012

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her latest book is The Search for Fulfillment.

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