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The Surprising Qualities That Make Someone Well-Liked

The benefits of vulnerability and authenticity.

Key points

  • Likability depends on a variety of factors, including context.
  • Making a small mistake makes you more likable than when others perceive you as "superior."
  • Vulnerability is endearing and helps us forge meaningful connections with others.
Shingi Rice/Unsplash
Source: Shingi Rice/Unsplash

Everyone wants to be well-liked. As humans, we are almost biologically wired to want to be valued and appreciated by others. From an evolutionary perspective, likeability protects us. Being part of a group or clan used to be necessary for our survival, and in a lot of ways still is. Connection is a basic human need.

Many people feel as though they have to be a certain way to be well-liked. It’s easy to put up an armor, only showing others what you want them to see.

Most people think others will like us more if we put our best selves forward, don’t make mistakes or blunders, and always know the right thing to say. Because of this, it’s easy to second-guess how we present ourselves, questioning if we’ll be more liked or less liked by what we disclose.

However, some surprising science may be putting all this in question.

The Pratfall Effect

It turns out that people who never make mistakes are actually less likable.

A social psychologist named Elliot Aronson conducted an experiment in the 1960s, in which people answered trivia questions. Those who made a small blunder (by saying they spilled coffee over their suit), were rated to be more likable than people who didn’t. However, this was only true for people who answered many trivia questions correctly (and were therefore considered “superior" or competent), not for people who answered an average number of questions correctly. This phenomenon was termed the Pratfall Effect.

The Pratfall Effect shows us that it’s not only okay to be fallible, but it can actually be helpful to us. Vulnerability is endearing. Vulnerability helps us forge connections with others, which is probably why it contributes to likeability. When we understand where someone is coming from and we connect with them, we develop a deep emotional bond and ultimately like them more.

Apply This to Your Own Life

You can use this information to your advantage. Firstly, it’s important to know that likeability depends on context. What someone finds endearing in one situation may not transfer to another, and different people might find different qualities more likable.

Because of this, it’s important not to get wrapped up in what you think will make you more likable — because you’d probably be wrong. Sometimes the things we dislike the most about ourselves are the most endearing to others. The same can be true for the opposite — sometimes what we like about ourselves isn’t necessarily a quality others appreciate. It’s not a good use of your time to act in a way you think increases your likeability. Just be your genuine self and people will find what they love most about you.

Secondly, this study teaches us that vulnerability is a good thing. Sharing the most inner, genuine parts of ourselves can forge meaningful connections we might not have had otherwise. Pretending to be flawless is not something that people find endearing. But opening up, finding meaning, and sharing insecurities in a safe way is something that people connect with.

The Takeaway

Ultimately, likeability is not as straightforward as you might think. What you think makes you more likable to others might actually make you less likable. Drop the armor of pretending you never make mistakes and opt for vulnerability instead. It’s the best path to true, meaningful, human connection.

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