To Become Super-Likable, Give Up The Fake Niceties

Barry Davret

Image licensed from Shutterstock // Alliance Images

If you sat down with me for a coffee, you’d describe me as cold and aloof. Yeah, I make terrible first impressions. I once thought of my personality as a curse, but in some ways, I think it’s a blessing.

I don't rely on charm to win people over. Instead, I lean on thoughtful actions and gestures, some of which took decades to learn.

Culture teaches us that you can become likable through fake niceties — feigning interest in people, lavishing excessive praise, and offering insincere agreement to keep the peace.

It works at first, but people catch on. It’s like going to a party and giving an empty, but beautifully wrapped gift box topped with an exquisite red bow. The recipient marvels at the appearance, only to find out later that it was just an empty gesture.

Sustained likability does not stem from false displays of kindness or obligatory acts of generosity. Likability is simply a feeling of contentment and warmth you generate in others.

You can achieve that by giving up the contrived pleasantries and replacing them with genuine actions that trigger those pleasant feelings. Here are five techniques to upgrade fake niceties into likable qualities.

1. Upgrade shallow compliments to validations

Nobody likes to admit it, but we love it when others recognize our feelings, worth, effort, or talent; that’s validation. Think of it as a compliment in disguise. Unlike unabashed praise, it’s challenging to pull off without sounding forced.

When it’s too overt, you sound sycophantic — excessive and insincere flattery to gain an advantage. To make it work, you want the recipient to interpret your words in such a way that triggers a feeling of validation. Say it without saying it.

Don’t worry. It doesn’t require any skills you don’t already possess.

  • Listen attentively.
  • Pay attention to nuance and body language (when face to face).
  • Learn what skills they take pride in — they’ll talk about them often.
  • Pay attention to where they direct their efforts — it gives you hints about what they like and enjoy.
  • Listen for clues as to where they feel they’re not being seen and heard.

It sounds like a lot of work — to listen to people, pay attention, remember, and then validate. But that’s precisely that kind of effort that makes it genuine.

Here’s an example.

Let’s suppose your friend always talks about restaurants. A few weeks later, you need a recommendation, so you approach her.

“Kim, you know the restaurant scene better than anyone. Can you recommend a good second date place?”

By asking for a recommendation, you’ve demonstrated that you listened to her, remembered something she values, recognized her expertise, and validated her by trusting her judgment.

2. Do favors for people before they ask for them.

Have you ever asked for a favor and gotten the feeling the other person agreed out of obligation? You thank them, but you know they’re not happy about it. It’s uncomfortable for both people, and mutual resentment often results.

Most of us hate asking for favors. Even with my loved ones, I try to avoid it as much as possible. But like everyone else, sometimes I need help.

That’s why I love friends who can anticipate a need and then offer to help out before I ask.

I’m not suggesting you volunteer to donate an organ on a whim. Opt for small unsolicited gestures like offering to grab your neighbor’s mail when they go away or volunteering to take your friend to a doctor’s appointment. The mere offering makes you super-likable.

To employ this skill with grace, listen to what people say, and attune yourself to what they neglect to mention. Learn to anticipate a need and offer to fill it before the other person asks.

3. Stop trying to treat others as equals. Do this instead.

Trying to treat others as equals can come off as fake nice to the point of condescending. Think of the executive who wants to connect with his employees. He sits down to lunch with them and pretends to be one of them. Everyone senses he’s putting on an act, and it becomes awkward for everyone.

That exec failed to recognize that his employees possess superior or unique skills and interests. If instead of trying to be one of them, he got curious about what he could learn from them, he would have connected with them, validated them, and made himself more likable.

When engaged with someone who occupies a lower rung on the economic, education, or professional ladder, don’t try to fit in by adopting their cultural or social norms. Instead, recognize that you can learn something from everyone you meet. Get curious about their interests, challenges, history, and skills.

4. When you feel obligated to check off a box, think again.

Several months ago, a grandparent passed away. He was in his nineties, and it was time. Among the many condolence messages I received, one stood out.

It came from an old friend, someone I hadn’t spoken to in twenty years. He sent me a message, expressing his condolences, and sharing his contact information with the invitation to get on the phone if I needed to talk to someone outside my circle.

In the age of automated thoughts and prayers tweets, it’s easy to check off a box by offering words of condolences, messages to hang in there, and other nice but meaningless platitudes. It’s easy to see these situations as obligations rather than opportunities to express genuine thoughtfulness.

When you offer your time to someone in need, you communicate sincerity in a way that sugary greeting card one-liners cannot.

5. Don’t overdo kindness.

There’s a famous quote by Og Mandino, “Treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead at midnight.”

Inspirational words, yet, I found this approach entirely impractical when I experimented with it.

Try it for more than a half-hour, and it’ll exhaust you. There are words we’d choose and acts we’d perform for people on their death bed that we wouldn’t do under any other situation.

Be kind. Yes, absolutely. Not enough makes you mean. Too much makes you appear insecure or sycophantic. Part of being likable is saying and doing the right things at the right time.

A better approach than Mandino’s is to merely remind yourself or consider that you may have to interact with this person again, so act accordingly. You’ll be more patient, understanding, and generous, while also taking your situation into account.

To be more likable, remember this.

All five of these suggestions share common themes. Listen to people. Remember what they say. Pay attention to what they neglect to mention. Anticipate someone’s needs. Be genuine. Act appropriately for every given situation. From those guidelines, you can develop your own rules on becoming super-likable.

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Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. My work can be found in publications across the internet

Summit, NJ

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