When I worked on the manufacturing shop floor, we knew plant managers existed. But we rarely saw them. We never spoke to them. They were there, but not there.
Except for one. He often walked through the plant. He looked at equipment. He checked out product quality. He stopped for a brief word; usually no more than a “hello,” and more often a simple nod.
He wasn’t outgoing. He wasn’t engaging. He didn’t display any of the traits typically associated with “leader.” Yet we liked him.
Where leadership is concerned, respect and authority are all-important. But likability matters too.
Likability is crucial to building and maintaining great relationships. Likability is crucial in influencing — hopefully in a good way — the people around you. Likability is crucial in helping people feel better about themselves.
If those reasons aren’t sufficient — if you need a bottom-line reason to adopt some of the ways to be more likable — likable people tend to be more successful in sales. More able to enlist the help of others. More likely to get hired and promoted.
Yep: Likability is a huge driver of success.
That’s great for extroverted, outgoing, or naturally gregarious people.
But it’s not so great if you tend to be uncomfortable initiating conversations, mingling with unfamiliar people, and sparking new connections and friendships.
Because research shows a major factor in likability is frequent, consistent presence.
The Power of Showing Up
In this 1992 University of Pittsburgh study, researchers had the same four women attend a number of different classes. Their attendance varied: In some cases, one woman might attend every class; in others, a different woman might attend only a few. What didn’t vary was their behavior. None of the women spoke in class or spoke to other students.
At the end of the semester, students were shown pictures of the women and asked which one they liked best. Who “won”?
Women who attended the highest number of each respondent’s classes. The women who only attended a few classes? They were seen as least likable.
Even though none of the women had interacted with anyone in the class, much less the respondents.
According to the researchers, “Mere exposure had weak effects on familiarity, but strong effects on attraction and similarity.” Or in non-researcher-speak: If I see you frequently, I instinctively like you more.
That’s the power of showing up.
The Power of Expected Presence
But knowing someone will show up in the future also matters.
In a 1967 University of Minnesota study, researchers gave study participants profiles of two people and told them that one would be a partner in future discussion groups. When asked, the participants said they liked their future partner more.
Even though the profiles were roughly identical.
According to the researchers, “… when a person is in a unit relationship with another person, there is a tendency toward making the relationship with the other harmonious. This harmony may be achieved by liking the other person.”
Yep: When we know we’re likely to see someone again, we’re more likely to like them.
The phenomenon could be partly explained by cognitive dissonance, the theory that suggests it’s uncomfortable to hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time. If I know I’ll see you again, it feels more comfortable to think I like you. (At least until your actual behavior shows me that I shouldn’t like you.)
Two Simple Ways Anyone Can Be More Likable
Want your team, your investors, your vendors, or your customers to like you more?
Show up. Drop in. Drop by. Send a brief note. Make a quick phone call. (Remember, “presence” can be virtual.)
You don’t have to say much. You don’t have to do much. The mere exposure effect — the reflexive tendency to like things more when they seem more familiar — will naturally pay off.
Then, be consistent in your behavior. In time, people will expect you to drop in or drop by, whether in person or virtually. Anticipating future contact will make them like you more.
In short, make sure you can answer yes to two questions: “Do I show up?” And, “Can people count on me to show up?”
That plant manager? We liked him because he was around. Not too often. Not intrusively. Not in that transparently “it’s Thursday afternoon and my calendar says I need to go out and mingle with the troops” manner that many leaders embrace.
Nope. He was just around. And we knew he’d be around again.
That was enough to make us like him.
And to be more willing to follow him.