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Are You Likeable? Your Success May Depend On It!

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A recent Wall Street Journal article Why Likability Matters More at Work--which includes and accompanying video and radio interview--explores likability and why it is becoming more and more important in the workplace. "Likability is becoming a bigger factor for success at work as social networks and videoconferencing grow...The ability to come across as likable is shaping how people are sized up and treated by bosses and co-workers," writes reporter Sue Shellenbarger.

Measuring individual likability is not new. For years, Gallup has asked Americans about the likeability of news and talk show personalities as well as U.S. Presidential candidates. Why? As the WSJ's Shellenbarger explains, "Likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven."

What does research say about likeability?

  • WSJ reporter Sue Shellenbarger cited a recent study by the University of Massachusetts which examined 133 managers and found that people tend to comply with auditor suggestions if the auditor is well organized and likeable, even if the auditor lacks evidence and the person disagrees with what they're saying.
  • According to research from 2010 by Barrik, Swider, and Stewart of Texas A&M University, interviewers' initial perceptions of a candidate's similarity (to the interviewer), competence, and the degree of likeability are predictive of future employment. 
  • In 2010, Zhao and Liden reviewed how interns used self-promotion and ingratiation to increase their likelihood of receiving a job offer. Those who practiced ingratiation or behaved in ways to increase likeability were 55 percent more likely to receive an offer. Their study also showed that self-promotion and ingratiation had a stronger influence on who received offers than actual performance
  • "Most leaders today tend to emphasize their strength, competence, and credentials in the workplace, but that is exactly the wrong approach. Leaders who project strength before establishing trust run the risk of eliciting fear, and along with it a host of dysfunctional behaviors," writes Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger in a 2013 article for Harvard Business Review. To illustrate this point, the authors cite research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkmana. They found in a study of 51,836 leaders, "only 27 of them were rated in the bottom quartile in terms of likeability and in the top quartile in terms of overall leadership effectiveness--in other words, the chances that a manager who is strongly disliked will be considered a good leader are only about one in 2,000." 
  • In his book The Likeability Factor, author Tim Sanders references research by Dr. Phillip Noll, a University of Toronto professor, who surveyed 50 married and divorced couples in 1992. Noll's findings? Easygoing and likeable people have half the divorce rate of the general population. 
  • In 1984, the University of California measured if likeability and competence are important to the physician-patient relationship. The study found that likeable-competent patients were more likely to be encouraged to call or return for a follow-up than likeable-incompetent and unlikeable-competent patients. Additionally, likeable patients were more likely to be educated by staff than unlikeable patients.

This is just a sample of research collected on likeability and its importance in life. While this is just a sample of research, it is clear that likeability can have an important impact on everything from marriage to job interviews to healthcare.

Can a person become more likeable?
Yes, says Tim Sanders, author of The Likeability Factor. He explains that likeability comes down to "four critical elements of your personality," including:

  • Friendliness: Your ability to communicate liking and openness to others.
  • Relevance: Your capacity to connect with others' interests, wants, and needs.
  • Empathy: Your ability to recognize, acknowledge, and experience other people's feelings.
  • Realness: The integrity that stands behind your likeability and guarantees its authenticity.

As a K-12 talent manager, does an employee's likeability influence hiring, promotion, or other personnel decisions in your organization? Do you think people can learn to be likeable?



To join the conversation on talent management in education, you can follow Emily on Twitter, @EmilyDouglasHC, or use #K12TalentMgr.

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