CEO Insider

5 ways to improve your likability

Michelle Bowden

It’s a fact that likable people are the ones who get furthest in life. Even if you’re not the smartest or most experienced, if you are the most likable, you’ll often be the most persuasive at the moment. In contrast, unlikeable people are a turn-off.

They destroy the joy and can make people feel uncomfortable, judged and fearful. I am a persuasive presentation skills trainer and in a survey that I did with my clients, the most unlikeable behaviours in others were unsatisfactory grooming, killing the fun, and ignoring or talking over others.  Let’s look at five easy options you can do to increase your likeability! 

  1. Be attractive
    Whether you like this fact or not, attractive people get more breaks in life than their ‘plain’ counterparts. Business psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic reported in 2019 that people who don’t fit a society’s dominant aesthetic criteria simply don’t get the same breaks in life as those who do. And psychologist and researcher at Harvard University Nancy L Etcoff and her colleagues published a 2011 study that found that groomed woman who were wearing make-up were seen as more attractive, competent, likeable and trustworthy than women who presented with a bare face. Pretty convincing! The good news is that ‘attractiveness’ doesn’t really relate to your ‘natural’ beauty. Whatever you look like, you can certainly make the most of your qualities and features.

    You don’t have to spend a lot of money making yourself attractive. Ask yourself the following: 

    A) Is your hair styled the best way for your face? Is it well kept and stylish?
    B) Do you keep yourself clean and tidy?
    C) Are you wearing clothes that flatter your body type?
    D) Are your nose and ear hairs trimmed?
    E) Do you smell good?
    F) Are your teeth clean?
    G) Are your fingernails well kept?
    H) Do you have clean shoes, and are your clothes laundered and ironed without food stains and mess?
    I) Did you tuck in your shirt?

    You may think this is fussy and no-one else’s business, and the bad news is that you think that at your own peril. This stuff counts when it comes to persuasion.

  2. Smile
    Smiling is a winning behaviour recognised internationally as a sign of positivity. Did you know that babies are born with the ability to smile? People who smile are seen by others as confident, positive and attractive. You appear younger when you smile a lot because of the way smiling affects the muscles in your face. Smiling is even good for you because it releases endorphins and other chemicals that help you relax and feel good. Unsurprisingly, an American Association of Cosmetic Dentistry study found that people were more likely to remember your smile than the first thing you said. A wonderful strategy for persuasion is to not just smile but ‘smize’ — or smile with your eyes. This is a term coined by supermodel Tyra Banks. Over 50 different types of smiles are possible, but the one that is deemed the most sincere is the smize — it pushes up into your eyes, your eyes sparkle and you look genuinely happy.
  3. Laugh
    Laughing is a wonderful way to build rapport with people because playful communication triggers good feelings and a positive emotional connection. You probably know that a sense of humour is one of the first things people look for in a life partner — because people who can laugh are more likely to let go of defensiveness, act more spontaneously and release inhibitions. Funny people are likeable. People who laugh freely are thought of as joyful, light and fun to be around. Who wouldn’t want that?

    Humour that’s working for both parties can also help you negotiate more effectively, resolve conflict and move people forward. It’s true that laughter unites people during difficult times. Befriend funny people and watch and read funny things daily.

  4. Show your hands
    Showing your hands signals safety — the people around you have nothing to fear. Whether you are standing or sitting down, aligning your shoulders with the other person and keeping your hands open and obvious suggests that you are interested and engaged in the conversation. Turning away, twisting your body or hiding your hands signifies either a lack of interest or disagreement.

    You also shouldn’t do a whole lot of other things with your hands if you’re aiming to be trustworthy. For example, don’t cross your arms, put your hands in your pocket, hold your crotch, clasp your hands behind your back, hold your fingers in a steeple position, touch your face or hair, or fidget with your rings or clothes. These distracting hand movements stop your stakeholder from listening properly. They may even start to distrust you.

  5. Listen
    Bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen Covey, wisely said, ‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply’. Isn’t it just so irritating when you are talking and someone speaks over the top of you? Doing so implies that the person doesn’t value what you’re saying. It breaks rapport and prevents the forming of goodwill. Try to do what you can to listen when someone is talking. Take a moment of pause before adding your point.

If you focus on these five actions, you’ll be even more likable than you already are, and look out world – because this is one of the skills you need to get what you want! 


Written by Michelle Bowden.
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Michelle Bowden
Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. She is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), creator of the Persuasion Smart Profile® (a world-first psychological assessment that reports on your persuasiveness at work). Michelle is also the best-selling author of How to Present: The Ultimate Guide to Presenting Your Ideas and Influencing People Using Techniques that Actually Work (Wiley) and has delivered her Persuasive Presentation Skills Masterclass more than 950 times for over 12,000 people.


Michelle Bowden is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.