Friendliness and Likability
Why is friendliness one of the essential skills needed for success in business and life? Here’s one reason, if you’re want to be able to influence other people, learning how to be friendly is a necessity.
In what is recognized as the gold standard on the psychology of persuasion, Robert Cialdini characterizes likability as one of the six keys of influence. He says, “Few people would be surprised to learn that, as a rule, we most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like.”
This fact shouldn’t surprise us. Nor should it surprise us to know that we like friendly people over unfriendly people. In fact, if we think someone’s a jerk, we tend not to want to be around them or buy things from them.
I remember one time going to listen to a sales pitch for a time-share. It’s hard to believe, but my wife and I sat through about 3 hours of touring and listening to the salesperson share all the benefits and perks that owning one week at this resort would give us. That person started out nice, but after we regained our senses and decided we weren’t going to commit, they became nasty. That change of persona made it so much easier to say no, and if they had maybe been nicer to us even when we started to say no, we might be spending a week each year at a timeshare in Orlando.
Friendliness is a major factor in likeability. If you want to sell more products, you need to be likable. If you want to retain high-level employees, you need to be likable. If you want to maintain good relationships with other people, you need to be likable.
Of course, there are countless examples of the jerks who rise to the top of their field and wield power like a war hammer, smashing down anyone who gets in their way. And we might ask why it is that people like that seem to rise to such success. Maybe it’s because their ability to accomplish things outweighs their horrible personality. Maybe it has to do with some psychological co-dependency that the people who stay with them have. Or maybe it’s because someone pays those employees a ton of cash and the money compensates.
Whatever the reasons, I would submit that as a general rule, likable people rise higher than unlikeable people. And that’s because people tend to follow and respect people they like. And while we will only do the minimum for the people we disdain, we will often go out of the way to please people we like.
Niceness and Friendliness
I think a word needs to be said here about the difference between just being nice and being what I will call friendly. Friendliness, to me, goes deeper than niceness. Niceness is on the surface. We say things we don’t mean just to be “nice.” We don’t say things we should because we are being “nice.” Niceness is fake. It’s a façade we put on to make ourselves look better. It may lead to people liking us better, but it’s an act that, when discovered, can do more harm than good.
Friendliness finds its meaning in a caring and concerned outlook toward another person. I recently talked with Mark C. Crowley, the author of Lead From the Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century on my podcast. Mark worked as a senior leader for over 20 years at one of the nation’s largest financial institutions and his success with his team caused him to look deeper into why his style of leadership worked so well.
His book, which is now being taught at four U.S. universities and in one Organizational Leadership Ph.D. program, details a perspective on friendliness, or what he calls leading from the heart. Friendliness isn’t necessarily soft and sentimental, but rather it shows a value for the other person – a recognition of who they are as a human being. Leading from the heart means caring about the people around you. It’s not a “touchy-feely” type of caring, but one of authenticity and mutual respect. As someone said, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
This principle lies at the heart of what it means to be friendly. With that in mind, here are some things that you can implement in your own life how to be friendly.
How To Be Friendly
1 Recognize People For Who They Are.
When we look at people, it’s easy to see them as objects in orbit within our universe. One of the interesting things about human perception is that we always see things from a specific point of view – our own. Everything we see in the world comes from our vantage point. Everything is placed into a context that has to do primarily with us.
Recognizing someone else for who they are means finding the capacity to step outside ourselves. To move beyond our selfish perceptions and try to see people from their perspective. Martin Buber, a prominent phenomenologist, talked about what he called the two primary words when it comes to our perception of others. The “I-Thou” and the “I-It.” When we view people from an I-It perspective, they become objects. Our only concern is how they affect us. What can they do for us? What do we have to do for them?
The I-Thou perspective looks at other people as authentic subjects – as human beings who have value simply because they are human. If we can find a way to see people for who they are – individuals with lives and hopes and dreams and struggles and victories – to see them maybe as we often see ourselves, we can find more compassion, more care, and more friendliness toward them.
See people for who they are.
2 Don’t Criticize, Condemn or Complain
In his legendary book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie gives some sage advice on how friendliness can make you a great person. The first step is learning how to not criticize or condemn other people for their failings and shortcomings.
This perspective is quite the opposite of what we see so commonly in our world today from politicians, celebrities, sports stars, and even common trolls on social media. Maybe because it’s easy to be critical. Maybe it’s human nature.
As one of my professors once told me – any idiot can have an opinion. I wonder why it is that so many feel the need to broadcast their opinions as the ultimate answer while at the same time criticizing the opinions of others. Learning how now to criticize is a huge factor in friendliness.
Carnegie learned this from multiple examples.
Abraham Lincoln learned the lesson early on in his political life. At one point he wrote a scathing anonymous letter that ruthlessly mocked a rival. That letter almost led to a dual which was averted because others stepped in to stop it, but it taught Lincoln a lesson.
It’s not that he didn’t write scathing letters to state his mind – he just never sent them. He learned the lesson that at times, we all deserve to be ripped because of our faults. But ripping someone because of their faults doesn’t often work and usually causes more harm than good.
Benjamin Franklin, when asked about the secret to handling people so adeptly, he stated: “I will speak ill of no man and speak all the good I know of everybody.” Carnegie said that any fool could criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.
English novelist, Thomas Hardy said, “A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men.” It begs the question, what does it mean about a person who treats someone with disrespect, contempt, and dishonor? How great can someone be if they treat people discourteously?
Not criticizing someone doesn’t mean not confronting them about their errors, however. The secret is in how you do it. It’s in the tone of your voice. It’s in the fact that you speak about the behavior and the action rather than attributing that to the person. Friendliness means being honest with someone, even when that honesty might sting a little. How you do it matters.
3 Learn How to Compliment
The third thing that you can learn to be friendlier is to compliment someone. As mentioned, it’s easy to be critical, and many of us have that wonderful gift of easily being able to point out someone else’s flaws and faults. For some reason, we find it difficult to tell someone how good they did or to compliment them on success.
I think part of this has to do with insecurity. Maybe we think that in praising someone for something they are good at it belittles our abilities. Much like the way people often put others down to make themselves look better. Maybe learning how to build more self-confidence can help us not be so insecure and enable us to compliment others more often.
And part of it has to do with the fact that it’s not something we are used to doing. In fact, we have far more words in our vocabulary that express negative emotions, rather than positive ones. Also, Dr. John Gottman, a world-renowned researcher know for his work on marital stability shows that successful relationships have a 5:1 positive to negative ratio of messages. This means that for every negative message, there should be five positive messages to “counter-balance” it.
I think this speaks both to the damaging effect of criticism and negativity, but also to the need for more positive messaging. We live in a world where we are bombarded by negativity. It stands to reason that the people around you could do for a good dose of compliments and praise. So if you’re going to be generous in one thing, be generous in handing out compliments. Tell people how good they are and see if it doesn’t make you smile a bit more yourself.
Learning how to be friendly stands as an essential skill for success in both business and life. If you’re not likable, people won’t want to do business with you. If people don’t like you, they won’t want to be around you and your relationships will suffer. Being friendly is as simple as seeing people for who they really are, learning not to criticize or condemn, and being generous with compliments.