One key area of personal development — distinct from most other key areas — that can sometimes be hard to improve is “likability”.
But just what is likability?
This is simply the extent to which we are liked because people feel (real or perceived) that we are emotionally open and honest with them, understand them and like them.
Some people are so likeable that it can only be described as a gift – born with it or inherited or something. They look at us and we feel very special. They smile at us and we feel like they are flirting with us. They make a public announcement and we feel as though they are addressing us personally. They speak words of inspiration and we feel something within us being spoken to, awakened, restored, or healed. Their intangible felt presence is so strong that others feel instantly energized, affectionately embraced and personally connected to them even when they hardly know them.
The majority of us aren’t “lucky” like that. And it really doesn’t matter what we think or feel about ourselves, it’s how others think and feel about us. If people don’t feel that we are emotionally open and honest with them or understand them or if they perceive that we don’t like them, it’s so hard to get them to like us — even a little.
Some clarification here: Likeability is not the same as personal charisma. I am sure you’ve met men and women who are extremely dynamic, aggressive, can voice their ideas powerfully and with enduring conviction but are also arrogant and impatient, snobbish and controlling, conniving and manipulative, emotionally cold and guarded, not to mention annoying in every possible way. In other words, they are not likeable. And it’s not just you who doesn’t like them; a majority of people don’t either.
Who cares about being likeable, you might say…
You do. If you don’t, you should.
Whether you like it or not, likeability makes a difference at work, in business, at the grocery store, at a party, on a date, at home and believe it or not, even on the internet.
Likeable people are more likely to be more successful and more influential. They get served first in a restaurant, receive first class treatment aboard a plane even when they are traveling economy class, etc. They are more likely to be sought after as dates and spouses, and their children are also more likely to be liked by teachers at school. In other words, good and better things happen for and to likeable people — without the sort of struggle people who are low on the likeability rating experience.
How does one increase his or her likeability?
I would say first and foremost with emotional openness and honesty, even some vulnerability (people want to know you are human); positive and non-judgmental attitude; true empathy and genuine concern for the well-being of others; ability to really listen in a non-judgmental way; mental flexibility and appreciation for others’ ways (even if you do not agree with them); and keeping it simple, real and down to earth (grounded). A good sense of humour, and ease with physical expressions of affection (touching or hugging) go a long way.
But one way of increasing likeability that is easy, instant and most obvious to the physical eyes is with a smile.
Here is the catch — not all smiles are equal and not all smiles enhance likeability.
1. A put-on or laboured smile
The put-on or laboured smile is a performance smile intended to mask true feelings or manipulate others into thinking a certain way. For example when we meet someone who we think (wish, hope, pray) is the “one,” we may deliberately attempt to mislead the person into thinking we’re relaxed, happy, and enjoying ourselves. We change the shape of our mouth, even bare our teeth but the smile doesn’t properly reach our eyes or spread across our face because we are all nervous, uneasy or feel vulnerable.
You can tell a smile is forced when eye muscles barely move and the area around the eyes tends to be less crinkled (uh-hmm, wrinkles may not be a bad thing after all) making the eyes appear squinting, dull, expressionless or popping out (silent shouting). The lip corners stretch sidewards with little up-ward curl that makes the person appear overly relaxed but not really happy or engaging. The cheesier the smile, the faker it is.
When you fake a smile, it sub-consciously conveys to the other person that there is “something” about you that you are trying to hide or are uncomfortable with. And most normal people’s brains instantly go on a mission to try to figure out if what you’re showing is different from what you’re feeling. The longer the brain stays in the “figuring out” mode the higher the odds of the person concluding that “there is something” about you they just don’t like. And in today’s fast-paced environment even a second is too long for most brains.
2. A genuine or felt smile
A genuine or felt smile transmits delight and/or enjoyment and is engaging in that it draws the other person emotionally closer. It is as if the person smiling is saying; “I like me, I like you and I like life. I want to share this good feeling with you.”
A genuine or felt smile begins with a slight widening feeling in the eyelid area just before the corners of the mouth and cheeks, and works itself into happy or laughter lines that can extend across the face including the forehead. The eyes light up producing a softening effect on the face that transmits a generous and warm nature. Very often that “warmth” lingers all over the face for a while and sometimes even spreads to the body such that the person appears relaxed and at ease (comfortable in his/her skin).
In most people you’ll notice a twinkle or what looks like a feeling of “amusement” or somewhat “mischievous” expression in their eyes. This should not be confused with the unbridled elation in the eyes of a mental illness sufferer experiencing a manic upswing in mood or someone under the influence of a mood-altering substance; and should not be mixed up with the snaky twinkle in the Narcissist/Psychopath’s eyes.
And while a forced or fake smile can be switched on and off at lightning speed, a genuine or felt smile is hard to produce on demand because it depends on and is controlled by real-time emotion.
What’s even more fascinating is that researchers have found that the slight pouching under the eyes that comes with a genuine or felt smile is incredibly difficult to fake unless you are truly happy inside. And as it turns out, it is extremely hard to pretend you’re happy when you’re not.
Trying to look happier or more comfortable than we really are betrays our smile far more effectively than a heavy frown. It’s as if we are saying, “I am unhappy but cannot show you that I am unhappy, so I will pretend to be happy, but this is so hard”. And almost everybody (even animals) can pick that up. Ever smiled at a baby, only to have the baby scream with fright? These simplest of beings are probably the best detectors of “phony emotions”.
To teach yourself to smile with real-time felt emotion, try to imagine something really funny, or think of a time when you were really happy or think of someone you’ve been close to who you love and care about so deeply. Let the thought linger in your mind and allow it to warm your heart. Don’t be afraid to chuckle or laugh a bit while doing so, this will relax and warm you up from the inside out. That emotion, sense of well-being or energy will be picked up by the person or people you’re really trying to reach emotionally. You might even be asked (nicely) “what’s so amusing?”
But this is only a great start, overall, you need to feel your life is “happy” in order for you to be able to feel natural happiness and for your smile to constantly carry that “sparkle in the eyes” we value so much. This doesn’t mean that your life is “perfect” (no problems, no hardships, no illness, etc) or that you will never ever experience sadness in your life again, but that even when you do have problems, and experience hardships, illness and sadness you do so happily — with a genuine felt smile.