“How can I be more likable without trying too hard? Should I try to be funny? I’ve heard that humor is important if you want to make friends.”
What makes someone likable? We surveyed 1042 people to find out. According to our survey, these are the most likable personality traits:
- Be funny
- Be a good listener
- Don’t judge
- Be authentic
- Show people that you like them
- Be humble
- Keep your promises
Here are the results in a chart:
Note how being generous, giving compliments, and being calm scores low on how to be likable.
Being likable is an interesting challenge because trying to get people to like you can come off as needy or even manipulative. In this guide, we’ll go through how to be likable in a real and authentic way.
Our survey showed that being funny is one of the most important traits for being likable and that women value being funny even more than men do.
Be aware that humor can be a double-edged sword. Being genuinely funny is highly likable while trying to be funny is not and can push people away.
On top of this, people might think someone is funny because they like them (Not like them specifically because they are funny). So if you’re not naturally funny, there are other things you can do that are probably more important to be likable.
One common reason for not being seen as funny is over-thinking.
You might worry so much about what others think or that they might judge you that you second-guess what you say. Humor is about timing, and if you over-think, you might be seen as uptight. The solution can be to practice saying things on your mind more often – and learn that it’s not that bad to say something “stupid” every once in a while. As long as you stay away from saying offensive things, you’re probably fine.
It can also help to develop your sense of humor. You can do this by learning from people you think are funny. Break down why something they said was amusing and see if you can find patterns. Was it funny because it was unexpected? Was it told with a distinct voice? Was it sarcastic?
Read more on how to be funny.
Don’t overdo it trying to be funny – that can come off as needy. Sometimes, it’s OK not to be funny at all.
Here’s how to know if you are a good listener: When someone is talking, do you focus all your attention on what they are saying, or do you start thinking about what you should say next? If you think about what you should say next, it’s a sign that you need to practice listening.
You can do this by continuously moving your attention back to the speaker whenever you zone out. Rather than wondering about what you should say, try to come up with questions you can ask to learn more about what they are telling you.
But it’s not enough to be a good listener. You also need to show that you listen. This is called active listening.
Actively listening means signaling that you are listening closely.
- You’re summarizing what you’ve heard. If someone talks about how irritated they were at someone else, you can summarize it by saying, “So you got annoyed.” Usually, this makes people go, “Yes, exactly!” (And they feel understood).
- You’re nodding your head and responding positively to what they’ve said.
- You’re asking follow-up questions to find out more.
Listening actively like this makes the person you’re talking to feel heard.
Giving someone your undivided attention is such an important part of showing that you listen that it deserves its own section.
When you talk to someone, focus only on them. Put your phone away. Ignore your laptop. Don’t scan the room or let anyone else grab your attention. If you get stuck in your thoughts, refocus on the person you’re talking to by listening and paraphrasing what they’ve said in your head.
It’s good to think of talking to someone as single-tasking. You’re only interested in them, so get rid of any distractions and dive into the conversation.
According to our survey, not judging is a very important part of being likable. When we’re younger, we’re trying to figure out the world and finding out who’s a friend and who’s a foe. It can lead to snap judgments and wrongly discounting others because we jump to conclusions without getting the whole story.
Likable people try first to understand where someone is coming from to understand their point better. When someone’s actions confuse you, try to understand what has happened in their life that led to their decision. This thought exercise helps us be more empathetic.
The previous step talked about the importance of not judging. Here’s an idea for how to do it in practice. When you are talking to someone, listen to learn rather than to insert your opinion. Doing this shows that you think what they’re saying is meaningful.
So regardless of whether you agree with the person’s opinion or not, give them the space to express their thoughts and feelings. When you do, you are validating them, and that’s rare to find.
Here’s an example: If you’re discussing politics with someone, the intuitive thing to do is to convince them of your views. However, this only causes arguments, and no one changes their position. Instead, try to understand why that person has those views. Doing this will make them more interested in hearing your thoughts, and then you both broaden your understanding.
Being authentic is a hugely important trait of likable people in our survey, both among men and women.
Pay attention to when you are “performing” or trying too hard. It could be making jokes to get laughs, trying to come off as smart, or sneaking in something about your impressive job or expensive outfit. When you do these things, ask yourself how you would have acted if you didn’t care about their approval. That’s when you are completely authentic.
Ironically, when you don’t care about others’ approval, it tends to shine through and makes you more likable and charming.
It’s natural to be a bit reserved when you meet a stranger – we don’t know anything about them or how to best approach them. However, being reserved can make you look aloof or snobby, even if it’s not your intention. If you dare to be warm, easy-going, and friendly right off the bat, you’ll become more likable.
When you are introduced, you want to make sure your body language is positive and open. To create a connection, here’s how to have a more warm and friendly demeanor:
- Make eye contact
- Shake their hand firmly and say, “Hi, my name’s [your name]. Nice to meet you, [their name].”
- Ask them a few questions about how they are or where they’re from to signal that you’re up for talking.
Read more here on how to be approachable.
“Smile more” is standard advice, but smiling too often can make you seem nervous. Make it a habit to smile when:
- You greet someone
- When someone says something funny
- When you say goodbye
At other times, simply relax your face and avoid frowning. Focus on what people talk about so that you can react to it authentically (rather than forcing a constant smile).
Being likable means being confident in yourself and humble. You don’t need to advertise your achievements, but by the same token, you won’t discount or hide them if they are relevant to point out.
Everyone experiences failure. Rather than letting it wear you down, you can use those experiences to be more understanding of other people’s struggles. This mindset helps you be more humble while maintaining your confidence.
People who are confident yet humble are always willing to help, and when you feel stupid or mess up, they assure you they’ve done that too, and it didn’t kill them. Their humbleness signals confidence – because they have nothing to prove.
It’s better to under-sell and overdeliver than to do the opposite. Only say that you will do something when you know that you can deliver. Following through on your promises creates trust.
If you get invited to a party, it’s better to say, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to join, but if I do, I’ll let you know,” rather than saying that you’ll go and then not showing up.
When someone tells you their name, memorize it by associating it with someone else you know with that name or a word association.
If someone says, “Hi, I’m Emily,” think about someone you know with that name and imagine them standing together. That creates a visual memory that’s easier for your brain to retrieve than a new name.
Use their name when you say “Hi,” “Bye,” or start talking to them. Don’t over-use it. Once or twice when you meet is good.
When you meet someone, ask them questions that gently probe who they are. Things like, “Where do you work?” “How long have you been with the company?” “Do you live on campus or off?” Doing this will elicit more than a yes/no answer.
Listen attentively and show that you’re interested by asking follow-up questions. Then, share things about yourself as you go along, related to what they’ve told you. Scientists call this a back-and-forth conversation, which has been shown to make people bond faster.
If someone did something you like, tell them. But remember, only compliment the appearance of people you know well. Try to make your praise specific, and avoid downplaying yourself when you do it.
For example, it would be better to say, “I think that you did an excellent job negotiating because you were able to make both parties happy” rather than “You’re so good at negotiating, I would never be able to do that.”
Let mutual interests and beliefs rather than disagreements be the core of your friendship. It’s fine to disagree when necessary. Just know that it won’t help you bond.
Don’t just talk about the things that you like. Think about what the other person has mentioned. Find out what you have in common and build your conversations and relationship around that.
When you talk to someone, make sure that you talk roughly half the time and spend the other half listening. In a group of three, you want to talk around one-third of the time, and so on. Dominating conversations or saying very little makes interacting with you less enjoyable.
People are more likely to trust you when you are emotionally stable, consistent, avoid outbursts, and don’t allow yourself to crumble under pressure. When you say something, you mean it, and your body language shows that you are calm and in control.
Touching someone lightly on the arm or hugging them goodbye after spending an evening with them says you like them. Friendly touch triggers the release of oxytocin. They feel good being with you. It’s powerful. However, because it’s so powerful, touch has to be done naturally and at the right time.
Touch done incorrectly can have the opposite effect and be perceived as angry or aggressive.
Look at this chart to see appropriate places to touch relative to your relationship with that person.
Adopt a giving mindset. The number one thing you can give someone is your time and attention. After that, find out in the course of conversation if they need your support or validation. Maybe they need your opinion on something they’re thinking of doing that you’ve experienced.
The point is to adopt a helpful mentality. When you’re warm and generous, people will respond with loyalty and sincere appreciation.
If you feel that you are generous but getting nothing back, see our guide on one-sided friendships.
If you find the conversation skimming the surface, you can mention small things that are personal about yourself and see if that prompts a more personal response from your mate. If you talk about your weekend and you say, “I tend to enjoy Saturdays more than Sundays because on Sundays I start thinking about work,” that can open up for more sincere and personal interaction.
Be gradually more personal and start with small things, like in the example above. You want them to feel comfortable during the conversation.
Likable people tend to know what they want. They push forward, they get excited, and they make sure to include you in the adventure when you’re on their team.
They’re the ones in the office who make sure that things move forward while at the same time not stepping on others’ feelings or ideas. An example is Barack Obama, who is both driven and a people person. A seeming contradiction, he makes it work.
According to our survey, men and women have slightly different opinions about what makes someone likable.
Men seem to appreciate good listeners even more than women do:
When we look at women specifically, being funny is even more pronounced:
This fits with findings from psychological studies on opposite-sex attraction. Psychologists have discovered that men find women more attractive when they appear to be responsive, i.e., when the women appear to be listening.
This may sound like common sense because most of us like people who listen to us. But psychologists have also found that female participants don’t find responsive men more attractive than non-responsive men.
When we look at women specifically, being funny is even more important:
Our findings are in line with results from other, bigger studies. According to a cross-cultural survey of over 200,000 people, heterosexual women value humor more highly in potential partners compared with heterosexual men. Other research shows that both men and women see humorous people as more socially adept than non-humorous people.
Psychologists don’t know for sure why men and women have different opinions about what makes someone likable.
However, they have thought of a few theories, including:
- Men find women who listen to them more feminine—and therefore more attractive—because listening is traditionally seen as a “female” quality. Women do not think that men who listen well are more or less masculine than other men, possibly because most people don’t see listening as a “manly” skill. This means they put less importance on listening as a trait when they look for a male partner.
- Women are attracted to funny men because they interpret a sense of humor as a sign of underlying intelligence. Because women have to invest more effort in having and caring for children compared with men, they try to select a partner who can provide them and their children with food, money, and other necessities. Intelligent men might be more likely to provide these important resources, which makes them more attractive partners.
Remember that although these theories are interesting, it doesn’t mean that every man and woman wants the same things from their partners. In general, most people appreciate those who are funny, good listeners, and nonjudgmental.
It’s natural to assume that people will like us more if we hint about our accomplishments or strengths.
Humble bragging, or just full-on bragging, makes you look insecure. Quite the opposite of likable, it advertises your need for validation. You are signaling that you want others’ approval, which makes you needy.
Studies show that humble-bragging is even less likable than straight-up bragging. If you do want to share something, don’t sneak it in. Be unapologetic about it. If it’s relevant, share an achievement with pride, e.g., “I was the top soccer player in my school!” That’s more likable than trying to make it sound like you don’t care that you were the best player.
If you know someone famous or impressive, the only time you need to reveal that fact is if it can help the person you’re talking to.
Otherwise, you look like you mentioned it to make yourself look more important. Err on the side of caution and only comment on your link to notable folk when it’s relevant to your conversation.
It’s human nature to indulge in this un-harmless pastime. But if you do, realize that you’ve pretty much sold your integrity. Why? Because if you listen or add to it, that means when (not if) it gets back to the people outside the conversation, they will know you can’t be trusted.
The bedrock of likability is that you are trustworthy. Gossip defeats everything you are trying to build. Make it a habit to only say things about someone that you would also feel comfortable saying directly to them.
Likable people share important events and people in their lives on social media – things they think their followers would value. When you want to post something on social media, ask yourself about your underlying reason. Is it to get approval and likes, or is it because you think it will be interesting to those who follow you?