Building Your Likeability Factor

26 March 2010 Alan Fairweather

Likeability can sell products, win votes or transform a team's fortunes. But what is it, and how important is it? In this extract from his book How To Manage Difficult People, Alan Fairweather explains why it's a trait worth possessing.

Why do you think Barack Obama overwhelmingly won the US presidential election? Perhaps it was because of his policies for change or even the amount of money invested in his campaign.

Or perhaps it was his ability to express eloquently the hopes, answers and beliefs of a good chunk of the American people. Some people may even say that Obama was a better bet than his rival, John McCain. I think it is probably a mixture of all these reasons, and a few more. But more than anything else, I believe he has a high likeability factor.

So what’s likeability got to do with anything? Surely we’re going to vote for the policies not the person? Somehow I don't think so! What many politicians tend to forget is that we voters are humans and the thing about humans is that they'll always be driven by their emotions, not their logic. We let our heart rule our head all the time. If we decide we don't like someone then we have a heck of a job believing anything they say. How well our politicians score on the likeability factor is going to influence whether we believe them or not.

Roger Ailes, media consultant to Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush Snr, wrote: "The silver bullet in business and politics is the 'like factor'. All things being equal, we are more likely to vote for people we feel we like."

However, so many of our politicians seem totally unconcerned by this. Consider some other public figures that have been affected by the like factor. Bill Clinton came through some difficult situations relatively unscathed – the reason being that the American public quite liked him. Margaret Thatcher suffered more than she needed because too many people didn't like her. Princess Diana's funeral gave a clear indication of how many people liked her. I don't believe we would have seen the same outpouring of public grief had that tragic accident happened to another member of the Royal Family.

Products and organisations

"The thing about humans is that they'll always be driven by their emotions, not their logic."

The likeability factor also affects products and the organisations that supply them. As with people, it's not so much about what the product does but rather do we like the brand? Some years ago Proctor & Gamble launched Ariel to compete against Persil. All the tests proved that Ariel washed whiter, but Persil remained the top brand. P&G managers tore their hair out looking for an explanation, until one day someone told them: "Well I believe people quite like Persil."

If your likeability factor is high, votes go up, sales go up, you go up and you'll have less difficult people to manage. But what about the other people in your life: are they likeable? What about your boss, your dentist or your accountant? I get some funny looks when I tell people that I've no idea if my accountant is any good or not. How would I know if he is a good accountant? I'm not competent to judge. I only know that I like and trust him, and that means he'll continue to get my business.

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and sometimes acclaimed as the world's greatest investor, once said: "I've walked away from some great deals because I didn't like the people I was dealing with."

Harry Redknapp took over as manager of struggling soccer team Tottenham Hotspur. Redknapp engineered a remarkable turnaround in a short period of time. I believe that a great deal of his success is down to his high likeability factor. Phil Neville, the Everton, England and ex-Manchester United footballer recently commented: "If the players like you then that decides 95% of your success as a manager."

Commercial breaks

So how do we get this likeability factor if we haven't got it? Or how do we improve it if we have, and what's it all about anyway? Well, as far as companies are concerned it's all about whether we trust them and feel that they care about us when we contact them. Do they have the human touch?

"Likeability is about being human; it's about displaying warmth."

The advertising agencies know all about the likeability factor and the human touch. They want to make us laugh. They use cute children and animals. They feature celebrities that we like and can relate to. Andrex TV ads certainly aren't about what you can do with toilet paper; they're more about puppies and children.

Some commercial organisations still don't quite understand this. The high-street banks in the UK were once criticised in a report that suggested many customers didn't like their bank. One senior manager replied in the press saying: "We continue to grow our business because our products and services meet customer demand and expectation." He fails to realise that it's not just about products and services – it's about the human things, like dropping into your local branch and having a talk with the manager. It's much harder to do that nowadays, which is one of the main reasons for poor reports in customer satisfaction surveys.

Likeability is about being human; it's about displaying warmth. Bill Clinton displays warmth; Hillary Clinton less so. Being known as the Prince of Darkness doesn't suggest too much warmth in UK politician Peter Mandelson. Richard Branson has warmth and so did Princess Diana. Nelson Mandela has it. Margaret Thatcher didn't display it in her time as Prime Minister.

Likeability in people is also measured by their ability to really listen and be interested in others. Likeable people use your name and look as if they care. We like people who have something positive to say and don't whinge! Likeable people empathise with our problems and accept that we may have a different view of the world from them. Likeability is demonstrated by a genuine smile, good eye contact, a sense of humour and relaxed, open body language. Whether in our personal or working lives, people judge us by what we say and what we do. However, more importantly, people's opinions are influenced by how likeable we are. Trying to communicate with a difficult person, to be likeable and to get them to accept your point of view can be a real challenge. Your ability to sell yourself will make that process so much easier.

How To Manage Difficult People by Alan Fairweather is available

How To Manage Difficult People by Alan Fairweather.