How to Be Ridiculously Likable

(Photo: Image Catalog/Flickr)
(Photo: Image Catalog/Flickr)

If you want people to like you, be 100% comfortable in your own skin. Hands down, there’s no more attractive quality than a person who is utterly comfortable with who they are. This quality transcends physical appearance, intelligence, education, income or personality. It is the cornerstone of success in business and in life.

Now, would you like the good news or the bad news?

The bad news, as you already suspect, is that your internal life is insanely complicated. Maybe your mother didn’t let you play with toys until you were 11, so you have low self-esteem. Maybe you grew up in the Pacific northwest and only saw the sun on every third Thursday, so you tend towards gloom and doom.

Maybe you are just brutally honest with yourself and have recognized that your hair isn’t quite as soft and supple as your most popular colleagues at work.

Just because I say “be comfortable in your own skin” doesn’t mean that — POOF! — you can instantly do it.

Now for the good news: your internal “comfort level” is not fixed; you can change it.

In the spirit of complete disclosure, if today you are insecure and self-critical, overnight you are not going to change into George Clooney. But you can certainly move in the right direction, and the more that you do, the more other people will like you.

To make progress, you need to do three things:

1.) Accept your qualities you cannot change. Don’t waste any psychic energy on all that stuff I said up top, such as how your parents raised you or whether your feet are too large. (If this is a sensitive point for you, I apologize and mean no offense.) By definition, being comfortable in your own skin means accepting your vulnerabilities as well as your strengths. For example, I have the skinniest ankles of any grown adult male you have ever seen, and it doesn’t bother me one whit.

2.) Recognize your ability to change is FAR greater than you once thought. You can’t change your height, but you can change how hard you work, how grateful you are for your blessings, how open you are to new ideas, how you approach difficult challenges, and how willing you are to pay the price for what you most want in life. This does not mean change is easy; it means change is possible.

3.) Be persistent. It takes time to build both confidence and competence. Invest the time, even on days when you feel as though you are sliding backward. Can you become utterly self-assured in a week? Nope. Can you do it over several years? Probably. Can you do it over a decade? Absolutely.

Why does this work?

To generalize a bit, no one likes incoherent thinking. We hate it when an attractive person complains about being unattractive. We dislike hearing someone make empty promises over and over again. Although we may not understand exactly what’s happening, we are not attracted to people who have obvious internal conflicts.

Or at least I’m guessing that’s what happens. All I know for sure is that most folks love people who accept who they are. You know what I mean: we’ve all seen people with obvious limitations utterly charm a room because they focus on their blessings rather than on their curses.

Personally, I’ve learned a lot about this subject by watching actors. How is it that Paul Giamatti can appear to be either totally charismatic and self-confident or weak and a total loser?

(Photo: Karon Liu/Flickr)
(Photo: Karon Liu/Flickr)

In 2001, the New York Times called Giamatti “an avatar of averageness: medium height and medium build, a little pale and unathletic-looking, with a receding hairline and not much of a chin.”

I’m no head-turner, but I can compete with that. Or maybe not. Here’s the rest of the NYT paragraph from which I lifted the above quote:

…his intense, friendly, nebbishy manner — he might remind you of Wallace Shawn or Woody Allen — along with his elastic features and infectious laugh have made him, if not a household name, at least one of the most employable supporting players in the business.

14 years later, Giamatti pretty much is a household name. This is a triumph of talent and confidence. He doesn’t have leading man looks, but his IMDB filmography just goes on and on and on.

When I have a bad week, I’m sometimes tempted to watch a big Hollywood star playing a complete loser. Think of Michael Douglas in Falling Down, where he plays an unemployed defense worker. The guy seems like such an average, pitiable loser…but in the back of my mind, I know he’s married to Catherine Zeta-Jones and that the two are Hollywood royalty.

Such a performance demonstrates that being comfortable in your own skin is not a function of how your skin looks; it is a function of what you believe inside.

My greatest lesson in life, bar none, is that people have a much greater ability to change than most recognize. So you have two choices.

  1. You can spend the rest of your life sorting through ten million theories (a rough guess) about ways to be likable. You will discover that most are hopelessly confusing and complex.
  2. You can follow my simple strategy: accept yourself, and others will do the same.

Bruce Kasanoff is a ghostwriter. He is also the author of How to Self-Promote without Being a Jerk.

How to Be Ridiculously Likable