Why we become more likable when we stop trying

Back in school, I tried out different ways to connect with people.

I was sure that for people to like me, I had to stand out. You know – show that I was better than the average joe.

For example, when I started an import business and had some early success I assumed that it would make me more likable. But talking about my business and my success turned people OFF.

Ironically, my urge to be popular, liked, and admired pushed others away from me.

Connecting with people is counter-intuitive.

Finally, I realized how to be more likable. (It took me 8 years to figure it out.)

Socially successful people don’t try to make people like them. Instead, they make people like being around them.

What’s the difference?

The entire idea of trying to make people like US is self-absorbed:

We want to be liked and admired, but we forget about if we’re nice to be around.

This self-focus also makes us more self-conscious and anxious. (Read my guide on how to not be nervous around people here.)

If you’ve ever had a voice in your head asking you “What will people think of me?” you know what I’m talking about.

Here are some examples of trying to make people like us versus making people like being around us: (Click image to enlarge)

Here are the takeaways from the chart above:

  1. People want to be around those who acknowledge them and listen to them; not those who just wait for people to be done talking so they can talk.
  2. People want to be around those who share stories to create an enjoyable moment; not those who share stories to make themselves look good.
  3. People want to be around those who like them and accept them as they are; not those who try to play it cool.

Studies show that what makes us likable isn’t about being superior to others. It’s about being relatable.(1)

Not just that.

When we shift our attention away from ourselves we become less self-conscious. That makes us more confident and relaxed in social settings.(2)

Lesson learned:

Often, trying to be likable just makes us more self-conscious and less likable.

I call this the likability paradox.

When we instead focus on making people like being around; we become more likable.

Don’t try to make people like you. Make people like being around you.

Read more here: Complete guide on how to be more likable.

Have you ever done something you thought would be likable that didn’t work? I’m curious to know in the comments!

David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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