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!

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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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30 thoughts on “Why we become more likable when we stop trying”

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  1. Now I am confused… It sounds easy but it doesn’t really seem easy, how do you make someone like being around you?

    Reply
    • What if they don’t like you and there only “liking ” you to take advantage of you ? What would you do in that certain situation?

      Reply
  2. Here’s one for you David. I am temporarily living with my daughter and her family. She has a husband that never speaks to me, a 4 year old that treats me really bad, in a room full of family she singles me out and treats me really bad. I do realize she is 4 years old, but, she doesn’t do this to anyone else but me. Why is that? I try saying “good morning “, “how are you”, all those things a grandmother would say to their granddaughter. I get nothing but a dirty look. I really want to fix this while she is young, I love her so much. I just don’t get this disrespect thing that is going on. I have tried talking to her Mom and she just says “she’s four”. Well if that’s the case, why just me? Can you advise or help?
    Monica Duarte

    Reply
    • My daughter used to do that to me and she would always greet her daddy with so much joy and love. I used to feel like i wasn’t connecting to my own daughter. I found that me acting goofy, relaxing, but ultimately playing with her got her to be playful with me back. Kids at that age just want to play and when you take the time to get down to their level and play with them, it will allow you to have more intimate moments such as hugs and cuddles while watching tv. Or even them happy to see you in the morning

      Reply
  3. Without thinking about it I always used to boast about myself in conversations. While the other person was talking I was thinking about what to say about myself in an attempt to make them like me. Sometimes I would even cut them off to talk about myself. Now I realize it was having the opposite effect.

    Reply
  4. Im a new student in a big school, and i have been trying to adjust socially. It has been really hard because ive always tried to get people to like me when i really feel like i cant. Sometimes it feels like my social environment is asking more of me than i can provide, being an inteovert and shy. This article was really helpful, you give people like us hope and i thank you so much for that.

    Reply
  5. I’m female 56, introvert, but very friendly.. I get along with most people, workmates love me, but I have no close friends. I just don’t know where to start and wonder if I’ve left it too late.. I’m going through a divorce and now I’m worried about my future loneliness

    Reply
    • Well i’m sorry your going through a divorce 🙁 .But if you need a friend i’m right here . I to am worried cause one of my only best friends are not my friends at all anymore . Until the day I realized she was a fake one in a very good disguise . My Mother helped me notice it and i’m glad she did cause I don’t need a fake friend taking advantage of me and stuff so yeah .

      Reply
  6. I often times try and be the charismatic outgoing guy who dresses well and is cool. But it tended to put so much pressure on me. Girls loved me. But people in general would like me for a bit then scurry off because i became overbearing and annoying. Then I became awkward and self cauntious.

    Not fun

    Reply
  7. This is so profound. Thank you for your valuable insight. I’ve realized the likeability paradox by observing people for a few years, but I haven’t yet reached the conclusion of ‘make people like being around you’.
    Every article I read, I see that you guys have really put a lot of thought into it, and I am grateful for you guys sharing these ideas. Thanks!

    Reply
  8. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your knowledge like this. I am starting my new job tomorrow and I feel so scared about meeting new people.
    Reading your articles gives me some reassurance on how I will be able to handle first conversations.

    Thank you

    Reply
  9. I first want to thank you for writing these wonderful articles. I do follow a lot of what is said above by being attentive in the conversations and asking people more about their stories, however sometimes the other person becomes upset with me and says things like “I feel like I am doing all the talking” or “you need to tell me more about yourself.” Do you have any suggestions for situations like that?

    Again, thank you for all your help

    Reply
  10. I am in Year 8 at a girl school. All last year I had trouble with fitting into my friendship group and often I am still excluded and my friends are close and I’m just the extra one there. I have talked to them last year even but nothing has changed. I always pay attention to them and try my hardest to be involved. Because, if I do not try to include my self they wouldn’t include me. I have tried many ways for me to be more likeable and more included. Like a close friend more than an extra. For an example, I had came home from camp today (three days), times I tried to join topics but they would just talk quietly and I can not join in as I do not know anything they are talking about, I was sitting in a group of 4, 2 got up to go outside and tagged the third. However I was left sitting their all alone. Most times I am the one in the friendship group who gets mucked around with for laughs. I really am not sure what to do anymore.

    Reply
    • They don’t sound like real friends. Do you have any alternatives to finding other friends at your school? Are there any clubs or something like that you can join?

      Reply
  11. This paragraph “When we shift our attention away from ourselves we become less self-conscious. That makes us more confident and relaxed in social settings.” I frequently use this technique, especially around friends that I know very well. Like from childhood. However, they use that as an indication to continue talking about themselves and leave me no time or room to share,reflect. Or to move the conversation forward. How do I deal with that?

    Reply
  12. “Socially successful people don’t try to make people like them. Instead, they make people like being around them.” I think that hits the nail on the head and something helpful to keep in mind.

    Reply

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