I often see statements like
“Looks don’t matter”
“It’s the inside that counts”
This frustrates me because it’s not true.
In reality, looks do matter (and everyone knows it). The first moment, the first second when we meet someone, our looks are all that matters. After all, that’s the only way people can perceive someone they just met.
But already seconds into a meeting with a new person other things start to matter. How’s our body language? Do we act in a way that’s warm or hostile?
Still, at this moment, the good-looking person might win over the not-so-good-looking one.
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But as we start talking, our personality becomes more and more important. It soon comes to the point where it’s even more important than our looks.
A quick check among our own friends can confirm this:
- Have you ever stopped keeping in touch with a friend because you didn’t stand that person’s personality? (Probably yes)
- Have you ever stopped keeping in touch after a while because of that person’s looks? (Probably not)
In fact, our personality gets more and more important in a relationship as the years pass by. A person who’s just slightly annoying after a few weeks of hanging out can be unbearable after a few years.
If you meet a person who is a bad listener or talks too much, you might barely think about it the first day you hang out. Then, after a few weeks of hanging out, it occasionally makes you annoyed. After a few months, maybe you’re so annoyed that you rather hang out with other friends.
This diagram is based on three studies where students rated the likability of their classmates both at the beginning and at the end of the semester. In the beginning, looks and social status won. At the end of the semester, the ratings were drastically different: Those who were the most skilled had become the most popular.
What we can learn from this is that no matter our looks, it always pays off to improve our personality.
Don’t get me wrong. Looks aren’t irrelevant.
You want to look your best if you want to create a good first impression. (Some well-fitting clothes and a haircut will take you far).
But personality soon becomes more important than looks. That’s something we tend to forget.
A friend of mine works at one of the larger consultancy firms. He told me about an unofficial strategy that they use when they hire. It’s called the Airport Test.
They asked themselves one question before hiring someone.
“Would I want to be stuck in an airport with this person?”
The point of the test is that you don’t want to work with someone that would annoy you.
This shows how important it is to be socially adept, not just in private, but also in your career. Sure, the qualifications need to be there, but after that, social skills can be a deal-breaker.
So in summary
- Looks are important (and can be improved dramatically quite easily: Tips for women here and tips for men here)
- Your social skills and ability to bond with people when you make conversation is way more important than your looks
And that’s great news.
No matter your starting point, you’ll be able to make dramatic improvements in conversations in the coming weeks.
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