Likability is one of those holy qualities that seem to be elusive and inborn. We see people with amazing auras or presences, and often we can’t put our fingers on why we are so impressed with them?
The long answer turned short is that much of what we read about others is subconscious. Our perception is affected by that which we are completely oblivious to. This can be a scary thought, the fact we are likely influenced by people everyday that we are in the dark about – hello, advertisers! But if our subconscious can be used against us, we can also make these same forces work for us!
Below are three methods, actually, scientific conclusions via peer-reviewed research, that can help you influence people around you to be flat-out more likable.
#1: The Propinquity Effect
Friendship and trust increase linearly with simple interaction and exposure. The more we see someone, the more likely we will become friends with them and come to trust them.
The more see people, the more we interact with them, the more similarities we find, the more comfort we build, and the more we find we can potentially like them. Prolonged exposure by itself will embed people into your mind as essentially part of the background. This is why when we change schools, jobs, or homes, we miss our neighbors or coworkers, even if we rarely spoke to them. There has been so much exposure and interaction that we tend to view them in a positive light and associate them with the environment as a whole. The level of interaction itself isn’t important; the frequency of the interaction is.
The more you show your pretty face, the more trust will ultimately be built. For those you are specifically targeting to make friends and build trust with, make sure to frequently bump into them. The interaction itself can be minimal, as long as they take notice of your presence and acknowledge you. The goal is to become a known and familiar quantity in their lives.
#2: Too Much Information (TMI)
If you hear about someone that plays tennis and belongs to a country club, what other pieces of information fit into a view of that person? You would likely assume they were rich growing up, perhaps owned a boat, lived on an estate, went to a fancy private school, and haven’t had to work very hard in their life. Maybe not all, but at least a couple of those things sprang into your mind.
Studies have found that the less information people had about a certain subject or person, the more they began to fill in the gaps with information that was stereotypical of a general representation. Like with the first example, if you only have a limited set of information, you will fill in the rest with your stereotype of a rich, preppy, affluent WASP with a sweater tied around their neck.
When we have little information, a mental image forms regardless, and the brain doesn’t know the difference between a stereotype and accurate knowledge.
To prevent stereotyping and being instantly judged, Hilary and Fein found that simply providing details about the subject completely unrelated to the stereotype in mind diluted the stereotype and made people more likely to trust and like others. The more detail about the person, the better, even if it was completely random. When we have limited information, we assume a person is just the same as the most stereotypical representation that has those traits.
When we have more information about someone in any regard, we realize we can’t define them by those one or two traits, and we cease stereotyping and judging. What does this mean for us? There is no such thing as Too Much Information (TMI).
#3: We both like cats?!
We’ve all experienced the phenomenon where we ask someone where they went to school, and we discover they went to school where three of your acquaintances went. The next question out of our mouths will inevitably be some version of, “Oh, my friends went there. Jane Smith, Bob Dinn, and John Doe. Do you know them?” disregarding the fact that it was a giant school and they weren’t the same age, year, or major.
Why do we do this? Because we are instinctually seeking out similarities and common ground. We want to find a connection and point of reference from which to evaluate other people as quickly as possible so we know who we are talking to.
We like similarity, and not just because we tend to have a positive opinion of ourselves. We like similarity in all respects because of the positive assumptions we can make about them. For instance, let’s say you were born in a small town in South America. Now you live in London. How excited would you be at the prospect of meeting someone else from that same small South American town?
For more on what subconsciously makes us more interesting and charismatic: The Science of Likability: 27 Studies to Master Charisma, Attract Friends, Captivate People, and Take Advantage of Human Psychology.