Monday, July 21, 2014

How to Be Likable, Part 1 of 2

Somehow or another I seem to be a well-liked person. Or, at least, that's the impression I get. Through a bit of self-examination I've compiled a list of traits that seem to have helped me in this regard. It certainly doesn't help in every situation (I know a few people who don't like me for whatever reason), but I'm going to assume that for the most part the things people don't like about me are traits I have beyond the ones I'm mentioning here.

To begin, let's take one of my most oft-heard traits: working hard. People like a hard worker. It makes people trust you, knowing that they can trust you to pull your weight in any situation. That trust bleeds over into other things as well. Whether proven or not, people often feel like they can trust a hard worker with all sorts of things: vehicles, pets, children, secrets, even their lives. It's certainly not the only factor (I'd trust medical advice from a lazy doctor over a hard-working construction worker), but all thing being equal it's a quality that makes a person stand out in a positive way... to a point. Working too hard is a different problem, but it's not a fine line; there's a huge gap between working hard responsibly and working hard to the point of neglect. And, of course, not every hard worker is silent about it.

Another powerful trait is the ability to refrain from complaint. All of the hard work in the world won't make someone like you if you're going to just complain about it. I'm not sure why so few things seem to upset me, but for the most part I simply can't think of anything to really complain about. I'd like to say that I simply take the long view and realize that none of my problems are really that big given the big picture, but I don't even get that far. That said, though I almost never feel the need to vent, I can understand why others do it. However, I recommend being careful about who you're complaining to. There's value in commiserating with co-workers about shared problems, but not everybody will understand the context of the thing you're complaining about. Instead they simply feel like they're being dragged into a problem they have no interest in, and that seems like a good way to scare away potential friends. Sharing good news is fine, but sharing complaints just brings people down.

That's one of the last things you want to do to potential friends, by the way: making them feel bad. Whether they feel bad for you or feel bad about themselves, it's not a feeling most people are attracted to. It's one of the reasons parents and bosses have to maintain a clear separation, to make it clear that their children or their employees are not their friends: the moment you correct someone or issue an order there's a good chance that a friendship will suffer for it. Some bosses and parents manage to maintain friendships with their charges, but it's not easy and requires a lot of earned trust. And, of course, passive aggression is a great way to make people feel bad without making yourself feel like you're making someone feel bad. And it'll drive people away just as effectively, leaving you to wonder what you did wrong.

On the subject of passive aggression, I should caution against talking about other people behind their backs. This one is tricky because on the surface it seems like many people like to talk about other people behind their backs. And, hey, many people probably do enjoy it. However, gossip is a minefield, and you're bound to have it blow up in your face. Perhaps someone will overhear a conversation you're having with a gossip buddy and pass it along. Maybe the person overhearing the conversation is the person being talked about. Maybe you start talking about someone your gossip partner respects without realizing it. Personally, I don't like saying anything about people that I wouldn't say to their faces, though it you can't help but gossip at least do yourself a favor and avoid gossiping about someone you hope to be friends with later. The best solution, though, is to simply never vocalize negative thoughts about others, to paraphrase the wise words of Thumper's mother.

And that gets me into my next point, where I'll pick up in Part 2 tomorrow: the art of being pleasant.

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