THE BLOG

10 Traits That Trump 'Likable'

02/06/2015 08:23 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2015

Yes, you're better off being likable and liked -- if you've ever sat through a job interview with someone who (unfortunately) was neither one, you know this to be true.

But ... have you noticed lately how our culture all but worships likability? Often at the expense of higher values. If we're not careful, we can spend so much time making ourselves likable, we forget to ask if we like who we're becoming. What a tragedy if our likability came at the expense of our own self-respect.

There's gotta be a better way.

10 Traits More Important Than Being 'Likable'

1. Being comfortable in your own skin.
Not to the point of missing social cues. But if we truly wish to put others at ease -- a key to likability -- we need to be at ease with ourselves. Job candidates, for example, are sometimes coached to build rapport by mimicking the interviewer's body language. (Insert good-natured eye roll.) Faking interest doesn't work. Being natural does.

2. Being trustworthy. One recent article on likability encouraged readers to tilt their head slightly toward the other person, smile, and so forth. I've known two people who were masters at this. One went on to earn my business. The other had it, then lost it. The point is, of what use are all the right gestures if the person behind them can't be trusted?

3. Competence. Few things are more inspiring than watching someone produce good work to a high standard, or being on the receiving end of that work. Competence requires discipline, delayed gratification, and continuous learning -- much harder than head-tilting, smiling, winking, or mastering the simultaneous head tilt, smile, wink, and ingratiating pat on the arm. But competence trumps all of these.

4. Reliability. Back when I interviewed for a career-counseling position at Grand Valley State University, there was one person on the hiring committee who I could tell wasn't convinced of my candidacy. So I knew after I was hired that I would have to prove myself, especially to my new co-worker. The monthly reports she relied on to do her job? I made sure I turned mine in on time, every month, without being asked. Did that for four years. It's what I owed her, but she always thanked me anyway. I haven't worked at Grand Valley since 2007, but I'm happy to report this former co-worker and I are still friends.

5. Appreciation. Who doesn't enjoy being appreciated? Just as my co-worker appreciated on-time reports, I appreciated her noticing my effort. Starting today, how could you show someone your appreciation, in a way that he or she would find meaningful? Notice what gratitude does for your relationship, along with your spirits.

6. Kindness. People who are kind don't hit us when we're down. They don't remind us of past faults. They go out of their way to be helpful. There's not just "nice." They give the truth in love, when necessary -- even if it's just to whisper, "You've got spinach in your teeth!" They know not to pick every battle. As best they can, they live and let live. Not surprisingly, they're easy to be around.

7. Courage. Whether it's admitting fault, showing vulnerability, or standing up for something right and important, courage doesn't always make us liked. Sometimes it costs. (Sometimes it costs everything, as we noted on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.) But we act with courage anyway, because it's the right thing to do -- and we trust that good will come from it, even if it's months, years, or a lifetime later.

8. Wisdom. Who's the friend you turn to when you need a clear perspective? Once when a couple of movers took my car on a cross-country joyride that left the inside reeking of cigarettes, I asked my friend Steve what I should do. I thought for sure he would tell me to turn the other cheek. Instead, he shot back with, "Hunt them down like the dogs they are!"

I did. Four months later, the night before our little reunion at small-claims court, the moving company called. Their legal department gladly agreed to overnight a check for the damages. Incidentally, "Hunt them down like the dogs they are!" is now on my quote board. Feel free to add it to yours!

Random tip: If you're going to "borrow" someone's car without permission, don't document your exploits on the built-in GPS.

9. Forgiveness. Think of someone who forgave you for the unforgivable. They didn't do it to be likable. But doesn't our appreciation for these folks soar anyway? Certainly it should. Forgiveness costs. Yet it also restores relationships and the people in them. Which leads us to our final trait.

10. Forbearance.
Think of the friends, co-workers and loved ones who routinely forgive us our much smaller faults. Cutting slack to those we love, live with, and work with takes maturity, internal security, and a lifetime of practice -- something we can't get from merely having all the right social moves.

Bottom line: Don't dismiss social graces. But let your likability rest on a foundation of trust and credibility. Then, as best you can, surround yourself with people who do likewise. But that's another pep talk for another day.