Being likeable is a change in how we connect, not a change in who we are.
Of all the things most people aspire to be, the common subconscious desire is to evolve into someone who's more likeable. Whether to ourselves, our loved ones, the people we're still hung up on impressing, most aspirations are somewhere tied into a supposed promise of being "loved." It's human nature.
Yet, there's often a strange paradox in the world of self-development, and it revolves around whether or not it's more important to be true to yourself, or to be true to the kind of person that others find more appealing. The cookie cutter advice is to always be yourself, but that often doesn't take into account the practicality of needing to censor yourself.
You can't tell your boss they're incompetent if you want to keep your job, you can't expect to walk around oblivious to the needs and reactions of others, and expect everyone else to simply adapt. Life doesn't work that way.
But there's a middle-ground. There are ways to consciously become a more likeable person without ever having to sacrifice who you really are. There's a way to be self-aware and authentic. The two aren't as mutually exclusive as we assume. Being likeable is a change in how we connect, not a change in who we are.
So here are the core traits of very likeable people, so you too can consider adopting a few more socially intelligent habits yourself.
1. They validate other people's emotions, even if they don't agree with them.
In other words, they don't find reasons to dismiss the way other people feel. If someone says, "You hurt me," they don't try to deny it even though they may not have realized they did anything wrong. They don't assume they can tell people how to feel, or that logic (or peer pressure) can change that fact. They accept and validate other people's feelings as they are, and in turn, they validate people for who they are.
2. They ask the important questions.
Inquisitiveness, when coming from a place of genuine interest, makes people feel important and valued. However, that can easily take a turn for the worst when you ask someone questions that make them uncomfortable to answer.
That's why likeable people ask people questions regarding things they're inherently passionate about. They give others an outlet to share and express what they love the most. It's a bonding tool, but it's also a way of showing someone you care about them because you care about what they care about.
3. They look you in the eye.
They give you a firm handshake, address you by name, and make you feel comfortable, not intimidated. Likeable people command respect with how much respect they give to others.
4. They put their phones away.
When you're with them, they give you their full, complete attention. The gesture of responding to something in the middle of a conversation communicates the idea that there's something more important than the person you're talking to. Whether there is or whether there isn't, likeable people consider the way this small (but significant) action will make other people feel.
5. They're consistent.
The truth is that people dislike change, and they especially dislike when people change. This is unfortunate, as change is the only real constant in life, and the idea that people shouldn't evolve is dangerous at worst. Yet, there's a mild difference between being "changeable" and "consistent," the latter which has to do with having a sound idea of who you inherently are.
Sure, your politics may change, your opinions may change, but consistently showing up with your whole, genuine self makes you more likeable, simply because people are certain about what they're getting.
6. They don't try to elicit emotional reactions from others.
They don't tell someone about their promotion with the intent of eliciting awe and admiration. They don't seek sympathy for their hardships. They don't go into conversations looking for a specific emotional reaction from other people (it's exhausting to the opposite party).
7. They don't project.
When they see someone walking down the street, they don't size them up and start comparing. They recognize that other people and places and events and issues exist without their involvement whatsoever. They aren't selfish to the point where they believe that if someone else is successful, it means they aren't; or if someone else doesn't have love, that makes them better. They don't project their issues onto whatever is in front of them.
8. They speak with precision.
They speak clearly and concisely simply because they aren't trying to edit or inflate whatever they're trying to say. They communicate directly and well, and it's this transparency that immediately puts others at ease.
9. They aren't looking to "convert" anyone.
They're resolute in their beliefs to the point where other people's aren't threatening. In other words, they don't pick out opportunities to "inform" people of their ignorance or turn every family dinner into a political debate. They have enough self-awareness to know that the desire to do so comes from a place of crippling insecurity, and that it doesn't need to be acted on.
10. They focus on the big picture.
Likeability is more than just how someone speaks to you — it's their body language (crossed arms or relaxed shoulders?), the way they style themselves to communicate who they are, and so on. People communicate who they are in many ways, and crafting a more likeable identity goes hand-in-hand with crafting a more genuine appearance and relaxed attitude.
11. They make an effort to understand others, not to place themselves above them.
They see conversations as opportunities to learn about what they don't know, not inform other people about what they don't know.
12. They work on themselves.
The most important trait of a likeable person is the willingness to work on oneself. It's the ability to say, "I'm sorry I hurt you. I'm going to work on being better about that." It's the openness to admit that you're wrong, or apologize, or at least not become defensive when someone wants to bring unwanted behavior to your attention.
People who are committed to working on themselves are committed to working on their relationship with others. At the end of the day, those two things are one in the same.