Fascinating Harvard Study Reveals The Secret To Being Likable

It’s not being polite, helpful or having a good sense of humor.

smiling woman Christian Schwier / Shutterstock

It might be an inconvenient truth, but being likable is something we all (deep down) crave.

That’s because it makes life easier.

If you think people are born charming, you’re mistaken — likability can be learned and honed, just like any other skill.

But what is it that makes a person likable?

According to this Harvard study, described in an HBR article, the secret to being more likable and improving interpersonal bonding isn’t being polite, helpful, or having a good sense of humor.


It’s asking more questions.

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We all want to feel someone is interested in us.

The research examined the role of asking questions in interpersonal relationships.

Harvard colleagues scrutinized thousands of natural conversations among participants who were getting to know each other, either in online chats or on in-person speed dates.


The researchers told some people to ask at least nine questions within 15 minutes and the rest to ask no more than four within 15 minutes.

In the online chats, the people who were randomly assigned to ask many questions were better liked by their conversation partners. Among the speed daters, people were more willing to go on a second date with partners who asked more questions.

It makes sense — we all want to feel someone is interested in us.

People tend to talk a lot about themselves, especially when they’re trying to impress someone. But that’s not the best strategy to make a positive impression.

When you show genuine interest in someone — by asking them questions regarding their life, thoughts, and feelings — and shift the focus of the conversation from yourself onto the other person, that’s how you win them over.


RELATED: The 3 Things People Immediately Judge You On When You First Meet Them

There is a catch, though.

According to the findings of the research, the order of the questions you ask someone has a significant effect on how they will respond.

If you want to build up trust, rapport, and intimacy, you should start with relatively shallow and insignificant questions and progress to more private/deep ones.

Imagine you’re introduced to someone. Once you exchange names, the first thing they ask you is what’s your biggest fear or the thing you regret most in life.

Wouldn’t that make you feel uncomfortable?

Although these two questions would make for an interesting and deep conversation, you can’t pour your heart out to someone you know nothing about. Before you get into the deep stuff, first you need to build a sense of connection between you and the other person.


Always start with the simple. Try asking them where are they from, what are their hobbies, and if they have any pets. Then, gradually, you can opt for more personal questions.

Follow-up questions are an ace up your sleeve.

When trying to make a good impression on someone, follow-up questions are a great asset because they signal an interest in the person you are talking to.

They also open the room for a genuine conversation between you and the person you’re talking to — rather than a rapid or awkward exchange of questions and one-line responses.

Here are some examples of follow-up questions you can use to enhance the flow of your conversation and create the impression of a likable person:

  • Can you tell me more about…?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What do you mean by…?
  • What about you?

Make sure you ask these questions in a casual, rather than a buttoned-up tone. You don’t want to sound like an interviewer but someone who’s interested in getting to know the other person more.

RELATED: 50 Relationship Questions To Deepen Your Special Bond

Being likable isn’t a personality trait you’re born with. It might come more naturally to some people than others — but anyone can cultivate it.

Likability can be learned and honed, just like any other skill.

The secret to making a good impression on someone?


Ask them more questions.

At the end of the day, when we’re having a conversation with someone, we all want to feel they’re genuinely interested in us.

Talking mainly about yourself, no matter how admirable your achievements or knowledge is, isn’t the best strategy to impress someone.

Turn the focus of the conversation on the other person instead. Show them you want to know them on a deeper level. Make them feel like you’re interested in seeing their authentic self. Start from the small stuff to build up trust. Gradually ask more personal questions. Always keep the tone light.

Watch the magic happen.

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Margaret Pan is a freelance writer who writes to help others find love for others and themselves.