As a leader, is it better to be respected than liked? Not really. Research shows likable people:
- tend to be more successful in sales (which matters, because every entrepreneur is in sales);
- are more likely to be promoted or hired;
- are more likely to build and maintain great professional (and personal) relationships;
- are better able to influence the people around them; and
- are better able to help other people feel better about themselves.
Likability is a driver of lasting connections and relationships. Likability is a driver of success.
So yeah: It’s better to be respected and liked. And while earning respect takes time, it’s surprisingly easy to be more likable, starting today.
Just Ask Three Questions
Researchers conducting a study published Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that asking a question and then two follow-up questions dramatically increases how likable others perceive you to be.
As the researchers write:
When people ask more questions, they are perceived as higher in responsiveness, an interpersonal construct that captures listening, understanding, validation, and care.
People who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners.
If you think that sounds too easy, you’re not alone. As the researchers write, “We also find that, despite the persistent and beneficial effects of asking questions, people do not anticipate that question-asking increases interpersonal liking.”
Add it all up, and not only is asking a few questions an easy way to be more likable; it’s also a technique that few people use. (Win-win.)
As Long as You Ask the Right Kinds of Questions
Say you run into an employee.
“How is your day going?” you might ask. (As far as questions go, that one ranks up there with “Can I help you find anything?” from a sales clerk. But let’s go with it.)
“Not great,” she says. “We’re behind schedule on getting the customer demo ready.”
Responding with, “Speaking of problems, are we on track with the database project?” is what the researchers call a full-switch question, one unrelated to the first question. Unsurprisingly, asking full-switch questions makes you seem unlikable, if only because you clearly weren’t interested in the response to your first question.
So does a mirror response: “My day has been rough, too.” A mirror response not only feels competitive (your day sucks, but hey, mine sucks worse), but it also shifts the focus onto me, not you.
The key to being likable is to ask a follow-up question. Something simple, like, “I’m sorry. What happened?”
Then listen, and ask another question. What roadblocks she’s facing. What she’s tried to do to keep the project on track. What she needs. What you can do to help. By the time you get to your third question, finding more questions to ask will be easy.
Especially if you avoid the temptation to weigh in. Until asked, don’t share your thoughts and feelings. Keep the focus on the other person. They’ll definitely like — and respect — you for it.
And there’s an additional benefit if you’re relatively shy.
Especially When You Meet Someone New
As the researchers write:
People spend most of their time during conversations talking about their own viewpoints and tend to self-promote (especially) when meeting people for the first time. In contrast, high question-askers are perceived as more responsive and are better liked.
Say you meet someone. As soon as you learn anything about them — occupation, avocation, etc. — ask the first follow-up question. Keep it simple. How they do what they do. Why they do it. How it feels. What they enjoy about it.
When I find out what someone does for a living, my go-to follow-up is, “That sounds like a really hard job.” Granted that isn’t a question, but still works since everyone’s job is hard. Recognize and validate that fact, and people will naturally open up and talk about themselves.
And once they do, follow-up questions get easier and easier to find since once you scratch the surface, everyone is interesting.
Try it. Ask a question, and ask at least two genuine follow-up questions. Show you respect their experience and knowledge. Show you respect them as a person.
Doing that will not only make you more likable, it could turn what would have been an interaction into the start of a relationship.
And if it doesn’t, that’s okay, because for a few minutes you will have made another person feel important.
Which is reason enough to ask a couple more questions.