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Three hacks to boost the “likeability factor”

"One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect"

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“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”, Salvador Dalí is reported to have claimed.

How can we successfully live with our imperfections then? Perhaps even thrive in spite of them?

Psychology suggests three simple hacks to boost our “likeability factor”:

I – Personal-disclosure: get the timing right

A research conducted by Jones & Gordon in the early ’70s  [1] investigated the effects of personal-disclosure in relation to “likeability”: participants were asked to listen to an interview recorded on tape during which a man talked about his life and mentioned “an important experience that was either pleasant or unpleasant and was an event for which he either was or was not responsible. The presentation of the critical information occurred either early in the interview or in response to a probing question at the end. Findings generally support the expectation that it is unattractive to disclose a good fortune early in a relationship. When disclosure of a negative experience was involved, the consequences of early vs. late disclosure depended on the target person’s responsibility for the event. The responsible person who disclosed bad fortune early was more attractive than the late discloser; however, when the person was not responsible for an experience of bad fortune, he was better liked if the event was disclosed late in the interview.”

According to these findings, it would appear that the mention of weaknesses at an early stage is seen as a sign of openness and honesty. The opposite happens when -as proved during the course of the same study – positive aspects of our past are revealed: mentioning them later is seen a sign of modesty and is therefore likely to increase the perception about one’s likeability.

II – The Pratfall Effect: embrace clumsiness

“An experiment was performed which demonstrated that the attractiveness of a superior person is enhanced if he commits a clumsy blunder; the same blunder tends to decrease the attractiveness of a mediocre person. We predicted these results by conjecturing that a superior person may be viewed as superhuman and, therefore, distant; a blunder tends to humanize him and, consequently, increases his attractiveness”. (Elliot Aronson, 1966)

For his study [2], Aronson divided 48 participants – requested to listen to a recording of a man answering trivia questions – into four groups and created different scenarios:

  • A “superior” person answering questions (92% of correct answers)
  • An “average” person answering questions (30% of correct answers)
  • A “superior” person answering questions and committing a pratfall (92% of correct answers, spilling a cup of coffee all over-himself)
  • An “average” person answering questions and committing a pratfall (30% of correct answers, spilling a cup of coffee all over-himself)

Results indicated that the subject deemed more attractive was the “superior” person who committed a pratfall, proving that we tend to like competent people with higher intellectual skills better than mediocre individuals, especially in a scenario where a certain degree of clumsiness makes them appear more “human” and approachable.

III – The Franklin Effect: ask for favours

In 1969, researchers Jecker and Landy invited some students to answer a series of questions: the “winners” would be awarded a sum of money as a compensation for their efforts.

At a later stage, all groups were requested to rate the researcher: results confirmed that the first group liked him the most and the second group liked him the least, which suggested that a direct request for a favour had increased the researcher’s “likeability factor” [3].

The explanation behind such unexpected outcome is known as “Franklin Effect”: according to his (unofficial) autobiography, Benjamin Franklin did once manage to turn a rival legislator into a friend by simply asking him if he could borrow a rare book from his library.

Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death. He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”, Franklin claimed.

Whether or not the anecdote is true, the Franklin effect is rooted is the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance elaborated by psychologist Leon Festinger, who stated: “A person who experiences internal inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable and is motivated to reduce the cognitive dissonance, by making changes to justify the stressful behaviour, either by adding new parts to the cognition causing the psychological dissonance or by avoiding circumstances and contradictory information likely to increase the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance.” [4]. In simple words, if our behaviour is in conflict with our beliefs, our brain changes our emotional response about the situation in order to reduce the discrepancy.

***

To conclude on a wise note, as Stephen Hawking wisely observed “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist…Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist”.

SOURCES

[1] Jones, E. E., & Gordon, E. M. (1972). “Timing of self-disclosure and its effects on personal attraction”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 358-365

[2] Aronson, E., Willerman, B., & Floyd, J. (1966). “The effect of a pratfall on increasing interpersonal attractiveness”. Psychonomic Science, 4(6), 227-228

[3] Jecker, Jon; Landy, David (August 1, 1969). “Liking a Person as a Function of Doing Him a Favour”. Human Relations. 22 (4): 371–378. doi:10.1177/001872676902200407

[4] Festinger, L. (1957). “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance”. California: Stanford University Press

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