By: Kacy L. Michel, Ph.D. and CHES, Texas Christian University
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
While somewhat true, the reality is that you only get a mere moment before a listener has decided to ask you on a second date, hire you, vote for you, etc. If you only have a minute to make that crucial first impression, it’s important that you are strategic in how you present yourself.
Now, before you begin rolling your eyes and thinking, “But I have a firm handshake and a winning smile,” keep in mind that the concept of “likeability” is empirically studied in politics, communication and Psychology for a reason.
Determinants of likeability may include extraversion, emotional competence and agreeableness (Szcygiel & Mikolajczak, 2018). According to Perloff (2008), “just being likable can help a communicator achieve [their] goals.” Likeability matters.
My goal in writing this article is two-fold. One, I want you to attain this information and transmit it to your students so that they can get hired, find love or be chosen for an internship. Two, I hope to help you, the instructor, be more successful both in and out of the classroom—as well as garner higher teaching evaluation scores.
Teaching Likeability to Students
When presenting this information to students, it’s important to stress that using tenets of likeability doesn’t amount to manipulation or coercion. Instead, it is about harnessing proven aspects of Psychology in order to present your best self. Below are some tips that I use in order to bring this concept to life for my students.
Tip 1: Ask Questions
Have a strong opening. Always have either a “location” or “occasion” question at the ready.
If you are at a wedding, you could ask how an individual first met the groom or bride (occasion). If you are sitting on plane, you could ask a fellow passenger what he most enjoys about the destination (location).
By having either a location or occasion question ready, you have an easy opening to a longer conversation. Consider, for example, the cliché line “Do you come here often?” The very reason that line exists is because it is both a location and occasion question. On that note, avoid overused location/occasion questions such as: “Are you friends with the bride or groom?” “Are you traveling for business or pleasure?” Be original!
Tip 2: Read Context
Use context to your advantage. Pay attention to a student’s shirt, a potential employer’s office or a date’s personal accessories. All of these lend clues to who the person is. Ask the student wearing the Cubs jacket about how the season is going. Inquire about the employer’s kids after spotting a framed photo on her desk.
The other side of being liked is genuinely finding interest in others. Pay attention to context.
Tip 3: Mirror Communication Styles
People like people who are like them. What does that mean? Take for example, a very low-affect, laid-back individual. Do you think she talks loudly or theatrically? How do you think she would respond to a very dynamic, strong personality?
Try reading the person and adjusting your communication style to more closely match the speaker. Experts call this mirroring, and it’s a subtle way of raising the likeability quotient.
Tip 4: Call People by Their Names
Names are critical. When I was a child, my mother would implore me to “say the magic word.” To your students—or department head or partner—the real magic word is their name.
Go out of your way to say students’ names in a Zoom session—their names are literally listed below their faces—and in class. When giving written feedback, always use the student’s name at the end of the comment. Nothing is more precious to a person than their name. If you want people to like you, get in the habit of using names.
Tip 5: Soften Criticism with Compliments
When giving feedback, utilize the sandwiching technique. Known in colloquial terms as the Oreo effect, sandwiching refers to couching criticism or complaint between two positives.
While this is a very well-known tactic, it’s shocking how few people actually put this into practice. As a professor, I almost always utilize this when giving written feedback on an assignment.
For example, I’ll write: “Nice job presenting your thesis statement with such clarity. I would have liked more detail regarding the theoretical framework used. However, overall great work.”
By taking just a few extra seconds, you could make your negative feedback more palatable. When I teach this in class, I will challenge students to do this when they are asking for a raise from a boss, having a conflict with a roommate, or speaking to a parent about not coming home for Christmas.
Putting Likeability into Practice
This short class activity can help students practice the concept of likeability.
For Your In-Person Class
Prior to the start of class, place two chairs next to each other facing forward. As you begin class, ask for volunteers to come forward and sit in the chairs. Then, explain to the class that you will give the volunteers a hypothetical scenario.
You can alter this for your individual course content, but a scenario I often use is to ask the volunteers to be strangers sitting next to one another on a plane bound for Japan. I then give the two volunteers exactly sixty seconds to hold a brief dialogue.
After time is up, I will ask the class to discuss the volunteers’ verbal and non-verbal communication, plus the content of their brief conversation. This is a perfect tie-in to start discussing the concept of likeability and perception.
For Your Online Class
This activity translates beautifully to Zoom. Instead of having two people physically seated next to each other, I will have two volunteers speak while the remainder of the class is quiet at the beginning of a synchronous Zoom session.
While it may be more difficult to deduce the volunteers’ non-verbal communication, this activity is nearly identical to the in-person experience.
Lecturing on likeability is a win-win endeavor for both you and your students. Why not utilize “likeability” techniques in your classroom today?
Szcygiel & Mikolajczak (2018). Is it enough to be an extrovert to be liked? Emotional competence moderates the relationship between extraversion and peer-rated likeability. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 804.
Perloff, R. (2003). Who says it: Source factors in persuasion. In The dynamics of persuasion: Communication and attitudes in the 21st century (pp. 149-175). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
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