5 Traits That Often Make People Unlikeable — And, What to Do Instead
Have you ever wondered how to be more likeable? Sometimes it helps to look at questions like these from the angle of what not to do.
I consider myself highly emotionally intelligent, yet I default to some of these unlikeable traits. For example, I found myself humble-bragging about my rough drafts folder just yesterday.
Writer Friend, Overwhelmed: “I’ve got about 20 drafts for articles.”
Me, Humble-Bragging: “I’m trying to keep my folder below 100.”
Cringe-worthy, right? I can change. We can change. In 2017, Travis Bradberry of Forbes crafted a list of nine traits that make us unlikeable based on research data. According to Bradberry, “In reality, being likeable is under your control, and it’s a matter of emotional intelligence (EQ).”
The findings? Being likeable is not dependent on innate (naturally-born) characteristics. Instead, to be likeable is to “[be] skilled in the social side of emotional intelligence.”
What is emotional intelligence?
“Emotional intelligence can best be described as the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.” — Kalpana Srivastava, Industrial Psychiatry Journal
So, strengthen your emotional intelligence — strengthen your likability.
Traits That Make Us Unlikeable
Why does it matter if we’re liked? Should we brush it off and not care? Not if we want to make our way up in the business ranks, have good friends, or be skillful at networking. For example, according to Bradberry’s research, only “1 in 2000 unlikable leaders are considered effective.” I don’t like those odds. One of my life goals it to be an effective leader, so developing my likeability quotient is important to me.
I’ll be honest. When I started this research, I didn’t think any of the unlikeability traits would apply to me. Boy, was I wrong.
Bradberry lists these 9 traits as unlikeable:
- Being too serious.
- Not asking enough questions.
- Emotional hijackings.
- Whipping out your phone.
- Having a closed mind.
- Sharing too much, too early.
Some of these are not a newsflash to me.
- Don’t gossip? Common knowledge.
- Paying more attention to my phone than you? Yeah, that's insulting.
- No emotional outbursts? No one loves being yelled at or furniture being thrown across the room.
- Name-dropping. Comes off as bragging. After we’ve known someone for a while, yes. When we’re making first impressions, no.
Following are the five hidden traits that stand out to me, with insights from professionals on alternative behaviors to engage in for increasing your likeability.
1. Name Dropping/One Upping
Along the same lines, don’t engage in one-upping. When Paul says he spent the summer in Florida, you say you spent the summer in Mexico. When Paul says he met Kevin Durant, you say you met LeBron James. When Paul says he flew on an overnight flight, you say you flew to outer space. Stop that already! It’s exhausting.
Important: To communicate is not to engage in battle. To communicate is to connect. If eventually you want to tell someone you’re close to about someone famous you’ve met, go for it. Don’t tell the waitress you're flirting with though.
How to change this?
Be vulnerable. Be interested. Participate in conversation with give and take. Look at it as a team game if you must, with all participants being on the same team. This falls in the realm of bragging. It might take a little time to become aware of when you’re doing this. Watch for cues in the conversation that you’re coming off as arrogant. Ask a friend to help explain when you’re doing this. If conversation comes up in which bragging is the focus, then it’s okay to participate. Don’t make a habit out of it though. Melanie Greenberg Ph.D. of Psychology Today states that some people are more naturally competitive. She emphasizes trying to shift the conversation away from competition and toward cooperation. Dr. Greenberg says competitive people sometimes suffer from low self-esteem, a background based in a scarce resources model, prone to narcissism and sociopathy, or may be in competitive environments often, such as work.
“Try to figure out why this person is being competitive and what their needs and goals are. Also, see if there are any common goals that you can use to get them to work with you, rather than against you. Highlight the specific values and goals that you have in common” — Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.
2. Taking Life Too Seriously. There’s a Difference Between Passion and Obsession
I’m pretty obsessed with becoming a breakout writer right now. Guess what? My family isn’t super interested in this. So, I chat about this passion mostly with peer writers or friends and family who I know share this common interest. That’s key here. If you share a common passion, chat away. If you don’t and you keep honing in on only that your likeability is gonna tank.
How to change this?
It’s okay to be serious and passionate. But, if you’re so serious and consumed by certain areas of life that you can’t break free for a laugh, coffee, or good conversation without thinking about it — that’s a problem. Try getting your mind off running Google analytics by breaking out of your box and giving a suspense film a chance or going scuba diving or eating at a new restaurant. Diversify your life interests so that you don’t come off as an unlikeable bore.
Guy Winch, PhD of Psychology Today says to “Find common ground. People connect to others who are similar to them or who have similar interests and opinions, so when meeting people you don’t know well or are meeting for the first time, try to find common interests, hobbies, opinions, taste in movies, books, shows, music or fashion, vacation destinations, or anything else that might create connective tissue between you.”
3. Not Actively Listening
Some of us get nervous when meeting new people and start talking nonstop, no room for the other person to get a word in edgewise, because if we keep talking, then maybe this conversation will feel like it’s going smoothly…It’s like one long, unpleasant, nerve-wracking run-on sentence. Others try to multitask while talking, like checking updates on their cellphone.
How to change this?
As a shy person, I’ve got an advantage here. Asking lots and lots of questions makes people more likeable. It shows you’re interested in getting to know the other person. It shows you aren’t too self-centered or self-focused. Learn to pause. Learn to ask questions. Learn to listen.
Actively listening is finding common ground, taking turns in conversation, and actually listening to what the other person is saying. It helps to ask questions about what they’ve said to show you’re interested. Your body language also says a lot. If your laptop or phone are out, that says you’re not actively listening.
Dr. Winch suggests to, “Offer a firm handshake, make eye contact, smile, stand, or sit with an open posture (e.g., arms to your side rather than folded across your chest) and, as mentioned earlier, nod when someone is speaking to show you’re listening to them.”
4. Being Rigidly, Unbendingly Set in Stone
I used to spend a lot of time at a local coffee chop just chitchatting the day away. Regularly at the counter were libertarians, republicans, democrats, yoga enthusiasts, college students, a trust fund middle-aged-man healthcare worker, artists, writers, and more. We talked. We listened. We knew when to agree to disagree. We liked each other even though our opinions were often rather different. It was awesome. If you can’t suspend your disbelief for five to ten minutes to consider another angle, that’s definitely going to take you quickly to unlikeability.
How to Change This?
Realize that having an open mind doesn’t mean you’re changing yours. There’s room to hold opposing viewpoints in your head. Doing so makes life interesting. Embrace the other.
According to Andrea Matthews, LPC, NCC of Psychology Today, close-mindedness is often rooted in fear,
“It is fear that generally keeps the mind closed. Often the fear is based on the idea that one must be right in order to be OK. It is not safe to be wrong. Therefore, once an idea is grasped, one must hold on to it, for fear that to question it might prove one wrong and thus unsafe.”
Because of this, it may be worth exploring with a therapist why being right all the time takes priority for you. As you work through what your fears are based in, you’ll probably find yourself with a more open mind.
5. Treating First Meet-Ups as an Opportunity to Word Vomit
I’m guilty of this — I like to go deep, early. I like to ask deeply personal questions and share my most intimate thoughts. Did you meet someone five minutes ago? It’s not the right time to share your birth story, your affair, or your darkest family secret. Try to wait for the self-confessional until you’ve gotten to know them a little bit better.
How to Change This?
Slow your roll, my friend. I know you’re curious and you want to connect. It’ll make it that much more special when you wait. Wait — are we talking about sex or likeability?
People aren’t always comfortable engaging on an intimate emotional level from right off the bat. Read cues, take your time, and know when not to reveal too much. Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D., and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D. of Psychology Today caution us, “When does one cross the line from being an interesting conversationalist and effective communicator to becoming a boring gabber who holds others hostage with their excessive verbiage?”
“Good listeners are perceived positively by others, are better liked, are more likely to be promoted at work, and help others cope with problems (Bodie, 2012).”
The doctors recommend learning more about effective listening, remembering the acronym W.A.I.T. — Why Am I Talking?, and practicing empathic listening. Their final word of advice: “Consider monitoring your listening-to-speaking ratio. If you talk more than you listen, then you are likely talking too much.”
Over the past few years, I’ve intuitively worked on becoming a better conversationalist. My mom pointed out that I’d dominate conversations. I ask her to talk first sometimes. I listen and engage. I remind myself that I’ll have a turn. With my friends, I am conscious of watching her body cues, taking turns in our conversation, listening, and relating to what she says. This creates a more meaningful relationship in which we care about one another more deeply. With my husband, I have a habit of interrupting. I’m trying to quit interrupting — it’s a hard habit to break. He points it out when I’m doing it. I’ll stop talking and say, “Go ahead,” instead of barreling through the conversation. As I’ve worked on my conversational anxiety I believe my likeability has improved.
I’ve trained myself to illuminate the things in my personality that are likable and to hide and protect the things that are less likable. — Will Smith
Dr. Winch posits, “While it is possible to increase our likeability in a general circumstance, it is important to remember we can’t appeal to all people all of the time.”
We are all capable of improving our likeablity to some extent. We all have some personality ticks that make us less likeable. I learned through Bradberry’s Forbes list my primary unlikeable traits are humble-bragging and oversharing. Now I can work on them.
When we are aware of what we’re doing that irks people, we can focus on changing our behavior. Soon, we won’t be rubbing as many people the wrong way. Our likeability quotient will go up.
We’ll have that shot at being the likeable leader or boss, the likeable friend, the likeable peer. We’ve got this.
Did I ever tell you about the time I saw Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg riding elephants or the time my boyfriend dragged me to a strip club and coaxed me into putting a dollar into a stripper’s g-string? Oops. I have a long way to go.
What traits do you find unlikeable in people? What traits do you find more attractive and likeable in people?