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What Makes People Likable is not Always Likable!

I never watch the news unless by accident. A few days ago, I found myself in front of a TV screen with the news on at a friend’s house. World leaders were either praised or vividly criticized by journalists. The usual defile of public figures went on as the speaker shifted from politicians to singers. Most of whom looked more like gruesome distasteful dudes than “real” artists.

Which brought back a life long question:

How on earth can odious people be loved by so many?


What makes people likable is not always likable!

The objective of this article is to tell apart the good from the bad reasons that trigger likability to 1. help us stay safer from deception and 2. reinforce the need for developing our self-worth vs. triggering others’ acceptance.


1. They like you so you like them

Some people love praise, others have a hard time with it. Yet, in both cases, we subconsciously tend to appreciate people that praise us. The weird thing is that this is true even when we know the compliment is not sincere. This observation has been backed by numerous studies.

In general, whatever can flatter our avid ego is welcomed with minimum rational filters ☺.

2. They lie with agility

In practice, lies often go well beyond flattering. Research has shown that most popular persons are more frequent liars than the average dude. To boost their likability in different contexts, they lie…

  • to seek justification/forgiveness when they do wrong,
  • to get people in trouble, and shine as a consequence.

Remember the most popular girl or boy in college? Well, they typically fall into that category. Read through if interested.

3. They look nice

We tend to treat nice looking people with a clear preference. We think they are more intelligent and have stronger values & principles! Again numerous studies have unveiled this psychological bias in various environments; college, work…

Remember when the Australian ecosystem was burning! 3 billion animals died, 306 million tons of CO2 were spread in the air, 46 million acres of forest vanished and people were tweeting about… Koalas!!! Why? Don’t tell me it’s an endemic species. There are of them in the region. The right answer is; they look cute… Aren’t they 😉?!

4. They help/encourage you to rebel against authority

Breaking free from parents’ authority looks like a super sexy wild unachievable goal at childhood. When we finally achieve it, it feels so good! We feel strong and unstoppable.

Nevertheless, many reach adult age without experiencing that feeling. When they are offered the opportunity to do so by rebelling against authority they seize it. They seize it not because it is the right thing to do but rather because they crave the feeling.

5. They (show they) have loads of money

I think this idea doesn’t need justification. In our current outrageously material world any sight of wealth increases appreciation by others including the IRS ☺.

Those were a few wrong reasons we tend to like people. Now you know! ☺. Let’s have a look at the good ones.


Most of the good reasons are so obvious I’ll just list them in bullet points:

  • Common values: when we have common values (and beliefs), we tend to feel closer to the person.
  • They give us help/Care: when we need help and get it, we are grateful. Gratefulness, especially when repeated drives appreciation.
  • They have a good sense of humor.
  • They show empathy: in the part of the world I live, we have a famous saying: «God bring me who truly understands me even though s/he may offer me nothing tangible (including solutions to problems)». When we feel understood, we feel relief and hope. We then associate that feeling with the person that triggered it. Hence, we like her/him.


Some drivers of likability are tougher to classify as “good” or “bad” reasons because it all depends on the person’s intent. And here they are:

1. They give us stuff

A study was run in a restaurant chain where waiters would give free candies when presenting the check. This small act of kindness increased the average tip, hence overcompensating for the price of the candies.

2. They make us feel special

Related to the same study on tips and candies, when the waiter added a few other candies just in front of the customer, hence giving the impression of special treatment (or exclusivity), tips were even higher.

Exclusivity can also come through scarcity; collection objects or privileged access to non-public information regardless of its actual value to the listener are good examples.

3. They make us feel like we belong

Have you ever asked yourself why you appreciate a fan that supports the same sports team like yours? That’s based on our “tribal instincts” we’ve inherited from our ancestors, the caveman. Whenever we feel like we belong, we “thank” the guy that makes us feel that way by liking her/him more.

4. We depend on them in some sort of way

The extreme case is kids with parents. Kids see parents as the almighty protectors. To understand how strong the impact, just gauge the influence parents exercise on most layers of Maslow’s pyramid.

Just another Maslow Pyramid lost in the net ☺

What is largely true for parents is also true to some extent for any person that has influence/power on us (e.g. bosses, VCs…).


Now think of the 5 persons you appreciate most. Don’t forget to include that star you admire or that soccer team you are a fan of. Check the below list of criteria and see which apply most:

  • Good reasons: Values / Empathy / Care / Humor.
  • Bad reasons: Praise / Lie / Good looking / Rebellion / Money.
  • Others: Gifting / Feeling special / Belonging / Dependence.

So? Who won? The bad or the good reasons? ☺


We are more prone to deception when we are unable to satisfy our basic needs ourselves. The more dependent we are, be it physically or emotionally, the more we would tend to like people for the wrong reasons.
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So if you want to preserve yourself from being a crazy fan of any politician, weird singer, or even your boss ☺, put more emphasis on building your self-worth that on triggering others’ acceptance.

And remember…

What Makes People Likable is not Always Likable!
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If interested in learning how to work with your nature and not against it, check out my book at

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