Forget About Being Likable

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Doug Fletcher is one of the most likable people you’ll meet. His easy-going manner puts one at ease. So, it’s a bit jarring to hear Doug advise, “Forget about being likable.”

Instead, Doug encourages us to do great work and take really good care of our clients. In his estimation, respect and trust trump likability.

How to Win Friends

In 1937, Dale Carnegie published How to Win Friends & Influence People. The book is still a bestseller more than 80 years later. How to Win Friends is part of the sales canon. Doug calls it the “better personality” approach to business development success. Doug’s admonishment to forget about being likable seems heretical in the face of such sustained popularity.

There’s nothing wrong with being likable, of course. When it comes to professional services, however, it’s easier to learn to be likable than it is to develop real expertise and cultivate respect and trust. Likability isn’t a discriminate factor.

Fake It Until You Make It?

Early in my career, I did not yet know what I didn’t know. My ignorance was no sin and could be remedied with experience and effort. My arrogance, on the other hand, was a problem.

I was guilty of believing that by adopting the dress, look, and patois of my profession, I could fake it until I made it. To a degree, I conflated fitting in and looking the part with becoming a true craftsman. Unfortunately, my faking it camouflaged the degree to which my understanding was facile and my presentation glib. By over-emphasizing appearances, I underserved my clients and missed opportunities to develop a deeper capacity to serve effectively.

Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons

Philosopher and gadfly Nassim Taleb goes further. He notes, “Reality is blind to looks.”  True expertise is complex and difficult to explain. Consequently, “The people you understand most easily [are] necessarily the bull***tters.”

He advocates selecting among experts via negativa: look for signs of success when the expert doesn’t look the part—when they aren’t conventionally likable. For instance, when faced with a choice between two surgeons at a reputable hospital—one highly polished and credentialed and the other rough around the edges—Taleb leans toward the latter. To earn respect and trust with a personality that runs counter to received wisdom is difficult and, thus, suggests hidden, superior quality.

It’s no wonder, then, that Taleb features the following praise for his latest book, Skin in the Game:

The problem with Taleb is not that he’s an asshole. He is an asshole. The problem with Taleb is that he is right.

Being an Ass Isn’t a Strategy Either

Going out of one’s way to act like a jerk isn’t a great idea. As Doug notes, “Like is a tie-breaker.” Sometimes, though, being right means losing popularity contests. But being right—and having the courage of one’s convictions—are the keys to building respect and trust That, rather than likability, wins new business over time.

Get the Transcript of Doug's Interview