The laws of likability

How they affect your professional success

By William J. Lynott

It’s a simple, declarative sentence containing only nine words, but it reveals one of the most critically important secrets of business success: people like to do business with people they like.


The message is obvious, perhaps, but ignored too often in today’s high-pressure business environment. When it comes to a highly personal and sensitive service, such as that provided by a massage therapist, likability can spell the difference between failure and success.

So how does a therapist achieve the kind of likability score that will help build a successful career? In her book The 11 Laws of Likability (American Management Association, 2011), author and adjunct professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business Michelle Tillis Lederman provides step-by-step guidance for improving your likability quotient. Here’s a capsule review of her advice.

The Law of Authenticity

To be likable, you must learn to be your true self. “The real you is the best you,” Lederman says.

Lederman suggests that trying to be someone other than who you really are is a major hurdle on the road to likability. “Authenticity is who you are—your honest reactions, your natural energy,” she says. “Sharing what is real about you is the key to building a real relationship with others.”

The Law of Self-Image

The importance of self-image for a massage therapist is obvious. Imparting a feeling of confidence plays a key role in a client’s reaction to treatment, and a strong self-image is the foundation for self-confidence.

According to Lederman, before you can expect others to like you, you have to like you—that is the law of self-image. And remember, if you lack confidence in some areas, you have lots of company.

“Even the most self-assured among us have our moments of self-doubt,” she says. “The trick is learning how to work through them. One way to do that is to convert negative self-talk to a positive by reminding yourself regularly of your genuine accomplishments.”

The Law of Perception

It’s an old saying: perception is reality. “How you perceive others is your reality about them,” Lederman says, “and the same is true for them of you.”

In order to generate positive perceptions about you in other people, you should keep yourself aware of the signals you are transmitting about yourself—and the ones other people are transmitting to you. Stay flexible, Lederman says, and be prepared to modify your behavior to the best effect.

The Law of Energy

Lederman says you must be true to yourself and to your energy in a given situation in order to be perceived as authentic and sincere. “The key isn’t to artificially be the peppiest person in the room. It’s far more important to be sincere. But this doesn’t mean letting a bad day ride roughshod over you and the energy you are putting out to others.”

Lederman suggests it’s possible for us to put out energy that is sincere, even when faced with challenges, difficulties, or distractions, perhaps such as those that might be imposed by a challenging client. “Learning how to put out the right energy, at the right time, in the right place, is a fundamental part of effectively connecting with others. Authentic positive energy is likable.”

And, she points out, the Law of Energy is the only one that is contagious. “What we give off is what we get back.”


The Law of Curiosity

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but Lederman feels it’s an important part of your likability quotient. If we remain curious in our conversations, we will remain comfortable and genuine, even if we don’t know much about the person to whom we’re speaking. “Curiosity brings out the best in us and prompts us to do naturally all those things that foster positive connections: maintain good eye contact, give appropriate head nods, [and] ask interesting follow-up questions that show we’re engaged.”

The Law of Listening

Most experts agree that good listeners are rare. Human nature being what it is, it’s often easier for us to think about what we want to say next, rather than listen to what is being said. But learning to be a good listener is an important part of being likable. According to playwright Wilson Mizner, “A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.”

Lederman agrees: “Regardless of where you are in your career, listening is a skill that you must work on. Listening is not a passive activity. It takes energy and concentration to focus on what people are saying and what they mean by it.”

In this light, the importance of a therapist listening skillfully to a client is quite obvious. “You have to listen to understand,” Lederman says.

The Law of Similarity

“When we meet people with whom we have strong similarities, our comfort level quickly increases; the conversation flows and the likability is palpable. “This is the Law of Similarity,” Lederman says. “People like people who are like them.”

“When meeting new people, the Law of Similarity tells us that we should be looking for commonalities or similarities to build trust, whatever and wherever those similarities might be.”

Lederman suggests looking for common interests and backgrounds or shared experiences and beliefs to find similarities that can help you build connections with others.

The Law of Mood Memory

Cartoonist Bill Watterson said it best: “Nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around.” He’s right, of course; bad moods are contagious. That’s probably why Lederman included mood memory in her 11 laws.

“We often aren’t aware of the moods we create,” she says. Just as it is important to understand how to create positive moods, it’s crucial to understand how to stop making bad ones. Creating negative mood memory reduces your chances that the other person will actively seek out interacting with you again, an obvious negative for a therapist.

The Law of Mood Memory might be summed up by suggesting that it’s not a good idea to bring a bad mood to work.

The Law of Familiarity

Human nature is such that we tend to feel comfortable with who and what we know. Thus, building familiarity with clients is another way to make them feel comfortable with you. Lederman suggests that good ways to stay in someone’s mind are through social networking technology, notes of well wishing in recognition of a special event, or an occasional note just to send regards.

“But remember to pursue these strategies in ways that feel true and authentic to you, and that aren’t obtrusive or pushy,” she says.

The Law of Giving

With this law, Lederman observes that there is extraordinary value in doing things for others simply because you want to, not because you expect anything in return. The same philosophy is reflected in the biblical phrase, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

“When you give to others, not only do you increase your likability and aid other people, you almost always get something unintended in return,” Lederman says.

Expressed in another way: what goes around comes around.

The Law of Patience

Being patient is not always easy. As every therapist knows, some clients require a great deal more patience than others. But Lederman feels that developing the ability to be patient with others is necessary in order to embrace and benefit from the other laws of likability.

“We must have patience with ourselves and with others,” she says. “We must have patience to find the similarities, build the relationship, establish trust, and create familiarity.”

Likability is important whether you’re working in a private practice, or as part of a group dynamic. There’s no time like the present to evaluate your likability quotient; it’s just good business sense.

William J. Lynott has an extensive background in management consulting, marketing, and finance. He’s written more than 900 articles appearing in a wide range of consumer magazines, trade publications, and newspapers in 17 countries. Contact him at