Be likable, be yourself

By | September 25, 2017

This post is from 3 years ago, but more relevant than ever. Consultants are likable.  If you are not likable, uh, you have a problem. New comments in red color. Eager to hear your comments on this one.

Being likable is a characteristic of all successful consultants. The more people “like” you, the more likely they will listen, interact, and be persuaded. This is not a controversial point, or a deep one.  Be likable, and your life will be easier.


Don’t be fake. This does not mean that you have to be a schmoozer, or a sycophant. As someone who started their career in sales, I will tell you that clients might not know anything about the product or what you selling . . . but they know if you are lying or don’t believe in your product. Odd, but true. Humans are wired to sniff out fakes.

A few pointers. There are books (e.g., Make Friends and Influence People, affiliate link), seminars, and even coaches on being likable.  Without being an expert on the topic, a few things I have observed from 20+ years in the corporate world:

  • Be competent. Know your stuff. Be useful. Be a resource for other people.  n a business setting, if you are not competent. . . well, nothing really to like. You are just overhead = cost.
  • Be dependable. Keep your promises to your client and your team. In a maturity model of professionalism, this is level 0, the ground floor. Not dependable = fail. Before you become a great consultant, you need to deliver on the basics. Be a good reliable consultant.
  • Slow down. We are so busy that we constantly multi-task and sometimes do things poorly. In an effort to get things “off our plate” we cut corners, don’t listen, and run roughshod over people. When you are fast (and sloppy), it’s hard to be sure of the quality of the work. I tell consultants to “stay frosty” and self-aware. If your manager is catching and fixing your mistakes, your days are numbered.
  • Give. Realize that life is not about you. (deep Rick Warren thought). Give your time, your energy, your passion, and your empathy to others. Ask the question, “Is there anything I can do to help you with your work? Sometimes it is scary to ask people this – afraid they might actually need your help – but do it anyway. Find ways to help out (proof read, make copies, get lunch, write a thank you note).
  • Be self-deprecating. This is a big SAT word, but basically be willing to make fun of yourself, when needed. It is disarming, and vulnerable. It shows that we are all not perfect, and lowers everyone’s guard. After making a teammate cry once, I learn that there are smarter ways to motivate that just demanding all the time.
  • Think relationships. Think in terms of people, not transactions. Put yourself in their shoes. Realize that clients have a “day job” and are not fully dedicated to the project like your and your team are. Ask for help, rather than demanding it.  As I tell students all the time, “Don’t be a human robot.” Being a human is (sadly) a huge differentiator.
  • Be easy to understand. It’s no surprise that people tend to like people who are like themselves – in speaking pattern, disposition, educational background etc. For all the talk of diversity, most people are surprisingly socially insular. As such, make it easy for people to “get what you are saying.” Write simple and direct emails. Mirror your clients’ speaking style. If they speak slowly and quietly, you won’t be a likable character if you come in speaking quickly and raising your voice. Be yourself, but apply different styles as needed.
  • Be yourself. It’s a crazy competitive world, and the gap in quality (actual and perceived) keeps shrinking. Unsurprisingly, there are lots of vendors, products, and people who can solve your client or prospects’ problems. That said, you are unique, and that is appealing. As my sister often says, “You do you.”
  • Craft a team. If you are you (highly recommended), then you need to fill out your blind spots. Hire people who complement you. Think Zuckerberg + Sandberg. Gates + Ballmer. Jobs + Wozniacki.  Moses + Aaron. Find your “Wonder Twin Powers Activate”
  • Have fun. People like to have fun. It’s more than Cyndi Lauper – everyone – likes to find flow in their work. If you can add some levity, meaning, and joy to your work – people want to be a part of that. Sadly, 90% of corporate life is a process drag. 
  • Make other successful. Like John Stockton – pass the ball.  Get your manager promoted. Get your client promoted, they will love you.
  • Double-down on your uniqueness. Are you a minority? Are you from a different country? Do you have an atypical background. That is not a weakness. That is a gateway to a powerful story. Double-down on your difference. Anyone can be the same. Sameness = bad.

Unless the client can connect with you – intellectually, emotionally, or otherwise – you are just another salesperson peddling product. As a consultant, one of your most important jobs right out of the gates is to have a connection, create some common ground.  Give them a reason to like you, make it easy to build rapport quickly. Ultimately, be yourself.

Choose the people in your life. This is a deeper point. If some people don’t like you (and you are being your best self), who cares? You don’t need their approval. There are misanthropes (another SAT word) and weirdos everywhere. You don’t need their approval.  Find new people, find better people. Find positive people.  As a I tell people all the time, “We don’t get paid enough to fix adults.”

Why do you think some people are “likable” and others just can’t make the relational chemistry work?

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6 thoughts on “Be likable, be yourself

  1. Andy

    This post resonated; sound advice if you want to build a sustainable career in consulting or otherwise. Adam Grant’s work on Givers, Takers and Matchers… seems to underpin some of the points you have made; those who “give” their time, effort and skills in a targeted manner i.e. supporting the objectives of the client/manager/colleague…may account for some consultant’s success and longevity whilst the taker mindset probably doesn’t last very long

    Love the comment on “not being paid enough to fix adults”…spot on.


  2. Mark Gandy

    Excellent as always.

    As I was re-reading this, I couldn’t help but to think of Sonia Simone of Copyblogger who uses the term ‘likable expert’ which seems apt here.

    Additionally, Lencioni’s ideal team player of being humble, hungry and (people) smart ties in with the above too.

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