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It is generally accepted that likeable people go further in life, but human behaviour experts say it is more complicated than that – especially if you are a woman.

Harvard University research famously found that people would rather work with a lovable but incompetent colleague than an effective jerk.

Numerous studies have supported this, finding that likeable people are more likely to be hired in the first place, and then to be promoted.

But you don't have to like someone to be able to work with them, says business coach Galia BarHava-Monteith, who favours other qualities.

She says it is more important to understand the value of getting along with people, to be able to read them, and to be attentive and intuitive.

"I'd rather people respected me in a professional context rather than liked me," says BarHava-Monteith, one of the founders of Professionelle, dedicated to helping professional women.

"Likeability is quite a problematic term, because you give it to other people to tell you if you're likeable... That likeability, I'm almost allergic to it."

UCLA study found that people ranked sincerity, transparency and a capacity for understanding others as the most likeable traits. None of these were innate, but could be learned.

Research from the business consultancy TalentSmart found that people who were seen as sincere, honest and understanding weren't just likeable, they far outperformed others.

Unlikeable traits included a tendency to humble-brag and be overly serious.

"Do you know how many times people have called me scary?" says BarHava-Monteith with a laugh. "I'm quite a nice person, I have plenty of friends. I will assert myself but assertiveness in women, especially in an Aussie context, is seen as scary."

Psychologist Sara Chatwin agrees that strong women can be unfairly seen as unlikeable.

"In this world we still are socialised to accept men who are bossy and tough, and to take it and to like it, and we don't accept that so easily in women."

Chatwin advises women to focus on their job performance and liking themselves. "If you are confident with yourself and do a good job, you are more likely to be perceived as likeable."

But Chatwin says there are other factors that may contribute to workplace success which are beyond your control, such as good looks.

"I suspect someone who is quite good at their job but very attractive might do better than someone who is very good at their job but not as attractive."

If you are still determined to be more likeable, here are the best tips from psychologists.

How to be liked

  • Be happy and positive around people
  • Share your interests to build bonds
  • Share your vulnerabilities
  • Listen to people
  • Make eye contact
  • Empathise
  • Be consistent
  • Keep your judgment to yourself
  • Be flexible
  • Greet people by name

Written by Eleanor Black. Republished with permission of