I went to a notoriously “free-spirited” university, where students took pride in being different. Often times, different for the sake of being different.
In my dorm, there was a guy on my floor (we’ll call him Keith) who wore an eye patch. Keith spent the late hours lurking the halls, making uncomfortable (single) eye contact with people as they walked by. He didn’t seem to enjoy showering, and he was never afraid to flaunt his collection of questionable paraphernalia to people who tried catching a glimpse inside his dorm room.
One night I decided to have a conversation with Keith in his room. I tried to get to the bottom of his objectively curious (and subjectively off-putting) behavior. I can’t remember all the details of the conversation, but I remember him telling me at some point that he “had no desire to be someone who people liked or wanted to talk to.” I never had a chance to have a follow-up conversation with Keith because he moved dorm rooms shortly after our conversation for reasons unknown.
Upon reflection, what strikes me as sad about his story is that neither myself or anyone on our floor ever learned Keith’s story. I’m sure there were reasons for his disposition, and I’ll never know why he felt the need to carry himself the way he did.
It made me ask myself: am I likable? Do I need to be? What is the value of being a person who people feel comfortable approaching? Is there anything wrong with making a decision to be willingly quiet and introverted?
I decided it’d be worth exploring what the Bible says about whether or not we need to make a conscious effort to be likable people (spoiler alert: we do). Here’s what I came away with.
Why it’s important to be likable
19 I am free. I belong to no other person, but I make myself a slave to everyone. I do this to help save as many people as I can…I have become all things to all people. I did this so that I could save people in any way possible.
1 Corinthians 9:19, 22b (ERV)
The Bible consistently teaches us about the importance of love, sacrifice, and putting others above ourselves. When Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, he provided the world with the opportunity to make God’s message attractive by the way we live. And though we can’t ultimately control how everyone feels about us, we can put effort into what messages we are sending to others in the way we carry ourselves.
This passage, written by Paul to a church in tumult, is a challenging reminder of what it looks like to live everyday life with the Christian’s purpose at heart. Paul didn’t consider using his experience, status or accomplishments as an excuse to rest on his laurels and live comfortably. Until the day he died, he considered it his mission to be whoever he needed to be in order to help as many people as he could.
How does that translate to today? It means we have a responsibility to make whatever adjustments are needed to our characters, personalities or habits in order for us to help others. It’s a great challenge, but also very motivating when we consider the potential impact we can make on our immediate community.
Here is a non-definitive list of areas I see the Bible give us direction on how to become likable people.
Sebastian Maniscalco is one of my favorite comedians right now, and he has an amazing bit about how modern day families are less inclined to welcome visitors into their home than in generations past.
It’s an exaggerated story, but sadly not completely implausible (excluding perhaps the broadsword bit). I can certainly relate to putting out a vibe that says “do not disturb,” sometimes just with the look on my face. In fact, not too long ago our doorbell did, in fact, ring, and I had a moment where I legitimately felt like hiding.
For the record, yes, I did eventually answer the door, and it led to a pleasant conversation with a neighbor. How about that?
9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. 10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.
1 Peter 4:9-10 (NLT)
Are you known for being a person who welcomes guests into your home? How about just being a person people feel like they can approach? If your heart hasn’t been inclining you to actively work at making people feel like they can talk to you, what do you think are the ways your attitude manifests in your relationships?
Additionally, being hospitable isn’t restricted to hosting visitors in your home. It’s a way you carry yourself – an inviting disposition, being aware of and sensitive to people’s needs, and making people feel like they have your full attention when you’re speaking with them. Being hospitable means you are constantly looking for ways to make people feel comfortable and secure, whether you’re serving them coffee cake in your home or remembering their name after they tell it to you at a social function.
Have a “yes” face
Here’s a fun historical anecdote I heard from a friend that I looked up online in order to share in full. It’s from the Internet, so it’s probably true:
During Thomas Jefferson’s presidency he and a group of travelers were crossing a river that had overflowed its banks. Each man crossed on horseback fighting for his life. A lone traveler watched the group traverse the treacherous river and then asked President Jefferson to take him across. The president agreed without hesitation, the man climbed on, and the two made it safely to the other side of the river where somebody asked him: “Why did you select the President to ask this favor?” The man was shocked, admitting he had no idea it was the President of the United States who had carried him safely across. “All I know,” he said, “is that on some of your faces was written the answer ‘No’ and on some of them was the answer ‘Yes.’ His was a ‘Yes’ face.”
We wear on our faces what we feel on the inside. I’m a person who finds comfort in isolation, and that habit has taken a toll over time on my approachability. Bad attitudes, unresolved bitterness, selfish ambition – these sins, if left unchanged, can turn us into real unfriendly people since we’ve trained ourselves not to think about others unless it’s with negative emotions.
The very look on their faces gives them away. They display their sin like the people of Sodom and don’t even try to hide it…
Isaiah 3:9 (NLT)
We can try faking it for a while, but eventually our heart will catch up to us and our faces will start firmly displaying a message: “leave me alone.” If you want to become a likable person, take time to root out what’s going on inside of you so you can more easily make effort to carry yourself with the kind of friendly disposition that is warm and inviting.
Learn how to carry a conversation
At some point in early on in my post-college life, I began to start understanding how my self-absorption (I spent years having a lot of fun while putting minimal effort into serving others) made it difficult for me to engage in a conversation after exhausting all common interests. It’s why my friend group began to shrink as I ventured further into my twenties: my relationship skills were limited to passively participating in recreation with like-minded people. The further I got from college, the less I found myself in social situations that forced me to interact with people who thought differently than I did (remember Keith?).
Let your conversation be gracious and attractive[a] so that you will have the right response for everyone.
Colossians 4:6 (NLT)
One of the most exciting things about the Bible is how, when applied, it can give us tools to become more friendly and social people. When I think of what a “gracious and attractive” conversation looks like at a high level, I think of being “courteous and kind” to the person I’m talking to, creating an experience that the person will want to have again.
Here are a few conversation tips to help you along:
- Ask questions – people appreciate it when you show interest. Just show discretion – you don’t want to cross a line into nosy territory. If you get anxious in social situations, try writing down several questions on a card to use in conversations with people you meet.
- Be interested – people can usually tell when you’re feigning interest. Conversely, people feel genuinely encouraged when you actually care about the details of their lives.
- Be curious – the more you genuinely want to know about a person, the easier it’ll be for you to come up with things to ask or say.
- People like to feel wanted or included – make an effort to say hi to someone or invite them to a social event
- Use open ended questions – avoid yes/no or single word answer questions. For example, “How are you liking your major?” could lead to a nice discussion, where “what’s your major?” will not get you far.
37 Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.
Matthew 5:37 (NLT)
A surefire way not to be likable is to be a flake. Not coming through on things when you say you will is sure to get you branded as a person no one wants to rely on. For me, it’s hard to tell people no because I’m afraid of the initial reaction of disappointment a person may have. However it’s much better than committing myself to something I know I can’t deliver on, only to make the person feel worse than if I had just told the truth in the first place.
Integrity takes time to build into our character, but pays dividends in our relationships as we prove ourselves to be worthy of people’s trust. Take time to consider how trustworthy and reliable of a person you are, and consider what steps you can take to becoming a person who people in your life would go to in a tight spot.
Your reputation matters
11 Aspire[a] to lead a calm and peaceful life as you mind your own business[b] and earn your living, just as we’ve taught you. 12 By doing this you will live an honorable life, influencing others and commanding respect of even the unbelievers. Then you’ll be in need of nothing and not dependent upon others.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (TPT)
I referenced this scripture in a previous article addressing the importance of maintaining an agreeable online presence (i.e. not being a troll). While on one hand, it is true that we shouldn’t put too much stock in what people think of us, the Bible is pretty clear that it does matter the kind of message we’re sending by how we live.
What are you known for? Are you a friendly person who has a reputation for going out of your way for people? Or are you someone people have learned to avoid because your unfriendly disposition, failure to stick to commitments, or general apathy towards relationships?
If you’re unsure or unable to make an objective self-analysis, try asking some people who know you what they think. Give them permission to be brutally honest. Sound like fun? I’m guessing not, but it’s a process that will start you on the road to becoming a more likely person.