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Secret to Success

How to make yourself likeable

Secret to Success

Bob Crane had it all.

Good looks. Hot wife. Beautiful family. Hit radio show. Hit TV show. Mad stacks of cash. Big house in the Valley. Millions of fans around the world.

Oh, and a pathological sex addiction that included orgies, swingers’ clubs, BDSM, MFF, MMF, homemade pornography, drug use and penile augmentation surgery. Which, in aggregate, cost him his looks, his wife, his family, his radio and TV shows, his money, his house, his fans, and ultimately, his life.

It’s been 41 years since police stood over Crane’s dead body—strangled by an electrical cord and bludgeoned by a camera tripod—at an apartment in Scottsdale, Arizona. His murder remains unsolved. At the time, he was performing something called dinner theater (Google it if you’re under 50) at various venues around the country. This paid the bills, sure, but it was a far cry from his glory days as Colonel Robert Hogan of the eponymously titled Hogan’s Heroes, one of the highest-rated television series of the 1960s.

In the opening minutes of Auto Focus, the movie about Crane’s life—or lives, as it turns out—the secret of his showbiz success is revealed.

“Eddie Cantor once told me that likeability is 90 percent of the battle,” says actor Greg Kinnear, playing the part of Crane. “And he was right.

“Well that’s me. I’m a likeable guy.”

Yes, millennials, you can Google Eddie Cantor, too. We’ll wait.

Crane was right. Had his personality traits been listed in descending order of concentration, like ingredients in a soufflé, likeability would have been at the top. Immediately followed by perversion and philandering, of course, but likeability would still be No. 1.

So how do you, in your career, make yourself more likeable? Easy to work with? Fun to be around? Better at getting what you want?

Let us count the ways.

Say My Name

In the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, author Dale Carnegie posits that everyone loves hearing the sound of his or her own name.

“It’s the sweetest and most important sound in any language,” he writes. “Respect and acceptance stem from simple acts such as remembering a person’s name and using it whenever appropriate.”

Think Carnegie is full of baloney? Call someone by the wrong name and see what happens. You’ll light the Olympic torch of grudges: that bad boy ain’t ever going to burn out. The misnamed never forget such a slight.

You see Kinnear observe Carnegie’s advice in the film. When he’s introduced to a studio lot gadfly—the man who probably killed him, by the way—he asks for his name, then repeats it back to him. “John Carpenter,” he says, with emphasis, so he won’t forget it.

Use your imagination. Try a mnemonic device. Repeat until it’s rote. But whatever you do, to improve your likeability, you need to master the name game.

No Thanks, But Thanks

“Hey, we’re having a meeting next Friday at 4:30 p.m. to go over cost allocation methodology options for the upcoming budget cycle, and we hope you can join us.”

The correct response is:

  1. “I wish I could, but I can’t make it.”
  2. “I can’t make it, but I wish I could.”

If you guessed B, you are a student of human nature (either that, or just a lucky guesser). Whatever. Because whenever we hear the word “but,” our mind ignores what came before and fixates on what comes after. In this case, the “I can’t make it” gets your point across, but the “I wish I could” massages the message and makes the person you’re rejecting feel better.

So, next time you tell a good-news-bad-news joke, give them the bad news first.

It’s Not Me, It’s You

Talk less, listen more. Ask instead of answer. Be courteous with your curiosity. In other words, ignore a powerful instinct that actually makes you seem weak: shooting off your mouth. Bragging. Gossiping. Trafficking in speculation and rumor.

And follow this simple rule: If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Nothing dismantles a reputation more quickly and more irreparably than letting people down.

Don’t do it.

To boost your likeability rating among others around the communal coffee pot, keep your interactions and conversations one-sided—for the most part—away from you. Show genuine interest and you’ll get genuine appreciation in return.

In another scene in Auto Focus, Bob Crane is shown meeting with entertainment journalists at a kickoff meeting for Hogan’s Heroes. Amid the short skirts of the waitresses and the long lines at the buffet, Crane meets a fledgling radio host from Nowheresville, USA.

With these two men—one star, one upstart—it’s the star that turns fanboy. When they sit down to discuss Crane’s show, Crane instead asks the interviewer about his. When the man responds, Crane flashes his smile and says, “I’ve actually heard good things about that.”

Which, of course, he hasn’t. But that’s not the point. This is: When you subvert your need to shine and instead train the spotlight on the other person, you immediately ingratiate yourself to others. Think about them more than yourself, and likeability—the trait both Cantor and Crane claimed was 90 percent of the battle—is an inevitability.

Roger Snow is a senior vice president with Light & Wonder. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Light & Wonder or its affiliates.