All it takes is a catchy jingle and you have a pop culture phenomena. Well done Nationwide Insurance…”Nationwide is on your side” easily becomes “being likable makes all the difference”. People like what they relate to, what makes them feel comfortable. There is no question, Peyton Manning has hummed his way into the American consciousness as “a good guy”. Of course it does not hurt that he is widely regarded as the face of his sport, one of the all-time greats, and is standing at the threshold of a storybook ending to his career. Peyton winning Super Bowl 50 – it is the stuff of legend.
It has been called many things, with the current flavor being Emotional Intelligence or EQ. Then there are the more traditional “cultural fit”, interpersonal skills, or empathy. In its simplest form, being likable, a nice person, is one of the most valued traits in all of hiring. Never, not once in all the years and the literally thousands of hiring conversations we have been privy to, has the phrase “you know, we do not like them; heck they are a real jerk, but we will hire them anyway” ever been used. Not one time. Countless times we have heard the inverse. Being likable brings an enormous degree of benefit of the doubt, of a higher forgiveness factor, of being given a chance, or two, or three. It is a classic idiom of sales, “people do business with people they like”. Throughout his career, from college to the NFL, Peyton Manning has ensured he remains at the top of the likable list.
There is no greater illustrator of the “likability factor” than Tom Brady. It was one of the stories of 2015, Deflategate. The Patriots, their coaches and Tom Brady have a long history of pushing the edges, testing the lines, but also of grinding, studying, preparing, and of winning…a lot. Tom Brady, despite all the wins, all the championships, the spotless record, the incredible story of afterthought to champion, of a relentless work ethic, of being the consummate leader and professional, remains unlikable. He is not like everyone else, his life is not like ours, he is apparently aloof, cold and distant. Tom and Peyton literally have the same job, live a life wildly removed from the vast majority of us, yet one is perceived completely differently based on “likability”.
An athlete, the face of their sport, considered by many to be the best of a generation, dominating the competition, setting new records, a marketers dream, giving back to the community and charities, the personification of the comeback, overcoming career ending medical challenges, returning to form and dominating. It is a timeless story. And when doubts and dispersion are cast, as always happens in our society, when the “too good to be true” flag is waived, being likable will save the day.
It is comically sad. Peyton and HGH – 100% benefit of the doubt. Disparage the source of the story, proclaim innocence, threaten lawsuits, be folksy, be hurt, be staunch yet wounded. Peyton is righteous. He is likable. Looks like Peyton learned the lesson of Lance Armstrong…being nice will get you the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes that is all that matters in the court of public opinion.