How to Increase Your Likeability: The 10/5 Rule

Air India Maharajah illustrating the 10/5 Rule of Customer Service The 10/5 Rule, also known as the “Zone of Hospitality Rule,” is a well-known guiding principle for extending courtesy to customers in the hospitality, healthcare, retail, and other service industries. The rule instructs,

  • Whenever a staff member is within ten feet of a guest, the staff member must make eye contact and smile to greet the approaching guest.
  • When a staff member is within five feet of a guest, the staff member must also look the guest in the eye and acknowledge him/her with a salutation such as “Hello” or “Good Morning, Mrs. Smith.”

Many companies have adapted versions of the 10/5 Rule to improve friendliness, customer-service, and responsiveness. As I’ve written in a previous article, Walmart’s iconic founder Sam Walton instituted the ‘Ten-Foot Attitude’ and said, “… I want you to promise that whenever you come within 10 feet of a customer, you will look him in the eye, greet him, and ask him if you can help him.” At Disney theme parks, “cast members” are encouraged to make eye contact, smile, greet, and welcome each guest as part of Disney’s famous “Seven Service Guidelines.”

Courtesy is an Influence Technique

'How to Win Friends & Influence People' by Dale Carnegie (ISBN 0671027034) As expounded in Dale Carnegie’s classic self-help book How to Win Friends & Influence People, we are much more likely to feel warmly toward any person who sincerely makes us feel good about ourselves.

Likeable people not only succeed in their personal relationships, but also tend to be more successful at the workplace. Indeed, highly competent but unlikeable employees do not thrive as well as their moderately competent but more likeable peers.

Idea for Impact: Be courteous. Even simple acts of courtesy (making eye contact, smiling more, listening, showing sincere interest in others, for example) work as an influence technique because folks are much more likely to do things for—and accede to requests from—people they perceive as likeable.

Serve with a Big Smile

Service with a Big Smile

This research from Penn State suggests,

  • The bigger a service-employee’s smile, the happier a customer. This comports with other research that has shown that the powerful emotions triggered when someone smiles at you and you smile in return can change your brain chemistry. You not only feel more optimistic and motivated, but also tend to remember such happy occasions more vividly.
  • Genuineness of the service-employee enhanced the customer’s perceptions of friendliness, but only influenced customer satisfaction when tasks were well-performed and the customer’s major expectations of the product/service were met.
  • Appearing inauthentic and fake-smiling undermined the assumed benefits of “service with smile.” Customers can spot insincerity in a smile when they see one. Inauthentic, robotic, and feigned friendliness can be a turn off for customers.
  • Given that frontline service-employees represent a company to the public, mandating that employees must smile and appear friendly during their interactions with customers can backfire. The researchers suggest that companies hire happier employees and engender a work-environment that encourages genuine smiles and empowers employees to provide authentically pleasant customer service.

Genuine vs. Fake Smiles: The Science behind Your Smile

Genuine vs. Fake Smiles: The Science behind Your Smile

You can spot the difference between a genuine smile and a fake one. A genuine smile is also called the “Duchenne smile” after Duchenne de Boulogne (1806–1875,) a French neurologist who studied the association of facial expressions with the soul of humans.

  • Scientific research has shown that Duchenne smile involves the voluntary contraction of the zygomatic major (the muscle that raises the corners of the mouth) and the involuntary contraction of the orbicularis oculi (the muscle that raises the cheeks and produces crow’s feet around the eyes.)
  • In contrast, a fake smile involves the contraction of just the zygomatic major since the orbicularis oculi cannot be voluntarily contracted. A fake perfunctory smile is nothing but a manifestation of obligatory courtesy and politeness rather than one of inner joy.

Further, scientists believe that the two types of smiles are actually controlled by two distinct parts of the brain: the Duchenne smile is controlled by the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain) whereas the fake smile is controlled by the motor cortex.

Idea for Impact: Serve with a Big, Genuine Smile

  • Fake Smiles A genuine smile is an index of your happiness. Put in a little more delight into your smile. Reach out to others and give a little more of yourself by serving with a bigger smile.
  • Don’t smile excessively. Although people like smiles but are rather distrustful of excessive smiling. Unless the source of your cheerfulness is genuine and noticeable, people will judge that your undue smiling is feigned—or that you’re smiling distastefully at some deficiency on their part.
  • Engage your eyes for genuine smiles. If you’re forcing yourself to smile, you may be able to organize your lips and teeth into a smile, but you’ll not be able to get your eyes to coordinate.
  • Try to smile even when you are feeling cranky or grouchy. A simple smile can relax your facial muscles and short-circuit your bad mood.

Want to be more likeable? Improve your customer service? Adopt Sam Walton’s “Ten-Foot Rule”


Walton Ten-Foot Rule

Sam Walton, Founder of Wal-Mart Stores Sam Walton, Walmart’s iconic founder and perhaps the most successful entrepreneur of his generation, demonstrated considerable charisma, ambition, and drive from a very young age.

Sam was a committed student leader when he attended the University of Missouri, Columbia. One of the secrets to his reputation in college was that he would greet and speak to everybody he came across on campus. If he knew them, he was sure to address them by their name. In a short time, he had made many friends and was well-liked. Small wonder, then, that Sam triumphed in nearly all the student elections he entered.

From his bestselling autobiography, “Made in America”:

'Sam Walton: Made In America' by Sam Walton (ISBN 0553562835) I had decided I wanted to be president of the university student body. I learned early on that one of the secrets to campus leadership was the simplest thing of all: speak to people coming down the sidewalk before they speak to you. I did that in college. I did it when I carried my papers. I would always look ahead and speak to the person coming toward me. If I knew them, I would call them by name, but even if I didn’t I would still speak to them. Before long, I probably knew more students than anybody in the university, and they recognized me and considered me their friend. I ran for every office that came along. l was elected president of the senior men’s honor society, QEBH, an officer in my fraternity, and president of the senior class. I was captain and president of Scabbard and Blade, the elite military organization of ROTC.

When Walmart became sizeable enough, Sam realized that it could not offer prices lower than those of other retail giants—yet. As part of his customer service strategy, he institutionalized the very trait that had made him popular when he was a student. He insisted on the “Walton Ten-Foot Rule.” According to the rule, when Walmart associates (as Walmart calls its employees) came within ten feet of customers, they were to smile, make eye contact, greet the customer, and offer assistance. As Walmart grew, Sam added greeters who would greet customers at the door (and control “shrinkage” / shoplifting.) Even today, the Ten-Foot Rule is a part of the Walmart culture.

Likeability: A Predictor of Success

Likeability for success in life Likeability is an important predictor to success in life. Some people seem naturally endowed with appealing personalities. They tend to complement their talents by being personable and graceful, presenting themselves well, and by possessing the appropriate social skills for every occasion. They often win others over effortlessly. At school and in college, they are their teachers’ favorites and are chosen by their peers to represent their classes. They are invited to the right kind of parties and gatherings, and infuse them with life. At work, they are persuasive; they get noticed and quickly climb the corporate ladder.

From my observations of the traits of the talented and successful, I offer you a few reminders to help you become more personable, develop rapport, and thus maximize your chance of success:

How to Make Eye Contact [Body Language]

Keeping Good Eye Contact: President John Kennedy (JFK) with Jackie Kennedy

Humanity is imparted on us by actions and language and by looks and glances. We start to comprehend humanity soon after birth in the eyes of our parents, our siblings, and other loved ones. The glances of their eyes have profound meanings—even the subtlest of glimpses could convey emotions of love and hostility, cheerfulness and anxiety, approval and disapproval. The glances elevate us from our insignificance and instinctively make us feel more significant. In “La vie commune. Essai d’anthropologie generale,” Bulgarian-French philosopher and essayist Tzvetan Todorov declares,

The child seeks its mother’s eyes not only so that she will come to feed and comfort him but because the very fact that she looks at him gives him an indispensable complement: it confirms his own existence … As if they recognized the importance of this moment – though such is not the case – parent and child can look at each other’s eyes for a long time. Such an action is totally exceptional in the case of adults, when looking at each other’s eyes for more than ten seconds can only signify one of two things: both partners are either going to fight or make love.

Eyes are the Mirror of the Soul

“The eyes are the mirror of the soul.”
– A Yiddish Proverb

Our eyes play a major role in our interpersonal communication. The eyes express our moods and reactions more overtly than does other body language. Largely, observant people can attempt to understand our attitudes through the nature of our eye contact, our facial expressions, and body language.

When we meet other people, we usually observe their eyes first. When we speak, we tend to look other’s eyes. In return, we expect our audience to look at our eyes and pay their undivided attention. Hence, making and keeping good eye contact with others is an important habit.

President John F. Kennedy’s Technique for Eye Contact

The Reader’s Digest guide ‘How to Write and Speak Better’ notes a technique used by President John F Kennedy.

When people look and listen they tend to focus on one eye rather than both. Kennedy, however, would look from eye to eye when he listened, softening the expression in his own eyes at the same time, and so giving the impression that he cared greatly about the speaker’s feelings.

Trick: Make a Mental Note of Their Eye Color

The ‘ Success Begins Today‘ blog cites a technique from Nicholas Boothman’s book, “How to Connect in Business in 90 Seconds”

Eye contact and smile … it’s a simple courtesy and leads to a relaxed conversation. If you tend to be a shy person, this may be somewhat difficult for you. You may tend to look down or away when greeting someone. This can break the conversation right away.

When you meet or greet someone for the first time, just make a mental note of their eye color. This simple technique is amazingly effective. If you are looking for their eye color you’ll automatically make eye contact for a second or two.

Keeping Eye Contact in Conversations

Keeping Eye Contact in Conversations

When people maintain eye contact during a conversation, others usually interpret the eye contact as a sign of interest, confidence, honesty, compassion, and sympathy depending on the nature of the conversation. Failure to maintain eye contact may be interpreted as signs of suppression of emotions or truth, distraction, disagreement, confusion, reticence or lack of interest. Further, when people react to blame or accusation or are provoked into defensiveness or aggressiveness, their eye contact increase considerably—often, their pupils dilate.

Individual Differences

Many people, due to innate shyness or cultural background, tend to evade or curtail eye contact. They do not realize that, even if they are sincere and confident, their lack of eye contact could inadvertently communicate insincerity and lack of self-assurance.

Cultural Differences

The amount of eye contact varies dramatically in different cultures. In Asian cultures, for instance, where formal social structures (age, experience, social status, etc.) exist, eye contact with somebody superior can be offending. In some parts of India, men and women do not keep eye contact with their in-laws, out of respect. In most cultures, a longer eye contact while interacting with the other gender may be read as a sign of intimacy and expression of interest.

Eye Contact - Gender Differences

Gender Differences in Eye Contact

  • Between men, prolonged eye contact may signal aggression or intent to dominate–especially so during acquaintance or if the men are not completely familiar with each other’s expectations. Although more contact is tolerable as a relationship grows, eye contact needs to be broken often.
  • Women tend to maintain better eye contact in conversations with other women–more so with friends and family than with strangers. Generally, women interpret eye contact as a sign of trust and compassion.
  • Prolonged eye contact, an intent-look in particular, between men and women may quickly be interpreted as a sign of intimate interest. In the absence of romantic interest, concentrated eye contact must be avoided.

Avoid Staring and Gazing into Somebody’s Eyes

Staring or gazing at other individuals is typically awkward, sometimes intimidating. Never overdo an eye contact. Break eye contact often.

Idea for Impact: Learn to Keep Eye Contact

People who keep good eye contact are usually seen as personable, self-assured and confident. In the context of cultural backgrounds of the people around you, consider what messages your eye contact and body language may be unconsciously communicating about you. A firm handshake and a smile at the onset of a meeting, and eye contact throughout your conversations can establish a good impression of you.

Personal Spaces for Social Interaction

Personal Spaces for Social Interaction

We regard the physical space around our bodies as personal territories. Subconsciously, we consider ourselves the center of a series of invisible bubbles—each bubble representing a comfort zone. American anthropologist Edward Hall defined four personal spaces in his classic book ‘The Hidden Dimension‘ (1966.)

  1. Intimate space for interacting with significant people and for hand-shaking, whispering, etc. with friends and acquaintances—touch to 1.5 feet away
  2. Casual space for interacting with close friends—1.5 feet to 4 feet away
  3. Social space for interacting with acquaintances—4 feet to 12 feet away
  4. Public space for interacting with relatively anonymous people—further than 12 feet away

Personal Spaces Represent Comfort Zones

Personal Spaces Represent Comfort Zones The distances associated with the comfort zones above depend on one’s cultural upbringing. During an interaction, the nature of the interpersonal relationships and/or the context of interaction may affect comfort zones too. Consequently,

  • Personal spaces are larger for two strangers in a conversation.
  • Women tend to have smaller personal spaces when interacting with other women.
  • Westerners tend to require larger personal spaces. People from India, China and other Asian cultures are used to crowded cities, packed public busses, and such—hence, they are more comfortable standing close to other people.
  • Two individuals in an argument expect each other to be as far as possible. If one of them moves closer, the other person may interpret this move as a sign of aggression.

Significance of Personal Spaces

Significance of Personal Spaces The significance of this concept of personal space is obvious: we feel uncomfortable if a person enters a space that we do not desire him/her to be in.

  • During hand-shaking, do not get too close to the other person. Being within the other person’s arm-length ensures you are within his/her personal zone, and out of the intimate zone.
  • Stay within the friendly zone if you want a casual conversation with a celebrity.
  • When talking to or walking with somebody else, if the other person backs away a little, it is likely that you are encroaching his/her comfort zone. Be mindful of the other person’s requirements—do not try to close the gap.