It takes a tremendous amount of courage to stand up in front of over 40,000 people and say something – even anything – and forget about the fact that we are talking about a preteen that has posed the question for the Oracle of Omaha at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting this year.
And yet, at the biggest gathering of investors from all around the world, there was one seventh grader that stood up and had the courage to ask: “Mr. Buffett… How do you get people to like you?”
There’s a brilliance in the wording of this question: the kid didn’t ask why everybody liked Warren Buffett, but how Buffett got people to like him. It suggests that being likable is a skill that one can hone – and this is a sentiment that Warren Buffett agrees with.
So, if you’ve ever wondered how Warren Buffett has had the ability to win over the minds and hearts of his employees, as well as millions of investors from all around the world, here is how Buffett answered this question:
Charlie Munger, the second-in-command at Berkshire Hathaway, gave the first answer: “Get very rich and generous.”
Warren Buffett then added, “People see all sorts of virtue when you’re writing a check.”
The dynamic duo provided one-liners back and forth like this all day long, and while being funny is quite a likable trait, it is certainly not easy to acquire. However, there is a lot of truth behind their humor. Generosity is certainly appreciated around the world and universally, and it’s something that we each have control over – even people who are not figuratively made of money.
Be like Those That You Admire
The second piece of advice that Warren Buffett had to offer was to find people that you admire and then make it a point to ask yourself, “Why do I admire these people?” Buffett makes the recommendation that you should find “three or four [reasons] why you like them” – and then take some time to list some reasons why other people might put you off.
There’s no actual reason why anyone should reinvent the wheel: there are plenty of people that are likable and also not likable in the world, and considering that no copyright laws exist on personality traits and habits, you should borrow what you like and avoid all the rest.
That was the end of Buffett’s direct answers to the question, but after looking at a transcript of his words for more clues as to why he is admired universally for the most part, there were a few more favorites to look at.
Giving Others Praise
If you were not paying attention during the meeting, you would’ve missed this powerful statement: “Praise by name, criticized by category,” Buffett said.
The 2014 Berkshire Hathaway letters to shareholders provides a perfect example: “BNSF disappointed many of its customers. The shippers depend on us, and service failures can badly hurt their businesses.”
In a few pages later, Buffett says: “Ajit [Jain] insures risks that no one else has the desire or the capital to take on. His operation combines capacity, speed, decisiveness and, most important, brains in a manner unique in the insurance business.”
It’s as important to praise good work as it is to productively criticize mistakes. Regardless, as Buffett will show us, there are ways to shine a positive light on individual people, take accountability for mistakes and do so without throwing anyone under the bus. People will love you if you can master this skill.
This point goes hand-in-hand with the prior point: Buffett is very quick to provide credit to others for the success of Berkshire Hathaway. During the annual meeting, when someone asked whether he could re-create the remarkable performance of the company if he were to start over and go back in time, Buffett replied that “The odds are against it.”
Buffett said the success of Berkshire Hathaway was owed to the fact that he was lucky enough to have worked with and met the people that he has, and he might not get that lucky a second time around.
Charlie Munger also added that he and Buffett have “made some of that luck by being curious.” And the prime examples took place in 1951, when Warren Buffett was just 20 years old at the time. In order to learn about GEICO, Warren Buffett took a train and visited the company and while there he had a chance meeting with Lorimer Davidson, who would later become GEICO CEO. Davidson spent four hours of his time educating Warren Buffett about the insurance industry and the company.
Perhaps this was serendipitous. But Warren Buffett took the initiative to visit GEICO, so that is the only reason that the encounter had a chance to happen. Plus he took advantage of the unexpected encounter that he had with Davidson. He realized that if you show a real interest and listen attentively to what other people have to say, then they will like you instantly and share their knowledge with you happily.
In the past, Warren Buffett has said that every time they See’s Candies – a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary – server smiles at a customer, the moat widens and the company brand get stronger. This is a powerful message that high quality interactions with other people are incredibly important to the quality of a business product.
We cannot all achieve rock star status like Warren Buffett, but if you take small steps to enhance your image and understand how you are perceived, it will certainly improve your ability to interact and work with others.