Let me pose a hypothetical scenario for you. Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Kier Starmer walk in to a bar and grab a table (I did say hypothetical!). They are closely followed by Adele, Graham Norton and Daniel Radcliffe who take a table at the other side of the room. Which trio would you like to socialise with for the evening?
While the table of politicians may have some value in the curiosity stakes, most people would choose the table consisting of the singer, presenter and actor. But why would that be?
Let’s call it the ‘R’ factor. While the members of the politicians table would love a sprinkle of it the members of the entertainers’ table have oodles of it. The ‘R’ factor is relatability. The entertainers are all well known public figures who, even though the public don’t know personally, they often feel like they do.
Being more relatable makes you more credible. If Adele was talking about the cost of living you would be more likely to trust her opinion than that of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, regardless of the fact that both of them are not, shall we say, on the bread line.
So how do you become more relatable and therefore more credible? It doesn’t matter whether you are a politician, a celebrity, a lawyer or a business person, being able to project this R-factor is what makes people warm to you, trust what you say and take your opinions more seriously.
A big part of being relatable is to be yourself. Rishi Sunak tries very hard to do this. However whether he’s talking about his Coke addiction to schoolkids or revealing his fashionable footwear, he invariably comes unstuck.
His foible is that often he goes too far in an attempt to compensate for his natural awkwardness and therefore comes across as lacking that all essential authenticity. His potential successor at Number 10, Keir Starmer fares little better, and was recently dismissed as having the personality of a house brick. Some of us will recall the ill-judged move by a certain former leader of the Conservative party in donning a baseball cap to shake off a perception of his personality.
While these high profile politicians fail to radiate a relatable side, relatability is often not about what you say about yourself, but the interest you take in others. We have all sat through a presentation which unveils a vision moulded from the top which assumes the view is shared right the way down to the bottom.
It’s why the television series Undercover Boss was so revealing. Senior executives went incognito to join the ranks of the company at entry level and were often aghast at discovering home truths which had been hidden beyond the pages of the glossy reports and presentation decks.
Taking an interest in what other people think provides better insights, but also earns respect from other people involved in your business – whether that be co-workers or the team that keep the office maintained. Never underestimate the people who bring the coffee in and out of rooms, for they see all! In the words of President Clinton, “see everyone”.
Honesty is another key factor in being relatable. Yes the Insta-fication of the world via social media can create the illusion that everything is perfect, all the time, but it is not. Everyone on LinkedIn seems to be ‘delighted’ all the time! This forces many in politics and business to fall into the trap of trying to preserve that veneer and at the first whiff of trouble deny that anything’s wrong and pull up the shutters.
An honest response, even if it’s unpopular, will land more favourably than pretending that nothing is wrong, especially if accompanied by an ongoing conversation around fixing it.
Despite the best efforts of Chat GPT to emulate what humans can do, there is still great weight in putting up one’s hands and admitting that ‘to err is human’ and owning the fact that we are prone to making mistakes.
Which takes us back to our relatable table in the pub. Adele endeared herself to old fans and acquired many new ones when she halted a live Grammy performance that wasn’t going very well and apologised before asking for a restart.
Back on the other table, Liz Truss also apologised, in a Sky interview, for ‘mistakes’ she made in her premiership which prompted a financial meltdown. In contrast that apology fell flat, because political hubris meant she didn’t skip a beat before claiming she had already ‘fixed’ them.
There is great power in being relatable.