5 Desirable Traits That Need To Be Shown Not Told

May 03, 2021
Created by the author — original from Unsplash


Organized icebreakers were once my version of hell. I’d sit in a large group waiting for my turn to answer whilst panicking about how to come up with an answer that would make people like me.

One of the worst questions was “describe yourself in three words”. It’s the same if they ask what your friends would describe you as. Everyone knows it’s just a way to make the answer seem less arrogant but really it’s your own thoughts.

A cringefest is unleashed and people’s choices often revealed the opposite about their personality than what they hoped for. The question reveals what you want other people to think of you as not what you actually are.

Your actions prove the most desirable traits over time not by repeatedly telling people how great you are. It’s a mistake I’ve made myself many times. Here are five traits you need to show not tell.



New person: “I’m passionate about traveling.”
Me: “Great, where are some places you’d love to go?”
New person: “Erm I can’t think of any…”

I’ve had a variation of this conversation so many times. Someone claims to be passionate about something but then is unable to hold any conversation about it. Listening to a person talk about what they love should not feel like watching a car crash.

The trait has been hijacked as a buzzword for networking instead of an overwhelming force impossible to miss. The truth is in the eyes as I won’t believe you if yours are vacant. I recently talked to an expert on gut health and their eyes lit up as they dove into all their favorite facts. I didn’t care much for the subject beforehand but I couldn’t help be drawn to their joy.

True passion is difficult to fake and far more electric than a rehearsed line. If your emotion isn’t coming across then ask yourself if you actually are passionate or you simply like the idea of the topic. You might surprise yourself.



Whenever someone calls themselves likable, I like them a little less. I’m guilty of doing variations of this myself but I’m self-aware enough to know it’s rooted in insecurity. I’m working on it so feel free to call me out if I slip up!

No one is universally liked and we can only delude ourselves into believing everyone loves us. Look at the approval ratings of people considered legends in their fields:

Bob Marley 70%
JK Rowling 65%
Mahatma Gandhi 64%
Dwayne Johnson 62%
David Beckham 56%

I’m sure some people hate me and it’s something I accept as the only way to offend no one is to be no one. If a significant proportion of people don’t find those in the list above likable, it feels a bit silly for any of us to tell people we are.

What other people say about you proves your likability far more than anything you say. Though each individual will be the final judge of whether they deem you agreeable or not.



A truthful person will call themselves honest.
A liar will also call themselves honest.

Unless they are playing a strange mind game, who will admit they are dishonest? It would become a paradox because they’d have to tell the truth to do so. You don’t prove anything by telling people you are honest so there’s little point in saying it.

In Talking To Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell makes the point we generally default to assuming people are honest. This makes sense as most people are other than the occasional white lie. When you choose to highlight your honesty, you imply you think it makes you special and you assume other people aren’t.

If someone does view you with suspicion then gain their trust by being true to your word consistently not by demanding it.



I remember when a friend rang me at university while she was choking on her tears. A couple of months earlier, her mother had passed away and she had missed several weeks of studying. Luckily, a guy from her course offered to send her his notes and go over any questions she had.

Unfortunately, you might see where this is going.

He asked her on a date and when she refused, he used his “generosity” as emotional blackmail. He tried to make her feel like a lesser person for accepting what he portrayed as an act of kindness.

Truly generous people never call themselves generous publicly or use their acts as a bargaining chip. They just see it as the right thing to do. It can be manipulative to offer someone help and later introduce strings.

Boasting about good deeds makes it seem like you are more driven by recognition than the actual impact you are having. This isn’t an attractive look. A generous person shouldn’t care whether other people call them the word.



“I think I’m much more humble than you would understand” — Donald Trump

As soon as you call yourself humble, you trigger a paradox. We all know humility is seen as a socially desirable trait. By calling yourself a word you know people admire, you’re bragging and thus not being humble.

Trump tried to claim to be humble despite having buildings signposted with his name in huge letters. I’m not sure he convinced many people yet remember his confidence was a large part of why so many voted for him whether you like him or not.

Being open about what you’re good at isn’t necessarily a bad thing but don’t expect others to see you as humble. I’ve met few people who are purely humble but many people who like to think they are. The real ones never let you find out about what they’ve done so it's difficult to realize the scale of their modesty.

Let’s be real, anyone who is trying to build some kind of following needs to think enough of themselves to put themselves out there. They are unlikely to be paragons of humility (including me!).

I’ve called myself everything on this list at some point in my life and have been obsessed with how people perceive me. So I can’t claim the moral high ground but I’m starting to learn the importance of practicing what you preach.

You can be everything on this list if you let your actions speak louder than your words. The key is to do it because you believe you are doing the right thing and not worrying about what people think of you.

It’s one of those funny laws of life, the less desperate you are, the more likely people will discover your positive traits for themselves and love you for it.

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.