Excellent performance isn’t the sole (and in many cases not even the most important) reason for professional success. Perhaps one of the most underestimated qualities necessary to succeed at virtually ANY job is likeability. If you think that likeability is a fixed personal quality (some people have it, and some just don’t), you’d be wrong. Certainly we all are born with basic personality types, and if you’re a pessimistic introvert you’re probably less likely to connect with the average employer than if you’re an optimistic extrovert. However, there are a number of factors within your control that can significantly raise your likeability. Some, like the way you dress, are very site and situationally specific. Others, though, are universally applicable. Here are six:
EXHIBIT A POSITIVE ATTITUDE:
If you work someplace where there’s a lot of dissatisfaction and negative energy you need to be particularly vigilant – it’s so easy to slip into the negative patterns of thought, speech, and behavior when you’re surrounded by co-workers in those patterns. While it may be tempting to join in the bitching, work on looking for the half full glass (or at least avoid commenting extensively on the half empty one). Avoid gratuitous negative comments, even about such non-controversial topics as the weather. No one likes to hear a complainer, You’ll feel better and may even inspire others to feel better as well. This is certainly not to say that you should ignore genuine issues – just try to give them a positive slant.
BE A GOOD LISTENER:
You always want someone you’re simply chatting with to feel that you’re paying attention and listening carefully. That means focusing on them and not allowing yourself to be scattered or distracted. Single-minded focus can be most clearly communicated with eye contact (use a lot of it without staring the other person down). Appropriately and visibly reacting to what you’re being told clearly demonstrates focus. The flip side of being a good listener is not paying attention to whether the person to whom you’re speaking is listening. Often a particular friend of mine will go on at great length and in quite a bit of detail about a book he’s read which I’ve not even heard of. Nattering on is NOT a good way to relate.
This quality can be communicated by mirroring the posture, movement, facial expressions, and voice patterns , but empathy is not merely a behavioral trick. It needs to be genuinely felt (see below). Practice building your ability to be empathetic by taking the time to think about the unlikeable actions of others, and trying to find logical reasons why they might be acting as they are. There’s almost always one (or more) there. For example, someone who’s constantly boasting is probably deeply insecure; someone who’s quick to anger probably feels somewhat powerless, someone who treats you poorly for no apparent reason may feel threatened or jealous.
PAY ATTENTION TO ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE:
Yesterday I met with a new client who came in complaining about how her efforts at constructing a long-term strategic plan for her employer was not being well received by either the people reporting to her or the CEO, her boss. After a few minutes of discussion it became clear to me that she was bringing her MBA-inspired vision to a company that wasn’t ready for it, and that she needed to make it clear that she was as focused on the practical near-term problems as she was on the longer-term issues. She also ignored the vitally important tactic of making friends with at least a couple of co-workers, ideally including someone who has influence within the culture.
We all like to be complimented. In the workplace, though, compliments are too rare. Seek opportunities to compliment your colleagues and your bosses. That doesn’t mean you need to be a toady; it simply requires noticing the achievements of others and the willingness to express admiration for those achievements.
There has to be a careful balance between implementing the suggestions above and remaining true to whom you fundamentally are. Very few people can pull off insincerity with success. But practicing the above suggestions will, over time, allow you to carry them out in a way that rings true, at least on some level.