“Likability” has become the X factor that distinguishes people’s success at work as the American workforce grows increasingly competitive and diversified. Demonstrating a high level of likability goes beyond popularity, and is often cited as one of the most influential reasons behind promotion selection and leadership advancement within a company. The ability to come across as likable can lead to why co-workers and managers align with some people but not others. Likable people are more apt to be hired, earn a high level of trust and support from colleagues, and have their mistakes forgiven without injuring their credibility and reputation. A study of 133 managers at the University of Massachusetts found that if an employee is likable and gives a well-organized argument, managers tend to comply with their suggestions, even if they disagree and the employee lacks supporting evidence.
On the other hand, unlikable people are often unaware of how toxic they feel to others, seem to provoke a combative response in others, and over time, develop a reputation of being ‘hard to work with, or hard to work for’ even if they consistently demonstrate a high level of technical skill in their work role.
The ability to manage your emotions and remain steadfast and positive in stressful situations has a direct impact not only on your performance, but how likable you are to others. As tempting as it can be to find fault in others, taking on a non-confrontational problem-solving approach encourages people to work in tandem and collaborate with you rather than react in defensiveness and go into attack mode. A wise, highly successful manager once said to me “it’s never effective to make people feel wrong, even if they ARE wrong. Shaming people wastes time and energy and reduces morale- causing people to withdraw or retaliate rather than work to improve themselves.”
TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and found that 90% of high ranked performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of conflict in order to remain calm and in control. One of the greatest talents of likable people is their ability to neutralize difficult, unlikable people. They use their well-honed interpersonal skills to help disgruntled people feel supported, valued and useful to a team’s success, motivating them to cooperate with others. If left unchecked, poorly managed conflict and employee grid-lock will sink a company’s success rate fast.
There are various strategies that likable people use to win their co-worker’s trust, appreciation, and support at work. “Likability isn’t something you are born with, like charisma. It’s something you can learn,” says Ben Decker, chief executive officer of Decker Communications, San Francisco, a training and consulting firm. To establish lasting, positive connections with people (whether you like them or not), you’ll need an approach that feels authentic to your interpersonal style. Many clients in my executive coaching practice come in to elevate their emotional intelligence skills to complement their highly developed STEM technical skills. In the beginning, taking a different approach to interacting with others can feel difficult or artificial, but over time becomes easier to employ once you see the positive impact it has on your work relationships. Engaging in stable, positive interactions at work will always be easier to maintain than constantly navigating awkward or tense work relationships.
Actionable strategies to increase your likability at work:
- Aim to communicate empathically with others. Negative, unlikable people can be draining when they exhibit hostile emotions without regard for how they’re affecting others. They aren’t focused on solutions because they feel unheard, and want someone to pay attention to their complaints. You can avoid coming across as insensitive or unconcerned by offering a few short, empathic statements to demonstrate you’ve listened. Help them see they’ve made an impact on your understanding of the issues they’ve raised, and you value their opinion. This form of active listening increases your likability because you’ve demonstrated an ability to tolerate other people’s emotional expressions without negating their experience. Even if you do not agree with them in the slightest, you’ve helped them move away from seeing you as personally contrary or combative. Their complaints are not being made to generate solutions at this moment in time, but rather to be heard by anyone who will listen. Refrain from sharing differences in opinion, which will only trigger a combative response style. Use phrases to help that person feel understood before ending the exchange amicably.
- “This does sound like a big problem. I imagine it won’t be easily solved without some planning. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the situation, it’s helped me get some new perspectives. I’ll spend some time thinking about how to get the ball rolling in the right direction.”
- “I think this is a really important issue too. I want to give it the time and attention it deserves. Now that I’ve heard your take on it, I feel like I can see how it’s affecting people differently.”
- “This problem has been hard for a lot of people, but especially you, based on what you’re saying. It seems like you’re doing the best you can, given the circumstances.”
If ultimately it’s your job to generate actionable solutions to the problems they’ve shared with you, it’s better to give yourself time to strategize, gather information, resources and support to optimize your plan of action rather than to engage in a reactive dialogue that won’t generate lasting solutions, and likely only provoke negative responses.
2. Make time for small talk. Positive relationships are born from sharing benign personal details. Showing genuine interest in others makes you likable. As someone who’s naturally chatty (with a personality style well suited to being a highly interactive coach versus a traditionally unobtrusive psychotherapist) I always enjoy helping people learn and practice the art of small talk. Likable people make time to exchange simple personal reflections on topics that most people can relate to- favorite past times or culinary tastes, seasonal or local happenings. Small talk is a time to compare mutual commonalities with the intent of learning something new about a person. Sharing parts of yourself through small talk helps people feel familiar and comfortable with you and develop a sense of who you are outside of your work role. I believe there are a few basic rules of thumb to successfully initiate and respond to others during small talk conversations. These mini exchanges (think 5 -1o minutes) build upon each other over time, and eventually can segue into more in-depth conversations that are mutually interesting and enjoyable.
- Be willing to initiate a circumstantially relevant conversation (for example seeing someone enjoy a cup of coffee/tea is a good time to ask what they prefer, then share some small personal details about your own caffeine habits, add some novel experiences if you can to keep it from being too mundane). Pay attention to the amount that they share and aim to match it, then expand a bit more. Find out if there’s anything you can learn from them based on what they share.
- Be responsive to people when they make an effort to begin a small talk conversation with you, and be inclusive of others whenever possible. Even if you’re having a hectic day, take time to convey you appreciate their conversational gesture and try to refrain from saying how busy/rushed you feel. If you really are counting on every spare minute that day, let them know you want to come back to chat with them a bit later, and make a point to follow up in some small way the next time you see them.
- Ask a few people who know you well (family members, room mates, close friends) how they’ve seen you engage in small talk and ask for candid feedback. What have they observed in your conversational style that works well? What might be misinterpreted? Consider any reoccurring themes with the intention of ongoing improvement so that others have easy, enjoyable exchanges with you.
3. Pay attention to what tends to lighten people’s mood, what puts a smile on people’s faces or brings people out of their shell. A few seconds of generosity with your energy can instantly warm people and makes you endearing to others. I’ve had clients tell me they struggle to connect with people they have very little in common with, especially across genders. If you’ve ever paid close attention to someone who’s incredibly likable, you’ll see their charm often comes from a willingness to admit to not knowing much about something that someone else has a talent for- they’ll make light of this difference and find a way to joke about being less fashion savvy, less gadget knowledgable or less organized than a fellow co-worker. Complimentary teasing, when done subtly and with genuine appreciation for someone else’s strengths is a fun, positive way to connect to others and increase your likability.
4. Keep close tabs on your mood, and get in the habit of making micro-adjustments to sustain your comfort, stamina, peace of mind, and sense of humor. Top performers understand how even the smallest differences in our mood can shape our response style and influence our ability to be creative, proactive and solution focused, and patient with unlikable people and complex problems. You’ll want to aspire beyond healthy eating and good sleep hygiene and understand what additional influences can tip your mood in the right or wrong direction. I recently sat next to Silicon Vally venture capitalist Tim Draper during a fundraiser luncheon for non-profit organization BizWorld.org. He shared with me a few secrets to his success, including the importance of understanding and managing what influences your mood and energy level, taking extra precaution before going into high stakes meetings, public performances, or making paramount decisions with long term consequences. By learning what helps you sustain your best mood, you’ll not only increase your likability and performance level, but serve as an inspiration to others who see you gliding through life with more ease and less stress.
- create a varied and personalized list of self-care strategies and implement them routinely into your daily schedule. (The list should range by category, e.g. time required, ease of access, supplies needed)
- learn when to pass on extra curricular activities, social events and spending time with people that drain your energy and mood during times you’ll need to rely on your best performance ability
- invest in resources that help you streamline domestic tasks that take up precious time and energy- whenever possible and affordable outsource tedious household chores so you can invest your time and energy on making career gains and positive social developments.
5. Keep your eyes on the big picture and don’t sweat the small stuff. The most likable people find a way to not let minor annoyances become obstacles to their success, and train their brain to notice positivity, hope, generosity, kindness, improvement and teamwork. They are comfortable using trial and error, steer clear of perfectionistic or overly-idealistic expectations, keep their goals realistic, recognize growth and gains in themselves and others, and manage to find the silver lining in the most challenging circumstances. Practice. Then practice some more. These are all tactics that take time to develop and can become staples in helping you become more likable and effective in your life and work goals.
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