Your Success at Work Depends Upon This

Likability.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The ability to come across as likable is shaping how people are sized up and treated by bosses and co-workers.

Likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven.

More employers track employees’ likability on in-house social networks and chat services. They recruit those who are trusted and well-liked to spread information or push through changes. Some companies take these employees’ social clout into account when handing out raises and promotions.

Is this news? It’s always been the case, but maybe we’re not as cognizant of it as we could or should be. The middle and high school teachers-to-be that I work with sometimes talk about what makes them most anxious when they think about finally having their own classrooms. Most often it’s not knowing enough. When they toss and turn at night it’s because they’re worried about super intelligent students posing difficult, anxiety inducing questions. Inevitably, they find out that “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

When teaching, it’s far better to know one’s subject matter inside and out than not, but classroom success most often hinges on one’s ability to create a rapport with students. More simply, to be likable, which you should never confuse with being a pushover.

Here’s how to be more likable according to the WSJ’s workplace experts:

• Be authentic—To be more likable, behave in a way that feels natural and comfortable, rather than stiff or self-absorbed.

• Be curious—Show interest in others, make eye contact and ask questions about others’ opinions and activities.

• Be expressive—Vary tones of voice and smile, and show enthusiasm about what you’re saying.

• Listen—Focus on what others are saying and show that you are listening carefully, rather than getting distracted.

• Mimic others—Mirror the expressions or posture of the person you are talking to, in order to create a sense of familiarity.

• Find similarities—Actively try to find topics of interest you share with a listener, rather than talking only about what interests you.

The experts contend that likability is learned, but I can’t help but wonder, when a work coach of sorts advises an employee to act more naturally, wouldn’t being conscious of that notion make it even more difficult? I’d be skeptical of any stiff or self-absorbed person were to suddenly say, “Okay, watch this, now I’m going to act more naturally.” I want to believe teachers in training and others can learn these skills, I’m just not sure how best to teach them.

What say you?

7 thoughts on “Your Success at Work Depends Upon This

  1. I think if teachers viewed themselves more as guides rather than bestowers(?) of wisdom that would prevent the appearance of superiority that some students pick up on thus negatively impacting that relationship. Does this seem to fit your theme here Ron?

    • I’m thinking far beyond teaching to work more generally or even day-to-day life. One’s likability helps determine not just a large part of a person’s work success, but the quality of their non-work relationships and life more generally. Consider a topic near and dear to you, politics. How on earth did the 2000 presidential election come down to a dead heat? I saw the possibility of that earlier than most Democrats because I watched the debates closely and concluded I’d rather play golf or have a beer with W. Gore was stiff and conveyed a sense of superiority and in the end wasn’t nearly likable enough. So if likability is learned, why didn’t James Carville or any other of his handlers teach him the aforementioned skills? I guess I’m not entirely convinced you can cut out stiffness and a sense of superiority and paste in authenticity and humility.

      • “One’s likability helps determine not just a large part of a person’s work success, but the quality of their non-work relationships and life more generally.”

        Oh, without doubt.

        “So if likability is learned, why didn’t James Carville or any other of his handlers teach him the aforementioned skills?”</i.

        Perhaps they did and what we saw was the best they could effect. :-(

  2. I think what is called manners and or courtesy is probably a step in the right direction.
    I think that these traits can be taught and learned.

  3. Hi Ron! I haven’t had a chance to catch up on what you’ve been writing recently, and I decided to tune in. My piece to add to this pondering: Does it seem strange to you that this idea of common courtesy or likability is something that needs to be outlined and taught? To me, it seems that it is something that was more inherent in earlier generations–even my own. Perhaps that is delusion on my part, but I feel like this is a skill that is not being cultivated by as many people. And furthermore, as our world becomes more digitally inclined, is this skill going to evolve?

    I can tell you that I have worked with several teachers by now that are missing this key trait. In fact, it’s interesting that I came upon this post tonight, because I had a slight altercation with someone just today for this very reason.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that although likability is a vital quality for people to have in the workplace (if for no other reason than to keep from alienating those around them), I can’t help but wonder if it is waning due to our evolving culture. And similarly, I can’t help but wonder if my own likability factor is as honed as it once was.

    • I appreciate that, especially your self reflection. Makes me think about George Saunder’s new book “Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness.” http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2014-04-29/george-saunders-congratulations-way. Maybe you can bookmark that for when school is over. Saunders makes me think the key to likability is kindness and I believe kindness is learned. Therefore, kind people most often attribute their kindness to parents or other adults who taught them to be considerate of other people’s feelings. Maybe today’s parents/adults aren’t being as deliberate as their predecessors in teaching it to children. Then the question become should teachers incorporate important dispositions like kindness into their curricula. And if so, how.

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