I am always harping on how important it is to be nice. I have written about how you will be happy at work if you have three friends there, you will get promoted if people like you and you should try to be more likable no matter how likable you think you are right now.
1. Flexible working hours
2. Working with people I like
3. Having enough annual leave
4. Having time off on short notice
5. Enjoying the job
6. Getting along well with colleagues
7. Feeling liked by my colleagues
8. Getting along well with my boss
9. Being trusted by my boss
10. Having a clear understanding of my goals
Five of these top ten factors of workplace happiness have to do with interpersonal relationships. So it seems that most people understand the importance of being well liked at work.
But not everyone knows how to achieve this. And to be fair, it’s not easy. Being well liked at work means taking a lot of risks, and when it comes to deciding to make a risky move, we are inherently reticent. Daniel Gilbert’s research shows we are way better at seeing the downside than the upside.
Good social skills start with being vulnerable. If you want to create a relationship with someone, you need to open up a little piece of yourself so they can see inside and find something to connect with. Some relationships will be close, some will be casual, but all will be based on you figuring out how to open up just a bit. Keith Ferrazzi gave a great step-by-step approach to this process in his book, Never Eat Alone, and he gave the Cliff’s Notes version when I interviewed him. But the bottom line is that in order to make a real connection with someone, you have to take a real risk.
Most of the mail I get about social skills at work is from people who feel like they’ve messed up. When it comes to social skills – and any skill, really – you can judge your own competence by how well you manage yourself in a mess.
Eric Dezenhall is a publicist who specializes in managing situations where someone has messed up and the author of the book Damage Control. He says, “So much of crisis management comes down to basic likability. Do we like you?” Dezenhall says mental gymnastics to craftily shift the blame have unimpressive results. “It doesn’t matter how smart you are. What matters is if we like you.”
When things go wrong, the first thing you should consider is apologizing. Saying you’re sorry is powerful. “The public is enormously forgiving of genuine contrition,” according to research about bouncing back from a career mess by Jeffrey Sonnenfelt at Yale School of management. For example, medical malpractice suits go down significantly when a doctor is willing to apologize for a mistake.
However an apology only works when you are truly sorry. Dezenhall points out that an apology made just to make a problem go away often does more harm than good because it is, in fact, inconsistent with who you are and not believable.
This advice brings to mind the reaction to my panel discussion at BlogHer last weekend. Not during, but after. The room was totally packed, and there were questions flying the whole time, and I answered questions how I usually do: Short and direct.
Later I saw the online aftermath of the panel, and there were a few bloggers who were very upset.
Of course, no matter what I say there are always a few people who are upset. And some weeks there are a few thousand people upset. In general, I read the comments, learn from those that I can learn from, and move on. I asked some friends what I should do about the unhappy BlogHer bloggers. All my friends told me to ignore it. “It doesn’t matter,” is what they said over and over.
It is at this moment – when you find out that someone doesn’t like what you’ve done – that determines how well liked you are at work. You can’t bow to every complaint about what you do, but you do need to get good at figuring out which people to address and which to ignore. Both decisions are risks.
Here’s what I learned from the criticism about me at the blog Suburban Turmoil: It is more effective to be short and direct in writing than it is in person. The comments section on the blog post complaining about me was already boisterous. So I thought I might get trounced again for adding my own comment. But I took a chance and apologized because I could do it with honesty.
On the other hand, I received nearly 100 personal emails from people attacking me for the last column I wrote on Yahoo Finance, and I am ignoring them. Well, except for this one, which I can’t resist publishing, from Eduard Bauer:
“Please stop giving horrible advice. Your detachment from reality is hurting the American economy.”