People with good social skills can get along with almost anyone, and if you want to be successful in your career, you have to make people like you: Figure out what matters to them, what makes them tick, and then speak to that when you interact.
The key to being likeable is to be able to adapt yourself to different situations. This does not mean that you have to be someone you’re not. Each of us is complicated, adaptable and curious. You need to know yourself well enough to understand a broad range of facets of yourself so that you can call up the right one with the right crowd.
The field of psychology that focuses on this particular issue is social psychology. And, fortunately, we have massive amounts of data from clinical research to tell us how thoughts, feelings, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others: Use this research to train yourself to be someone everyone wants to work with.
Think hard about how you approach a group. Do you hope that the group conforms to you or do you conform to the group? As long as you respect the people in the group, conforming to them enough to form a bond is not a bad idea. No one can be with their soul mate 100% of the day. But you can find pieces of yourself that match up with just about everyone, if you are in-tune with yourself and other people.
Social psychologists call people who analyze social situations and try to match their public self to the situation “high self-monitors”. Self-monitors are very good at gauging what their audience expects in each given situation. And these people are very sensitive to impression management techniques — they watch other people use them and then use the techniques themselves.
For some people, this skill of monitoring themselves within a group comes naturally — they are chameleons who can mirror other peoples' moods. Chameleons know what to say when their boss's pet gerbil dies and they know what to say when a co-worker suggests a date.
Other people are low self-monitors. These people attempt to alter a situation to match their private self. These people have one way of conducting themselves and have no idea how to change for a given situation. These are the people who make inappropriate jokes at a client meeting or are too stiff and formal at a company picnic. Chameleons generally disgust these low self-monitors, but I've got news for you: chameleons don't lose opportunities for being difficult to work with.
If you can get along with different groups of people, you won’t just be liked more at work, you’ll be more equipped to meet your personal goals. People who are able to develop friendships with a wide range of people are more able to change the way they think about themselves, according to Tracy McLaughlin-Volpe, professor of psychology at University of Vermont. Developing cross-group friendships as opposed to in-group friendships makes your more adept at creating a dynamic image of yourself — you are likely to be a person who can make changes to become the person you want to be.
You want to be someone who can make changes in yourself when you see the need, because social psychologists have also found that people remember negative traits more than positive traits. So if you tell a new employee your boss is “smart, open-minded, kind and disorganized,” the new employee will form an opinion of the boss primarily on “disorganized.” Your bad traits have more sticking power on your reputation than your good traits. If you want to be liked, face up to your weaknesses and compensate for them.
Most people who hate office social dynamics think people have to change who they are to succeed. But good social skills at work are really a reflection of empathy for the people around you. Anyone who is being their best self — kind, considerate, expressive, interested in others — will instinctively do the right thing at the office.