It’s hard to underestimate the impact of good social skills on your career. In fact, across the board, in a wide variety of businesses, people would rather work with someone who is likeable and incompetent than with someone who is skilled and obnoxious, said Tiziana Casciaro, professor at Harvard Business School, whom I spoke to on the phone. “How we value competence changes depending on whether we like someone or not.” And people who lack social competence end up looking like they lack other competencies, too.

When it comes to holding down a job, social skills matter today more than ever. For people who want to break into a popular field like entertainment, for example, the only way to differentiate yourself at the bottom is to be likeable.

Many fields that used to be havens for loners, like programming, increasingly require exceptional people skills. “The jobs that are staying in the United States are those that require regular touch, face-to-face contact with clients or a manager,” says Erran Carmel, chair of the Information Technology department at American University. The people landing those jobs have great social skills because of the difficulty of “managing teams that are distributed across cultures.”

And as the need for social skills at work grows, the bar for good social skills gets higher. Until the 1970s, a smart child uninterested in playground politics was considered eccentric but okay. Since the 1980s, educators see the playground as essential training for the future, and kids who can’t navigate are often sent to experts for extra help with social skills.

“Today a variety of therapeutic approaches can teach a child social skills while their brain is still forming,” says Amy Berkman, a therapist working with New York schools. “Therapies we’re using now, like cranial sacral and sensory integration did not enter the mainstream until twenty years ago.” The result is that each year, those entering the workforce come in with a better likeability factor than the year before.

Most of us have to work at being likeable. Fortunately, Casciaro’s research shows that the biggest impediment to likeability is not caring. So if you “just decide you want to do better,” you probably will.

Take responsibility for yourself,” says executive coach Susan Hodgkinson. “Everyone needs to know that they are responsible for creating healthy, productive relationships at work.” No one is going to make you likeable. “The people who are likeable actually care about other people and care about the connections they make.”

Being good at talking to people requires that you figure out what interests them. Casciaro recommends a tactical approach: “Find the hook that makes your similarities more visible. For example I might meet a man in his 60s and I’m a woman in my 30s but we both like basketball.”

Also, figure out how to help someone else get what they need. “Recognize what you’re trying to get done and who you are trying to get it done with. Then think beyond your own stuff to what the other people want,” advises Hodgkinson. Think of this as project management synergy, or resume empathy; you need to help others reach their goals. This will make you more likeable and then more likely to reach your own.

And, don’t discount flattery. “Usually the reason we like someone is because we think they like us,” says Casciaro. It’s the rule of prom-dates: He was ugly until he asked you to prom, and now he doesn’t look so bad. Since there is no prom at the office, to make someone feel liked, Casciaro suggests, “smiling and listening to make someone feel liked.” “But it’s not a personality popularity contest,” Hodgkinson says, “you need to stay true to yourself while still expending empathy in order to connect.”

It’s hard to do, but Casciaro says that people are much more likely to notice an increase in your likeability factor than an increase in your skills. So next time you consider areas for self-improvement, choose interpersonal coaching over office skills and you’ll likely get more bang for your buck.

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  1. Dong Currey
    Dong Currey says:

    Thanks for another informative website. Where else could I get that type of info written in such an ideal way? I have a project that I’m just now working on, and I have been on the look out for such information.

  2. Will
    Will says:

    I am shit when it comes to social skills purley beacuse i do not want to talk to people. I find it hard to socialize with people when they can mock you one second then be best mates when they want something so i just tell them to do one. I guess i will not get far in my current job and thats beacuse i prefer to be myself not what people want to see. That possibly makes me seem unaproachable but then why do people come to me with problems? I dunno, to be honest i don’t care. People are always worried how they look to others when every one else has the same thought. Am not going to live my life in the boundries of sociaty i’d rather rebel and be myself. Any quezzys? I have non for you!

  3. Social Skills
    Social Skills says:

    Social skills is the most underrated skill in the world. Nobody teaches you this in school, yet we need it more than ever. Growing up as somebody who lacked social skills, I know what it’s like to both side of the coin.

  4. Bob
    Bob says:

    The average person spends most of their life at work. Now, out of “most of your life”, do you really want to spend it alongside assholes?

    To be honest. I don’t care if you’re quiet, boring, or have absolutely no interest in other humans. All I care about is that, as a co-worker, you’re friendly enough. If you’re a jerk, I’d rather not work alongside you, even if you’re the world’s greatest worker. Because I only have a limited time on this world, and I don’t want that time to be spent in a toxic environment, next to some miserable SOB.

    And why does everyone assume social people are automatically incompetent? In my experience, I’ve worked alongside plenty of charming, friendly and extremely competent folks. Must be some bitter, angry people here…

  5. louie
    louie says:

    Red from That 70’s Show said it best, “When i die, i wanna be buried face down, so that everybody who doesn’t like me can kiss my ass”.

  6. Boosting Social Skills
    Boosting Social Skills says:

    social skills is truly essential when it comes to landing a job these days.
    Being skilled and intelligent can sometimes be of no use if the person is not

    am working in a business world where being likeable is of great importance so I
    always read articles like this to help me boost my social skills.

    an entertaining read. Thanks!

  7. Emma Brownell
    Emma Brownell says:

    I’m mesmerized by the relationship between likability and professional success. It’s a complicated one, it seems. I worked for years to be a better collaborator – something that school doesn’t foster. And then recently, a study emerged indicating that “disagreeable” people actually earn more than “agreeable” people. I’m still trying to reconcile the two concepts (that likability is key to success, but an impediment to earning).

    More here -

  8. Harold Major
    Harold Major says:

    After being in sales for the past 35 years. I have witnessed many times first hand,the old saying “The puppy that makes the loudest noise gets’ the milk”. Grows up to be big a nd strong.
    The ones that remain silent or makes low wimppers do not make it so well in the world.

  9. james
    james says:

    Yes, ofcourse. Social skills may haven’t taught in school but it is a very useful tool being a professional. This is really needed for a certain individual to succeed. Even your very smart person if you dont know hot to socialize then it will be useless.

  10. C A
    C A says:

    lol… this is all nonsense.

    Workplace performance/success is based on good performance, little else. anything else is secondary.

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    blood bank|give blood|donate blood|HSA says:

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  12. Gonzo
    Gonzo says:

    I outproduced everyone in my section, had better attendance and more accumulated leave than anyone else, yet the EEO-absorbed-I-have-a-uterus-and-you-don’t-so-I-can-do-whatever-I-want women got handled with kid gloves by Management that didn’t want EEO issues.

    Whenever I hear former lady congressmand Pat Shroeder go off about how she has a uterus and it works I want to break the TV.

  13. George
    George says:

    The societal trend toward encouraging “likability” is just another sign that we have devolved into a corporatist fascist state where any form of deviation from the safe, soft line of dou’uchist conventionality is grounds for the death penalty (metaphorically now, but coming soon in actuality).

  14. JD
    JD says:

    I agree that it’s troubling to think Corporate America’s ranking is 1) social skills + competence, 2) just social skills, THEN 3) just competence. It let’s you know that a majority of the work can be done OK, but not exceptionally well, by a majority of people who can be trained to learn basic competence.

    I’ve also started to wonder if the “shortage” of engineers and software developers is actually a shortage of socially skilled engineers and software developers. Employers want to be able to reject applicants who have high technical skills and low social skills. Employers also resent having to pay so much money to people they don’t “like” and not having the option of replacing them with someone more likable.

    But, I’m also commenting to remind everyone that this post states the way things are. We can critique how things should be. This post does a good job of talking about accepting that anyone who isn’t socially savvy is going to be lucky if they find a job that matches their skill set, is enjoyable, and compensates their skills well.

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