How to pick the people you work with
Pick who you work with very carefully. Because you are likely to become like them. So the first thing is to know what's important to you about you — what you want to become. What you like about yourself. And then, surround yourself with people who match your aspirations for yourself.
Here are some ideas:
Choose people who are good-looking, but not better looking than you.
You become like the people you hang out with, according to Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Harvard. He found, for example, that if the people around you are overweight, you are likely to join them. And the more overweight you are, the more trouble you have at work, for a lot of reasons, but a new reason I just found is that in stressful work situations, fat people do not think as clearly as thin people. Yep. That's right. Stonybrook University School of Medicine found that the more body fat you have, the higher your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that hampers cognitive abilities. (Hat tip: Self magazine.)
But if the people around you are models, you will look ugly. Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at MIT, says that if you're going to a bar, you have the best chances of getting picked up if you go with people who are almost as good-looking as you are. It makes sense that you will feel best if you do this at work as well.
Choose women who are happy, but they shouldn’t smile too easily.
This is hard for men to do. Because men are hard-wired to be drawn to women who laugh at their jokes. Men want to be funny. But women who are slower to smile do better at work, according to communications consultant Leil Lowndes. So you should date women who smile a lot, but work with women who don't. (Hat tip: Derek Scruggs.)
But this doesn't mean that you should work with grouchy women. Christakis also found that if you are around happy people you will be happier. So, when it comes to work, find that subset of women who are very optimistic but a tough audience for your jokes.
Choose people who swear, but don't choose someone who’s trashy.
It turns out that a little off-color language is good for the workplace. For example, if you use not-too-vulgar swear words at work, you inspire more teamwork. Of course, the standards for vulgarity will vary, but it's probably like porn: You know it when you see it.
Which is why using something innocuous, like the word asshole, is okay, but not if you are talking about intercourse. People who talk about sex at work decrease morale. Well, the research actually says that it's the raunchiness of the sex talk that affects the workplace negatively. So I think factual talk about sex, without the raunch, is okay. (Hat tip: Chris Yeh)
Also, while we're on the topic: double-bonus for choosing a boss: Pick one that will send you to sex conferences.
Choose people you admire.
This seems like a no-brainer, but we rarely choose a job based on this. We usually choose a job based on the job description, or the title. The problem with choosing a job this way is that a job description is not a contract. It is a way to lure you into the job. And it's a hiring manager's best guess on who he or she is looking for. In general, we do not end up doing what we are hired for.
So choose your next job based on the people you'll be working with. You will learn the most on a job by having a great mentor looking after you, rather than a good job description preceding you. And you'll be happiest at work if you focus on having friends at work instead of looking for a boss who pays high salaries — those bosses don't understand what really matters.
The problem, of course, with choosing to work with people you admire is that you have to understand yourself enough to know, of all the traits you admire in people, what are the most important.
“But women who are slower to smile do better at work, ”
Wow!! I have to agree with this one, sometimes I use to feel that I just didn’t get things because everyone is so perky and smily however, when it came to giving ideas about work/projects, no one had them. But I did. I work better, but I don’t laugh and smile at everything
You get to pick you you work with? Wow. I work at a Fortune 7 company (heh). Even if I picked a new position based on who worked in that department, that team of people would look considerably different in a year as some moved on to other departments and new ones moved in. Though, I can completely see picking the people with whom you network in the workplace or the volunteer teams (such as job family communities or communities of interest/practice) in which you participate based on on the above criteria.
I love your honesty! The first tip is so true, yet not everyone is willing to admit that because of all the PC crap going around. I mean some women get offended if skinny jeans don’t come in size 16. Ahem, they are called skinny for a reason. I also agree with the other 3 tips, especially the last one which is the hardest because sometimes the interview process is such that it is hard to evaluate the team. And I was to accept job based on job description, I would need to start taking anti-depressants because job descriptions are written to discourage any qualified applicant to apply.
Interesting, though a couple of things on the smiling…
First, “smiling” and “laughing at jokes” are completely different (though people who laugh at jokes also likely smile a lot, I would not say the reverse is necessarily true, so the distinction is important).
Second, are there any stats on the “women who are slower to smile do better at work” bit (and does it refer to “smiling” or “laughing at jokes”)? I didn’t see anything in the links.
These are good insights, but the biggest challenge isn’t something you can overcome by reading blogs or be taught: knowing yourself and realistically knowing what you want is extremely difficult.
As has been said before, what you say you like and what you actually respond to are often two totally different things.
The cliché has long been, “if you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people, and if you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”
…and seriously, people who lack the courage to be themselves despite their peers or their circumstances deserve to fail anyway. As much as I enjoy the thinly veiled “how to use people” blather on this blog, you have only yourself to credit and to blame in the long run.
Brilliant post, Penelope!
So this is the behavioral version of “dress for the job you want”? Okay, but not really new and exciting.
By the way, what kind of men should we be choosing to work with?
Funny you should post about this today. I wrote a post this week that examines similar issues in what I agrue is an analagous situation to a work environment: a marriage. It’s called “Marriage As A Business Proposal” and interested readers can check it out by clicking on my name below.
I’m not so sure we all become like the people we work with, though perhaps it’s true our attitudes become unduly influenced by the attitudes of the people we work with (maybe that’s what you meant?). By the way, I actually know Nicholas Chirstakis. He used to work at the University of Chicago where I work, though we’re nothing alike at all–he’s a very bright guy (making me glad for him that he left to protect him from becoming like me). One more thing: be careful about buying into the cortisol hypothesis to strongly. It is a stress hormone that rises in response to stress but I’m aware of little data that proves it “hampers cognitive abilities.” Thanks for a thoughtful post.
So, I should avoid working with fat people because being around them will make me fat AND stupid — er, I mean, “thinking less clearly in stressful situations.” And I should avoid working with lovely young people because they will make middle-aged me look like a hag. This does tend to limit the options, the older I get …
I like the swearing here–don’t curse too much where it’s trashy will put people off but it can be used for effect.
The right words can add humor to any situation and express a bit more emotion–using certain words too much make you look uneducated and like a dirt bag.
You don’t want people to feel uncomfortable talking to you.
I’ve never really had the luxury of PICKING the people I work with, but what you said about smiling women makes sense. If women smile a lot, they’re typically trying to be sexy. If they’re too busy trying to be sexy, they’re usually not focusing on their job. But the jobs that require emotional labor, such as cashiers and waitresses, positions that REQUIRE you to put on a good public face might be an exception to that rule.
I have to agree with the above sentiment.
“If women smile a lot, they’re typically trying to be sexy. If they’re too busy trying to be sexy, they’re usually not focusing on their job.”
I know of a woman in my workplace that is (affectionately) called a derogatory nickname by other women. She is always talking about her sex life with her partner, all the kinky stuff she gets up to. She is pretty sexy too, has a beautiful face (always smiling and smirking). She has a great body and flaunts it in little dresses. She is well liked at work but perceived by most people as being incompetent at her job.
Not all overweight people have high cortisol, and not all thin people have normal cortisol. If we’re going by outrageous stereotypes, then definitely avoid short people, since tall people make more money and are perceived as more competent.
She has posted previously that she was/is (not sure if you ever fully recover) bulimic, so weight is going to be something she is fixated on. I’m fat and I could get offended but I’m confident enough to know that I don’t fit this stereotype. I’m a freakin soldier (hell If people only knew what I have had to deal with). I could of course be an outlier but there is a lot of good information on this site. Just know that not everyone is going to appreciate you, some people will discriminate against you but try to keep yourself open to good advise even if that source periodically says things that are hard to hear. It’s good to get a little tough sometimes.
Keep yourself open to growth and fight the good fight my fluffy compatriot.
I definitely agree with your final point. On one of my consulting projects last year I chose to work with someone I truly admired. He turned out to be a fabulous mentor who has helped me throughout my career.
I like the article on the idea of your boss sending you to a sex conference – 7 reasons (with a bonus reason) no less. I think that’s right up there with being a travel agent and being sent to some exotic location, cruise, or whatever. After reading that article I had to read the title of this post again to get my bearings. That’s the problem with reading some links. So easy to get lost.
I very much agree with the last section – Chose people you admire. This can be hard to implement in a large corporate setting though. If you do find yourself working with people you don’t admire and you need to adjust accordingly then there’s a good chance you’ll end up finding out a few things about yourself.
it would seem logical to pick a place where the people look better than you, since you say you are likely to become like those you work with. :-)
Think of it as a beauty treatment. LOL
I am sure this won’t get the reaction that many of your posts get, but this one really speaks the truth.
When hiring, I always look for people that are upbeat, structured, who take what they do very seriously, but don’t take themselves seriously in the least.
Most importantly they must be smarter than me.
Far too many people make the mistake of wanting/needing to be the smartest person at their company.
I prefer not to be.
It’s better for everyone involved.
>>Most importantly they must be smarter than me<<
I like this comment. I think it takes a confident boss to feel this way and it shows he/she is always looking to learn. To me, that’s brilliant.
That said, even if the employee knows she’s smarter than the boss; she must never FEEL or ACT like she is. The boss is still the boss and he’s there for a reason. Hopefully, because he’s earned it.
I own a design agency. I regularly take classes to keep up with the latest technology and to keep my eyes peeled for people to hire. I love to surround myself with my Gen Y classmates. They are so open-minded and inspiring! But they also haven’t a clue about the working world.
Here’s a conversation that went on between two sitting next to me in class.
A: “My internship is a drag. I have to do all the boring production work while the owner does all the fun, creative things. It really pisses me off.”
B: “I hope I can get an internship. But it has to be one that pays and it can’t be very far away.”
This was said by classmates who always slow down the class because they’re on Facebook instead of following along. Their phones go off in class at least 4-5 times and they still don’t shut them off. And they’re always late with their work.
They may be good-looking. They may be smart and creative. But, no, I won’t hire them. I need people who will do some work!
I read so many times in this blog that Gen Y are superior because of their teamwork and social skills, blah blah. But that is all meaningless if they can’t actually work and deliver the goods on time.
Very good article, it’s so very correct that people way to often dont look at who they work with and for!
I can’t tell if this blog is satirical. Maybe its targeted at rich people, and that’s why i don’t get it? Who has these kinds of choices? I go with whomever is willing to pay me. At this point I’d be willing to do mercenary work.
Based on this, I think I should work with Tilda Swinton. I don’t really act but I’m sure we could find some project to collaborate on.
PS Great post.
As if it wasn’t already bad enough that all this discrimination is already taking place in the work for; but you have to go, and say that it is okay? I mean, who do you think you are to tell somebody who isn’t “average looking” (what the hell is that anyways) that they can’t or shouldn’t do certain careers. These stereotypes are probably only persisting because of people like you.
This post is only continuing ignorant stereotypes against people who are a bit different.
Your obsession with bagging overweight people is getting really old. I’d rather work with someone heavy than work with a complete nutjob like you.
What Jessica said, plus:
Are you seriously trying to present this load of pseudoscientific bigotry as expert advice? When you write a post like this, are you just aiming for page hits, or do you actually believe what you say? ‘Cause I’m not sure which explanation makes you look worse.
So first to all the bleeding hearts … be real … life is tough for obese people and not just in the job hire section of living. I would not hire an obese person to work with me. Ever. Just like I would not knowingly hire an alcholic, drug user or anorexic either. Are these not all just symptons of some unresolved issue …. some issue that won’t add to workplace engagement or productivity in the long run ?
Secondly so smiley women make bad hires … what makes a man a good hire – big hands ? For me I think the yardstick for men is threefold : the handshake, eye contact and how much they big note themselves without referencing to any other person’s involvement … please write on this P.
Thirdly would you also write a post on how we form key selection criteria to reflect this new world order ? Personally I say death to selection criteria – like your post on references KSC should go the way of the dinosaur – I have just vented about this at the THIRD.
As always my best to you le
Are you seriously openly admitting to discriminating when you are hiring? Am I the only person who thinks this is ridiculous?
It’s a hard truth Mary but in the competitive job market there is always a better hire option than the morbidly obese … and you should understand that the person doing the hiring can bend the selection process to suit the desired outcome however they choose … these are not my rules it’s just the way it works … and if you want to work, well then you normally have to work the system. Eye wide open I say.
I think it is ridiculous too. I have been using a blind panel interview for the past year and a half, and have had such awesome results, I’m continuing the practise. We hold interviews via teleconference with no video. 3 interviewers, 1 candidate. I have no information about the person except work history, education history, his resume, and yes, references in some cases. I have no idea if the person is 60 0r 25 (but you can kinda tell, generally, how old a person is). They could be fat or skinny….I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s a rigorous interview, but I’ve found you can get an incredible amount of good info just from listening. So much so, I think a visual would be distracting. I’m very happy with the people we’ve decided to hire. I think more people should try it.
If you hired a person that was not obese and was a great employee, would you fire them if they became obese? It happens. Is there like a magic wieght number that gets them shown the door, or are you a little more vague in your judgementalism?
Everyone has unresolved issues. You’re just picking the ones that manifest themselves visibly. And you don’t even know if you’re right.
I think you should tell this to all applicants. That way if I’m ever interviewing with you, I’ll know to turn the job down.
Women incessently smile because they are insecure – 99% of the time.
Insecure women are impossible to work with.
Insecure women are negative and have to balance their inner pessimist with incessant smiling.
Confident women are optimistic and let their words and behaviors speak for themselves.
I agree with that insecure women are impossible to work with. And I agree insecure women are negative. But the rest, I don’t know…
I find insecure women use negativity as a shield. They criticize others to make themselves look and feel better. You can usually see a woman’s personality in her face, especially as she ages, and a negative woman definitely is not a smiling face.
I find myself smiling a lot more. Some of it’s a conscious effort to hide the slight jowls forming as I age. Most of it’s just because I have a lot to smile about – I like my life and I like who I’ve become. And yes, when I smile at my husband, it’s because I’m sexy.
I think the last point you made is the most important and the most underutilized in today’s corporate culture. If I was starting a business, I’d hire people who make my brain look like that of a plankton’s. I don’t care about them potentially stealing my thunder. I care about the company that I would be trying to build and the dividends that could possibly ensue from such massive brain power.
When someone is smarter then you. Hire them…immediately.
I agree with a previous commenter- your hangups about overweight people are tiresome, and *make you a bad manager and a worse boss*. Unless you are hiring models, I think you have deeper, much more insecure and sad reasons for justifying your bias against people who are heavy.
Do you hire black people, by the way? Asian? Or do you have some unproven, little tidbits about them too to justify not hiring them? Since so many people have biases against people of color, does that make it okay – or smart – for *that* to be the reason not to hire them?
I’m constantly amazed that *you* give advice. I would advise people to read what you say.. and then do the opposite. In *all* aspects of your life.
Sounds great. But unless you are running the place, chances that you get to choose your co-workers is slim.
But I agree on all points, especially the talk of raunchy sex. Its led a frnd of mine to look for a new job, its that bad.
Another thing is, coworkers should also match intelligence level when it comes to basic conversation/ jokes. I wrote about it a while ago – conversation tends towards the dumbest possible. So, the ‘dumb’ should be set at a minimum standard if you can manage that.
Er…I’m obese. I also work 80 hours a week, in a highly skilled profession, for a Fortune 50 company in Silicon Valley. I’ve been promoted once–out of cycle–and gotten three substantial merit raises (in this shitty economy!) in the < 2 years I’ve been with my current employer. The director of my department has expressed the wish, more than once, that he could clone me. (Insert “there’s enough of you to make two people” joke here.)
On the other hand, my own research has shown that ex-beach volleyball players who run companies and have nice bodies can’t even keep the electric bill paid.
Gordo, your comment made my day.
You can read this list and let the items become limiting factors: I’m not attractive enough to be successful, I’m not thin enough to be successful, my boss is a low-life without one admirable quality…
or you can ignore all the bullshit and be the success you want to be, way to go!
Great comment, Gordo. And I’d rather hire you or work with you or for you, that some bigoted neurotic who think that size matters.
You go, girl! I’m not obese, but I would never judge anyone based on that. I’ve worked w/skinny people and fat people and haven’t seen that it made a bit of difference in their work. I also work in Silicon Valley at a high tech co.
Anyone else remember the Leslie Bennetts book review?
I admire gordo, and he swears a little, so I should try to work with him. But he will infect me with his obesity. Tough call.
Stephen Covey makes some great point on this subject in the 7 habits of highly effective people, he talks about creating synergy and so on, well worth checking out if anybody hasn’t done so.
Thanks for this post. Using my analytical prowess, I deduce that my clients truly admire me.
Because I am not “beautiful” (and since all clients, bar one, are male, I sure hope they do not compare themselves to me), I do not smile easily, and I deem swearing a sign of linguistic deficiency (after all, if you had a richer vocabulary, you wouldn’t resort to bodily functions to make your point, would you?).
Thanks for making my day.
In my career of starting businesses I have found it is who your doing it with not what you are doing. Many entrepreneurs tell me they want to start their own biz but don’t know what to do- I tell them find a group of people that you want to work with and go do that!
As a fat person with a 4.0 GPA, related to another fat person who has re-organized, modernized and gotten Civil Service awards for their work, I take distinct exception to your article.
You are simply perpetuating the myths that man have shoved down the throats of women for all time — look pretty, be thin, don’t hang around with the ugly girls and laugh at his stupid jokes. It sounds more like advice for high school dating than for business. How will these attitudes change if they are perpetuated?
You neglect to inform that the results of studies often reflect the viewpoints of the study’s sponsor. Have you investigated who sponsored that study and what purpose the study used? I doubt it.
How in th world are you to determine all the facts with maybe 2 hour interviews before you accept the job? While I may or may not agree with some points of yours, there is never an istance unless ou already work int he company to seriously use these as criteria.
What is your deal with overweight people? (besides the fact that they are ugly to look at?)
Don’t you mean f**k rather than a*****e
“Which is why using something innocuous, like the word asshole, is okay, but not if you are talking about intercourse.”
The book ‘Shackletons Way’ about the polar explorer details the psychology behind how he chose people for his expeditions. Makes for good reading as the reasoning for choosing people ultimately formed how successful they were.
It mirrors ‘some’ of your points – in particular, about hiring optimistic people & choosing people you admire.
I think this is a fascinating post and came at a very critical moment for me. No – You don’t get to typically hand pick the people you work with. However different organizations attract certain personality types depending on the company culture. I’m currently in a position where many of the people are quite arrogant and this reminded me that I don’t want to be like them. Time to start looking for a new job.
Penelope, normally I love your advice but this is seriously wacked.
Fat discrimination parading as career advice!? In the 50s there were clinical studies proving that black people were less smart than white people. This is the same kind of discrimination (call me PC-whatever)
You are just fishing for pageviews at this point and I don’t know how much longer I will be able to keep reading.
great post, P! I would submit that ones ability to grow in a role is limited by those that surround them – mgmt & peers. And if this is desired then by all means search out the pathologically ambitious bright folks. However if ones objective is to enjoy the ride and find balance, then an entirely different course should be sought…
Well, Penelope, as usual your post has a glimmer of truth to it, but is confused and biased toward some type of life-long dating game. We are, after all, talking about careers and the world of work here, aren’t we?
I am, however, glad to see you attempt to delve into the realm of job-fit. It’s true that people don’t leave jobs: they leave people. But the main reason why some people in the workplace create problems for other people in the workplace is because they(or the person(s) they are escaping from) are a poor choice for the job and the organization. So what to do?
The most effective method for avoiding this is for companies to use assessments and feedback procedures to determine the DNA of their company and the high-performers who work there. Otherwise they are just “flying by the seat” of someone’s pants, perhaps some decision-maker or HR person with questionable selection criteria such as those you have expressed in this post.
Effective assessments profile the important and RELEVANT characteristics of high performers: behavioral traits, thinking styles, occupational interests, and working styles. Candidates for positions who complete the assessments are then compared to the characteristics of the company or position profile. I would re-emphasize the term relevant here, as not all individual characteristics are relevant to success in the workplace. When this process is performed properly, it is much easier to see how a candidate will fit in with the organization he or she is seeking to be employed by. This is by no means the end of the process, but should be a starting point and an integral part of the selection process. It will remove a great portion of the subjective failings of the evaluation process of prospective employees. Further, it is of great value to both the organization AND the individual. Once a company makes a poor choice, the costs of correcting the situation, to both the company and the individual, and the other employees of the company, are high. Estimated costs of replacing employees, particularly in key positions, run as high as double the annual salary of the position in question.
Validated assessments are different than Ipsative assessments, such the Myers-Briggs personality assessments, in which the individuals express what they think they are like, and the M-B then categorizes them in some combination of the 16 personality types.
In general, validated, business-focused assessments take the information provided in the answers given by the individual and compare it to the information given by a large population sample of assessments for similar positions in the world of work. Based on the responses in the assessment, the repondent is “normalized” in the statistical sense, in comparison with the rest of the world. The validation process involves feedback from the companies utilizing the assessments, follow-up, and re-assessments at some future point in time. These are long-term studies using the data and feedback provided by the companies.
The ultimate difference is: you don’t get to choose how you fit the position or company, the fit is determined for you by the results of the assessment, a very different scenario.
The old adage,”if you want to look skinny, hang out with fat people”, has a nice ring to it, but the truth is we usually hang out with people with whom we share similar interests, so it is really not the danger that we will become like those we associate with, but rather that we already really are like the people we associate with. Otherwise, why would we be there?
I have 3 overweight people in my department who are all in various stages of treatment for diabetes. Their health issues do affect productivity – they’re constently absent for medical appointments and injections, and they are unable to perform simple physical tasks like changing copy paper and other things that involve bending over and lifting. So some commenters may have anecdotal evidence of productive fat people, but in my office PT’s points hold water – fat is contageous and detrimental to productivity, morale and advancement opportunities.
I cannot believe you actually used your full name for this comment, Veronica.
Wow. I’ll ask it again: at what point do you fire a previously non-fat worker if they become fat?
Better yet, maybe you just shouldn’t hire any person that might miss too much work time and cost your health plan more money. Like fat people or women with young children, for example.
Yikes, discriminating against hiring women with small children? Ouch! Oh darn, she went and got herself pregnant, probably at one of those sex conferences. Damn, that was a brilliant investment!
Obviously, the workplace is full of subtle and subjective discrimination. For example, most companies require pre-screening for drug use, but not for alcohol. How much lost time and productivity do you think is attributed to alcohol abuse? It’s huge. The old “Falstaff Flu”.
As usual, insurance companies drive much of the discrimination, particularly in the case of the aforementioned health coverage issue.
If only more companies followed Bob Sutton’s, “No Asshole Rule”, we’d be off to a good start.
What I want to know is WHY it’s better not to work with women who smile a lot? Also, what about MEN who smile a lot?
Veronica Sawyer’s complaint that the fat people in her office don’t do well at physical tasks is like hiring stupid people for smart-people work and then complaining about their lack of success.
Great article minus your references to your sex life. Wonder why you have to do that?
Same reason she has to dis fat people…self-admitted eating disorder. Obviously she has sexual issues too. Refer to her post about yelling at her boyfriend because he won’t go down on her. Seriously, yelling at someone in the first place is kinda wierd, but yelling at them about some sex thing? very wierd. I’ve had sex w/a lot of guys….I just don’t remember ever yelling at them. People do what they feel like doing during sex….no act should be “mandatory”. She’ll probably cite some research to back up yelling during sex as a way to achieve a happy sex life.
I am a Japanese.
In Japan, there is not the way of thinking that the ability of the work of fat persons is low .
I have always admired your post. Its always been a source of inspiration.
However, your bias against fat people is completely misplaced.
There is a distinction between obesity due to over-eating and due to genetic/hormonal disorders.
I look forward to a retraction of your statement if you truly believe that you learn from your mistakes as you have always declared in your posts.