Likeability at Work Matters by Bill McGowan

Having been a journalist for much of my adult life, I can say with certainty that exercising complete objectivity is extremely hard to achieve, whether you’re reporting a story or evaluating the talent of a potential hire.  How you feel about someone personally, how you respond to the vibe they give off, is almost impossible to remove from the equation.

I’m particularly aware of this every year around this time when the BBWAA (the Baseball Writers’ Association of America) votes on which former Major League Baseball greats (retired at least five years) will be elected to the Hall of Fame.  For the players whose statistics are unquestionably great (and were not at the epicenter of the steroids storm) entry is all but assured: pitchers with 300+ wins, hitters with 500+ home runs, etc.  In the workplace, the equivalent would be making Dean’s List at a prestigious university or years of distinguished service at a top-flight company.

But that’s rarified air, and let’s face it, many of us are not flashing those kinds of gaudy statistics on our resume.  For us mere mortals in the workplace, our likability factor becomes a big consideration.  Because, do you know what that hiring manager is asking him/herself after your work experience and education have been noted?  “Is this the kind of person my team is going to want to be elbow-to-elbow with for more waking hours than they spend with their spouses?”  The smaller the office, the bigger that factor becomes.  So don’t dismiss the importance of your overall likability.

Here are some simple ways to not shortchange yourself in that department:

Ditch the Bitchy Resting Face.  Most of us are unaware of how dour and disapproving our default facial expression is when we are listening to someone else.  I’m not suggesting you have a frozen, toothy grin at all times – that looks fake.  But sport an engaged, interested closed-mouthed quarter smile when others speak to you.  It’s the simplest way for them to have positive feelings about interacting with you.

Give the Bitching a Rest.  Even if your former employer was slightly less understanding than North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, don’t bring your tales of woe to a job interview or a new company and hold regular gripe fests.  Negativity weighs on an office culture and can bring everyone else down.  If there’s a problem at work, strive to fix it through creative solutions instead of whining and moaning about it.

It’s Not About You.  The best way to get hired and get promoted is to show that you’re constantly thinking of ways to make the company better, preferably in a way that more substantive contributions from you would be necessary.  If you can prove that your ideas would result in greater performance and productivity, then your raise should pay for itself.  Remember, nobody owes you anything.  The least likely reason to get promoted these days is because “it’s your turn.”

Have Your Colleagues’ Backs.  Try to go one month without saying anything critical about your co-workers.  Then try stretching it to two, and so on.  I bet you’ll like the results.  Getting pulled into water cooler gossip can happen so easily.  Rather than piling on, try pointing out an invaluable quality the target of the gossip possesses and say, “Listen, say what you will about (name) but when it’s chaos and crunch time around here, she’s the last one to buckle under the pressure,” or whatever their attribute may be.

These are the kind of people others want to work next to and have shape that all-important company culture.

So what does this have to do with the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame?  Well, for those players who statistics didn’t make them a lock to get in, their likability , or lack thereof, played a role in keeping them out.  If you are skeptical, just ask players like Jeff Kent and Albert Belle who are still not members and Jim Rice who was forced to wait many more years than someone the baseball writers might have thought was a “good guy.”  The toxicity they brought to work with them did not go unnoticed or unpunished.

I’m just one of many people who once believed that the workplace is a strict meritocracy.  “Oh, I got that job because I was likely the strongest candidate.”  That naive bubble burst for me many years after my first big break in television.  I was sitting with my former boss over a beer when I decided to ask him why he had hired me over other candidates for a coveted position.

“You really want to know,” he asked.

“Absolutely,” I replied.

“Cause I figured you were a nice young kid who wouldn’t give me any shit.”

I’ve never forgotten that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.