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Likeable

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I was recently chatting to a very bright, ambitious twenty-something woman who works in the IT industry and she said something about getting ahead in the workplace I've never heard put so succinctly.

As a Gen Y-er, she said it was often quite testing in the IT industry, simply because older generations - Gen X and the Baby Boomers - had entered the profession learning very different technologies.

She took pains to emphasise she wasn't suggesting they were ignorant of current technology, in fact most were masters, it's just their first learning was done completely differently to the generations before or after them.

Not surprisingly, people get into habits in the workplace, and when it comes to problem-solving, a lot of us default to the tried and tested ways we first learned things.

"There's nothing wrong with this, especially in my industry, there is no right or wrong way to do things if you can all arrive at the desired result, the elegant solution, in an efficient timeframe," she said.

The problem for her, as a Gen Y, is older colleagues are often unable to acknowledge the result as more important than the process.

This is sometimes because of fear of appearing out-of-date but, most commonly, it's a simple adherence to the way things were done when they were an up-and-comer.

Which is all well and good, except they also often expect younger colleagues to show deference to their methods.

My friend accepts this as part of the dynamic in any workplace, but said to me being able to smile through time-wasting ego-stroking of senior workers was one of the more challenging aspects of her job.

"But then, the most important skill in any workplace," she said, "is likeability."

"Excuse me?" I said.

And she went on to explain, that being likeable, being easy to work with, was the singular most important talent in her industry.

"I'm good at my job," she said, "but so are lots of people and there are lots people out of work in my industry.

"I've seen many, many people made redundant over the last few years and I always ask myself 'why them?' and very often, it's not a matter of their skills or qualifications or age but how easy they are to work with."

Having not worked regularly in an office for almost eight years, I've largely forgotten the grate and grind of office politics - which is often just another way of saying "getting along with others".

However, conflict does still occur, particularly when my editors spike a certain column or blog post and say it's not suitable for publication.

For a minute or two, I will stare at my inbox and roil with outraged defiance someone would question my writing or sensibilities. Often I'll politely argue my case via email, but then I'll think about the 40 other things my bosses have to worry about and how far down the list of priorities sits a writer's wounded pride and ...

I write replacement copy.

In the end, people might remember if the job got done or not, but they "feel" how it got done. If your name floats into their head and they think "Aw, what a pain in the arse that was," it's not a good look for you.

This goes on in literally thousands of industries.

For whatever reason, people in authority will question or alter the nature of your work and some employees get their noses out of joint.

They complain, they bitch, they deny reality, and they also transmit the stress they're feeling to colleagues and superiors. People eventually get sick of it.

Being likeable is more than just cultivating harmony and caring about your colleagues - which are enormously important workplace goals in themselves - it's also taking what you perceive as crap and swallowing it with a smile, then getting on with the job.

My friend said to me: "I have colleagues who tell me they're going for a new job and they'll outline what they're going to say on this topic and that, how they'll dress, exact lines they'll use in the interview.

"I always say to them: 'Don't forget to be likeable, too'."

What's more important to you? Being likeable, or being good at what you do?

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

62 comments so far

  • Sage advice indeed. I'm only just learning now to shut my stupid big fat mouth at wirq and try to focus on the good, funny, human bits of co-workers, because sadly I hate everybody, even when I love them, because ultimately I think everybody is stupid, except me, and I'm the biggest idiot of all. Two years it takes me to get bored at work and bored with my partners.

    Commenter
    Shelby
    Date and time
    February 06, 2013, 4:07PM
    • Well good on you for having some self-awareness if nothing else, that's something most miserable people seem to lack and never progress as a result.

      Commenter
      Zenith
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 07, 2013, 4:05PM
    • Your comment represents about 90% of office workers..well done!

      Commenter
      Seanster
      Date and time
      February 15, 2013, 4:33PM
  • Like-able wins Sam. I can be grumpy, and on my worse days are better than most at what i do.But I've have done much better if i was more likable. Just not one of my traits. The girl is right.

    Commenter
    Fluellen
    Location
    Pilbara
    Date and time
    February 06, 2013, 5:46PM
    • There needs to be a balance between being likeable and being competent. The workplace is a miefield of having to make decisions that lots of people won't like which are the best decision for the organisation and the productive people who are there.
      The greatest problem I have seen is workplaces where tough decisions and conversations don't happen because people want to be seen as "good people" rather than telling people who aren't doing what they are supposed to to pull their heads in a get on with the job.
      i know I am intensely disliked by many people I work with. I am also very competent at my job. I get along with the people who experience the results of the decisions I make and who see and hear the feedback of the decisions I make.
      The balance is that sometimes you need to ignore that people don't like you and work with them anyway to get to the result. Sometimes you need to eat the sh*t sandwich. And sometimes you need to make people cranky to get to the right result regardless. And you need to listen to the whinging and complaining and negativity.
      That is why it is cause "work" not "happy fun play time".

      Commenter
      M
      Date and time
      February 06, 2013, 5:49PM
      • I'm always puzzled why people always correlate likeability with competency. Are you all saying that the more likeable you are, the less competent?

        Likeability and competency are NOT related. The former is a personality trait, the latter is a technical trait. That's like saying you can't be a German and a pleasant person.

        Oh my god, I've got a boss who is both likeable AND competent - should I call Guiness World Records???

        Commenter
        Bob
        Date and time
        February 07, 2013, 9:47AM
      • I am saying that there is little correlation between likeability and competency. Likeability helps with getting things done and by sharing information and being able to understand another person's point of view.
        Wanting to be liked over making difficult decisions prevents things getting done because difficult decisions means that some people won't like you.
        Similarly not being liked and being highly competent means that people won't want to work with you and so things won't get done among a group of people in the place which is called a workplace.
        Both likeability and technical skill are competencies. Being able to work with a team is a competency, how likeable you are amongst that team is subjective. Being able to work with others without causing conflict is a competency.
        As I said you need a balance. And to make conscious decision about whether you care if those you work with like you or not.
        In your example your boss may not care if you like them or not and you may not like them because they make tough decisions that you disagree with. Their technical competency may be why they were proomoted and you don't like them for that and they may not care. Simple isn't it?

        Commenter
        M
        Date and time
        February 07, 2013, 11:43AM
      • I've worked with some very likeable people who were, for lack of a better phrase, as useful as a condom machine in the Vatican. What I found was that their lack of competence meant that, while working with them, I disliked them.

        As soon as I moved on I got past it however, in my book, lacking the ability to do the work required constitutes a reason to not like someone that I work with.

        Commenter
        hired goon
        Date and time
        February 07, 2013, 1:07PM
      • Ugh.

        "As soon as THEY moved on..."

        Commenter
        hired goon
        Date and time
        February 07, 2013, 1:18PM
      • Hi M, my comments aren't necessarily directed at you - I know what you're trying to say - I'm simply confused as to why most of the people here seem to be bandying the likeable-yet-incompetent stereotype around.

        To me, likeability is nothing more than not being a jerk. Even if he was a genius, I'd be reluctant to work with a jerk - you are essentially spending more than half your day with someone who makes you unhappy!

        Commenter
        Bob
        Date and time
        February 07, 2013, 2:55PM

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