One of the keys to a successful career is the ability to make people happy. For you to achieve this, they have to like you. Being popular is not more important than being competent, but it is as important. You will get more done if people want to help you, if you listen to them and they listen to you, and if they are pleased when you succeed.
When you encounter someone new, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself. Smile, say “Hello, my name is Bob Smith,” and extend your right hand. Everyone, without exception, will smile at you, say their name and shake your hand. This is an important social ritual. So important, in fact, that there are people who teach classes in the proper way to shake hands and to remember names.
Pay attention when you first meet someone. Look directly at them and focus on the conversation for a moment, no matter how large the group or how busy you are. We worked with one ambitious Director who had mastered the genuine-looking smile and handshake, and who introduced himself eagerly every time he encountered us. The first time, we were impressed by his professionalism and sincere pleasure at finally meeting us. The second time, we understood that he is very busy and meets a lot of people, so our appreciation was not diminished. The fifth time he introduced himself to us, we knew without a doubt that he was not even aware of our presence in the conversation. He was operating on auto-pilot. It became a joke, which was not at all the impression he wanted to create. The point here is to actually care and pay attention when you meet people, not to give the impression that you care.
Here are more general guidelines that will help you, no matter what job you are in:
• Give away information. A big part of your value to the company and to your co-workers is the information you share.
• Share credit for accomplishments with the people who participated.
• Offer sincere praise to colleagues.
• Volunteer for a few unpopular jobs or tasks.
• Be punctual.
• Be upbeat and optimistic. Your attitude is paramount to your success.
• Be someone others can, and do, count on.
• Never criticize how someone else handles a problem. No one appreciates a back seat driver. If criticism is deserved, deliver it privately and coach, don’t criticize.
• If your co-workers go to lunch together, go along sometimes. Don’t be the guy who always eats at his desk.
• Come early. Stay late. Do this for the first 90 days. Set a good first impression of being a hard worker. It buys goodwill later.
• Turn off your cell phone ringer. Take calls where you can talk without disturbing people. (At some companies, the stairwells are full of people talking on their cell phones.) Don’t answer your cell phone during a meeting unless the caller is your boss and the meeting is less important than she is.
Toxic Conversation Topics for the Workplace
We compiled the following list of conversation topics to avoid. In any group of people, you will find that some of these topics are perfectly acceptable and that there are others that unexpectedly wreak havoc in the atmosphere. Start with these, but use your own judgment about which conversations to join and which to abandon. Remember that your goal is to get along with people, not to “win” a conversation.
• Money and salaries
• Capital punishment
• Other races, religions or cultures (the most innocent statements can sound critical)
• How previous jobs were better
• How previous bosses were smarter
• How many mistakes were made before you arrived
• How much you don’t like the city you are working in
These topics rarely make people like you; they are more likely to make them challenge/question your beliefs, your knowledge, your articulation, etc. You can only lose respect in these conversations, not gain it, unless you happen to totally agree. (And where is the fun in that?) Even so, at work smart people will not take a side on a controversial topic when other people are around. Do not assume that the opinions people express in conversation at the office are their real opinions.
Remember, making people like you, so that they have a stake in your success, is one of the keys to getting ahead. And always avoid giving people a good reason to not like you. It’s not necessary to be a bland automaton with no opinions, just save them for appropriate times and places, and stay on professional topics when in a work environment. Get along with people, and you will get ahead.
Christine Lambden and Casey Conner are the authors of the new book, Everyday Practices of Extraordinary Consultants. They teach consulting skills workshops and seminars around the world. After a combined total of more than 30 years in the IT consulting industry, they now bring their accumulated wisdom to business professionals in various industries.