You're a hard worker, punctual, and an expert at your job, but you keep getting sunk by office politics because you don't know how to be likeable at work. It hardly seems fair that less competent flakezoids get promoted while you sit at your cubicle day after day, doing the work that the flakezoid doesn't even suspect exists, but there's nothing you can do about it. Or is there?
Your opinions leak out of your pores. You might think that your co-workers don't know what you think of them, but they do, or at least suspect. If you think your boss is a moron, the guy in the next cube over is a lazy freak and the office assistant doesn't know a computer from a fax machine, they'll sense your contempt, no matter what you say. You might as well carry a banner that reads: "I'm surrounded by idiots!" Your co-workers know what you think of them, and they aren't inclined to cut you a break or do you any favors. So what can you do to become more likeable at work?
- Ask questions. The solution isn't to become a better actor, but to open your mind. Unless you work with Osama bin Laden, there is probably something to like about everyone you work with. So, even if it makes you throw up a little bit in your mouth, start conversations with your co-workers. Yes, with every single one of them. Ask them questions about themselves and their lives, and keep asking until you find something likeable in that human being.
- Stretch your point of view. You see the world your way, and, no doubt, you're right. Otherwise, you'd change your opinion. But your co-workers are just as firm in their own perceptions, and no matter how wrong they are, you owe them respect. Why? Because you're not God. Because you have been wrong once or twice in your own life, even at work. Because you need to have a realistic understanding of your place in the universe. You're just one more speck in a whole universe of specks, and if you don't learn to play a little nicer, the other specks are going to consider you a highly unlikeable speck. And they will not say nice things about you to the Boss Speck.
- Go beyond being a team player. You are a well-oiled cog in the machine that is your company. If you do your work and all the other employees do theirs, your company's purpose will be fulfilled. And if one of those other cogs fails to complete his purpose, he should be replaced with newer, shinier cog that gets it. The problem with this gleaming metaphor is that, unlike a machine, your company is populated with flawed human beings. Temper your rabid sense of purpose with a little compassion. If Doug in Receiving drops the ball, pick it up and hand it to him — quick, before his boss sees. No one is suggesting that you do anyone else's job, but the only thing that can make an efficient work team out of flawed human beings is a spirit of cooperation and support. In the same spirit, be sure to accept offers of help with graciousness and gratitude.
- Calm down. If you've been sunk by office politics before, you may be feeling threatened or surrounded. Few of us are at our best in that condition, and you could react by doing things that make you appear less likeable than ever. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Even if they've overlooked you in the past, they may not bear you any animosity. And if they do, you have to allow for the possibility that you unknowingly did something to cause it.
You don't have to turn into the office clown or grow a new personality at work to be considered likeable. You just need to make intentional choices about how you regard and treat people. From a psychological standpoint, people like people who are interested in them, who seem to like them, and who seem to have a shared larger purpose. You're smart, you have self-discipline and determination. You can do this. So go be likeable.