by Aja Frost
Tags: job likeable yangon
Even though there were around 20 of us in the conference room, the atmosphere was pretty subdued. It had been a long, stressful week, and while this work party was supposed to be a celebration of a project we’d finished—it looked like most people were ready to go home and climb into bed.
Then Alex walked in, and the vibe immediately changed. She’s probably the most charismatic, well-liked person in the office, and just having her there made everyone else feel more energized, cheery, and talkative.
We all know people like Alex. For the longest time, I thought Alex’s personality was totally organic—that you couldn’t cultivate likability. Well, I’ve realized that’s not entirely true. Most of us will never be Alex-status, but we can do several simple things on a routine basis to not only become more well-liked, but also happier.
During a small team meeting, I mentioned I had an idea for a potential new section for our site. Five minutes after we wrapped up, an email landed in my inbox.
“Hey! Just wanted to say I loved your section idea. I can tell you really put a lot of effort into thinking about why it would benefit our readers and how we could build it out.”
Who was it from? Alex, of course.
Alex is my peer—so this note felt different than getting one from, say, my boss. She didn’t have an obligation to send it, making it that much more meaningful. And her observation was spot-on; I’d spent a long time thinking about the exact things she’d mentioned.
I’m pretty darn sure Alex makes it a regular habit to acknowledge the small things her colleagues are doing well that probably aren’t getting recognized by anyone—because they are relatively minor.
Now I’m following her lead and making a point to say something nice (and genuine!) to at least one professional per day. This requires me to pay attention to what the people around me are working on—but I should be doing that anyway.
I love podcasts—like, I seriously geek out every time a new episode of Longform comes out. That’s why I was so excited when a user on Twitter took it upon himself to send me some podcast recommendations.
Everyone loves talking about their passions, so give them a chance to get enthusiastic with you! It’s really flattering when someone cares enough about you to a) notice what you like and b) bring it up.
Maybe you notice your boss’ boss occasionally tweets his marathon results. Next time there’s a marathon in your area, email him the link and add, “I heard you’re a runner; are you running in this one?” Right away, you’ve got a connection. (Not a LinkedIn one—a real one.)
Or suppose you see one of your colleagues post an Instagram shot from the last concert she went to. When you bump into her in the hall, say, “I loved that concert Instagram you posted. How long have you been into jazz? Where are your favorite places to go?”
This even works with people you’ve never met before; I still keep in touch with the podcast guy from Twitter.
Talking to people about their interests suggests you see them as more than just their jobs. It shows you care about them on a human level. They’ll like you more for it—plus, you get to learn cool details about people at your company or in your field.
One day, I swung by Alex’s desk to ask her to help with me with an Excel spreadsheet that wasn’t formatting properly. She had to make a phone call, so I told her I’d consult someone else. But when I got back to my computer, I saw Alex had messaged me a YouTube tutorial that helped me resolve the issue.
Alex—and other super likable people—are masters of the five-minute favor. They’re constantly doing small good deeds for other people. In turn? Other people are beyond eager to help them out.
Five-minute favors are a huge boon to your reputation, and as this example proves, you don’t have to neglect your own responsibilities to do them.
You can wait for people to ask for help, like I did with Alex. Or you can proactively volunteer it. When the web team unveils the new site, you can take five minutes to send them your thoughts. When you notice two colleagues have mutual interests (because you’re paying attention!), you can offer to introduce them. When someone you know announces a new side project, you can promote it on social media.
After watching how Alex interacts with people, I realized she did one key thing that’s so simple, so easy, I can’t believe I had never thought of it before.
She says hi to everyone she sees. And not a lame little “hi,” either, but an enthusiastic, heart-felt, “Hi!”
Most of the time, we’re stressed, busy, anxious, or tired—which means we end up giving perfunctory little nods or smiles to others when we greet them.
But this lack of excitement implies we don’t really care about other people, or at the very least, can’t be bothered to show we care.
I’ve committed to saying “Hey!” or “Good morning!” or “Long time no see!” to everyone I come across, complete with a huge smile. Not only do I end up feeling genuinely more excited to see them, it’s wonderful to see their faces light up and to get a real greeting in return.
I stole this phrase from Paul Ford, the writer, who explained in an essay on Medium you should “ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: ‘Wow. That sounds hard.’” Why? “Because nearly everyone in the world believes their job to be difficult.”
At first, the idea of saying, “That sounds hard,” to everyone I met made me really uncomfortable. Wasn’t that fake and manipulative? Then I realized everyone’s job is hard. If you’re a Starbucks barista, you’ve got to stand for hours at a time in a small space, dealing with customers who are often angry or irrational. That’s hard. If you’re writing code for a scrappy startup, that’s hard. If you’re managing a department and trying to please both your team and your boss, that’s hard. I can’t think of a single profession that doesn’t have a degree of difficulty in it.
Saying, “That sounds hard,” makes people proud of themselves and their abilities. It also gives them an opportunity to open up and describe either their satisfaction or their frustrations with their jobs, which I promise you will lead to better conversations. Plus, they won’t feel the need to prove themselves, which means you won’t have any of those frustrating ego clashes that often dominate discussions. End result? More honest, genuine discussion!
After reviewing these five habits, I’ve realized they come down to one basic concept: being nice. We can’t all have Alex’s charisma, but we can certainly show other people we care. And they’ll like us for it.
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