Marie was an administrator in hot water. She had fired Janice, the secretary she’d inherited when she took the new job as a program manager. A few employees had loudly complained because Janice was widely liked. Administrators agreed she was not a competent secretary and made many mistakes. Still, popularity being what it is, Marie found herself in hot water and needed to smooth things over with her hiring of a new secretary. She interviewed two people, Beth and Eve. Beth had been a paralegal, and she had all the qualifications necessary for the job. She was the top candidate if you only looked at skills. But she did not have a warm personality. She lacked the likability factor that Marie was looking for. Eve, on the other hand, was a Baby Boomer who was returning to work after many years of raising a family. She had taken some secretarial courses at the community college and was now looking for her first full-time position in over 20 years. What Eve lacked in experience, she made up for by having a delightful personality. She was a pleasant lady and seemed that she would be easily liked. That made the difference to Marie, and she offered Eve the job.
Office politics often plays a significant role in hiring and in the success of someone on the job. “People are hired for their skills yet fired for not being liked,” says Allison Tabor, author of Work Your Assets Off. Today Tabor runs an executive coaching company after having spent two decades as the CEO leading a Structural Engineering company.
In today’s tight hiring economy, companies tolerate more than they should. “Morale goes down, and resentment builds up and grows when someone is unliked,” states Tabor. “Whether it’s a small or large business, today’s employer mindset is that they feel there is no one to hire, so they put up with poor behavior,” she said. She reported that one CEO went to the extreme of creating the company’s own university. They find people who have the right traits and teach them how to do tech work, how to work with clients, etc. offering 6-8 weeks of training before they start on the job they were hired for.”
Steve’s a Baby Boomer owner of a smaller business who is used to having his directives followed. But the lack of being able to find any decent new employees has been very frustrating and made him fearful. He tolerates absenteeism and employees talking back and directly saying no when asked to do a task. He wanted to fire the lousy attitude, unlikable person, but was afraid he couldn’t find anyone to replace her since all his recruiting efforts hadn’t produced a suitable replacement.
“There’s collateral damage when you tolerate bad behavior,” said Tabor. Employees resent the negative person who makes them unhappy at work. Frequently the unlikable employee or manager stays since they are a warm body, but that doesn’t serve the team as other employees get jealous and dissatisfied, and some may start job hunting themselves.
“Underperformers are toxic. Coworkers do not like them, and they reflect badly on managers and leaders,” noted Tabor.
Time and again, we hear about very talented, capable people who don’t seem to get along with others. Tabor advises that whether in a small business or large corporation, it’s not enough to be great at what you do, but also how you do it. Specifically, you need to be likable.
“I not suggesting that everyone has to love you or invite you over for dinner. However, fostering healthy relationships with your executive team, peers, subordinates, vendors, and clients alike will serve you well beyond any technical skills and talents you may have. You may be a rock star contributor to a company, but if you can’t get along with people, your job may not be as secure as you think,” reveals Tabor.
This can especially be a problem for technical leaders, she noted. Being great with their technical abilities does not necessarily translate to being great leaders or mean that they necessarily know how to get along with others.
So, just how likable are you? Answering the following questions may help you to get a better idea:
1. Do you listen to understand?
2. Are you confident, yet not arrogant?
3. Are you receptive to constructive feedback, or are you defensive?
4. Do you try to take credit for everything or share credit with others?
5. Do you take on responsibility or pass the blame on to others?
6. Do you take into account that each person has their own unique communication style and that it’s not a one size fits all when communicating with people?
Tabor says self-reflection is the key here, along with getting feedback to see if the input and your ideas are what others say. A typical worker complaint Tabor hears is, “My boss took credit for my work.” Tabor says people don’t want to be invisible – no one feels right about that. Sharing credit, when deserved, is a crucial thing a great manager does.”
“Companies also need to pay attention to giving people work they have natural talents to do. People become miserable because they were assigned work they aren’t interested in and don’t like doing, or it doesn’t leverage their skills and talents. They do the tasks because they need to be done, but it grates on them. Managers need to think about whom they are assigning what task to.”
If you are working in a sick culture with a co-worker or a boss you dislike, Tabor’s advice is if you can’t use your strengths and are forced to use weaknesses, then you should consider looking for a new job where you will be happier. Using your strengths at work is most definitely tied to an employees’ happiness. If it’s a bad toxic environment with a coworker, try to work around them and limit contact with them. If you have to work with them – discover their communication style and try to adapt. If nothing works, life is too short to deal with a toxic work environment when you have the option to find a new job with a better culture,” advises this CEO and executive coach.