Her new book is called “Happier at Home” (Crown Archetype, 2012), but it turns out bestselling author Gretchen Rubin has some tips for being happier at work, too. Both personally and professionally, strong social ties – including a sense of belonging, the need to give and get support and the feeling of being liked – are a key to happiness, she says.
Making nice with others not only makes the workday more pleasant, but could also pay off in other ways, as folks tend to assist, “talk up” and do business with people they respect and like.
“Likeability often trumps competence, and the most important skill anyone can learn is how to build deeper and more trusted personal relationships in business and life,” writes Influential Marketing Blog founder Rohit Bhargava, author of “Likeonomics” (Wiley, 2012).
With the New Year fast approaching, here are three habits to help win friends and influence people at work.
1) Praise others. Studies show that due to a psychological phenomenon called spontaneous trait transference, people unintentionally transfer to you the traits you ascribe to other people. “So, if you’re talking about someone else, the kinds of words you use to describe that person stick to you,” says Rubin.
Rubin has seen this phenomenon at work in her own life. Even before she had a basis for believing a friend of hers to be brilliant, Rubin saw her as such: “She was always describing people in glowing intellectual terms, using that very word: brilliant.”
Trash talking or calling attention to others’ shortcomings or failures won’t necessarily make you look better by comparison, Rubin warns: “Negative terms also stick to you.”
On the flip side, heaping undue praise can backfire by calling your credibility into question.
Giving praise while the person is present may bring even bigger dividends. To that end, instead of introducing people by name and job title, make “accomplishment introductions” that highlight an achievement, suggests Scott Ginsberg, author of several books on approachability. This socially elevates the person being introduced and boosts his or her likability and yours.
2) Say cheese! Not literally, but do make an effort to smile. Not surprisingly, the amount of time you smile during a conversation has a direct effect on how friendly you’re perceived to be. “In fact, people who can’t smile due to facial paralysis have trouble with relationships,” Rubin says.
Does that mean you should constantly flash your pearly whites at work? “That’s a complicated question, and it depends on your objectives,” says Rubin, adding that people with less power tend to smile more.
It might follow, then, that people who smile easily and often might be perceived as having less power.
Even if you’re not always smiling, you can exude positivity for the good of the entire office. “Emotional contagion” is a psychological effect whereby we “catch” the happy, sad or angry moods of others, Rubin explains. “Someone in a happy, energetic mood will help boost the moods of others, and obviously, this creates a very pleasant atmosphere,” she writes on her Happiness Project website.
3) Tap your colleagues’ connections. Outside of work, “In a phenomenon called triadic closure, people tend to befriend the friends of their friends – and this is very satisfying,” Rubin writes. “Friendships thrive on interconnection, and it’s both energizing and comforting to feel that you’re building not just friendships, but a social network.”
This is also true of business networking. LinkedIn is based on the premise that someone who’s a contact of one of your contacts is a worthwhile connection for you to make. However, as any effective networker knows, it’s not just about inviting friends of friends to connect; it’s about helping others build their networks by making introductions.
At networking events, while it still pays to have an elevator speech, the goal is to engage rather than awe people. Ginsberg recommends telling stories that make people think, “Me too!” instead of, “No way!” Impressing people is not the same as identifying with and making a connection with them; in fact, it can create a sense of distance, he warns. Save the, “I summited Everest” stories for a later encounter.
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