When a vice-president of human resources told me she was looking to hire someone for a short-term contract, I suggested a mutual acquaintance. The woman had the perfect skills and background, was looking for a short-term position, and could waltz right into the job. But the vice-president dismissed her as a possible candidate. She agreed that the woman could do the job, but found her too grumpy and depressing to be around.
True enough. Whenever I meet this woman or talk to her on the phone I end up feeling slightly deflated. She always acts vaguely aggrieved. If something doesn't go her way – a budget request is denied, or a meeting with her boss is cancelled – it's a result of someone's stupidity or efforts to undermine her.
Skills alone are not enough to get you a job, or help you move ahead. It is the subtle and not so subtle interpersonal behaviours that will ultimately make or break career progress. It boils down to controlling your emotions and understanding others' needs and motivations.
Here's how to be the kind of person that colleagues and bosses seek out and want to work with:
Make others feel good
It's not difficult to make a colleague feel good about themselves (and I'm not talking about empty flattery). Think about people you enjoy being around. It's likely they share common characteristics – they laugh at your jokes, provide honest compliments, show interest in what is significant in your work and life, or seem to enjoy being around you. In every interaction in the workplace, ask yourself: How can I make this person feel appreciated, interesting, smart?
I frequently hear "enthusiasm" given as the explanation as to why someone was promoted and stood out relative to their peers. Enthusiasm can contribute more to creating a positive impression, and a desire to work with or hire someone, than the person's skills. Many employers justify hiring and promotion decisions in terms of the successful candidate's keenness.
Don't hold back on praise
If you think someone has done a wonderful job, let them know it. Avoid using words such as "quite good" if their work was exceptional. I've seen many people who pulled a rabbit out of a hat for their boss and expected to be rewarded with a "Wow – you did a wonderful job!" only to receive little or no recognition. The impact on their morale is always dispiriting.
Don't jump to conclusions
Instead of jumping to the worst possible explanation for a disappointing or unpleasant situation – whether a financing cut to an important project, or a brusque exchange with your boss – don't rush to judgment. Ask yourself: Is it really true that my boss is a tightwad, doesn't like me, or "doesn't get it" – or is there another explanation? If you can distance yourself and explore the alternatives, you will be more dispassionate. You may not like the outcome but you won't feel angry, hurt or aggrieved.
Park your emotions
That important project may not have gone as planned, or the team's report might have been written more clearly. But before you react, think about how awful the mistake actually was, or whether it was really a mistake at all. Perhaps it was simply a different approach to the problem. If you have to give someone negative feedback, consider how it will be heard. Eviscerating someone or saying the same thing 100 ways will not accomplish what you want.
Maintain personal boundaries
Had a bad night? Your child got a bad report card? Overwhelmed by holiday demands? Stop complaining and telling everyone about your personal dramas. Except for very close friends and family, no one really cares about what is stressing you out at home. If you are feeling down or worried, try to fake it and act like you aren't. This will not only ease your mood, it will ensure you don't bring down everyone around you; your manager, employees and colleagues are not counsellors. If you are truly depressed, of course, consider seeking professional help.
Make a genuine connection
Ask someone something interesting about themselves and act as if you care about the answer. There is nothing worse than someone asking a question and then looking bored when the response comes. Another way to connect is to share something about yourself that the other person may be interested in.
Be agreeable, but not over the top
It's a balancing act: You want to show willingness to pitch in, to take on the occasional less-interesting tasks, and to be a good team player; but you don't want to be a doormat. Part of getting ahead is knowing when to say "no" as well as when to "yes."
Be a connector, whether with an idea, an experience, or another person. A widely admired executive I know told me that every time she meets with someone, she tries to think of something she can do for them. Her follow-ups can be anything from a recommendation for a book, a link to an article, or an introduction to someone in her network.
If all this seems like too much of a stretch, you can always just express yourself as you wish. But don't complain later if no one likes you or wants to work with you.
Barbara Moses, PhD, is a speaker, organizational career management consultant and the author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth about Work, Relationships and the Rest of Life. Website: bmoses.com