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Dan Richards is a faculty member, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, and author of Getting Clients, Keeping Clients

What are the qualities that get people hired and promoted? That’s a question I discussed with some of the 35 first-year MBA students at the Rotman School of Management for whom I was faculty adviser last summer.

While every company looks for slightly different qualities, just about every list would include the demonstrated ability to produce results, a strong work ethic and being a team player. To that you need to add a less obvious quality – and that’s being “likeable.”

Likeable people are more likely to be hired, to be listened to, to have colleagues offer help and to be promoted. Research by Northwestern’s Lauren Rivera found that where backgrounds and skills of job candidates are similar, the person seen as more likeable gets hired almost 90 per cent of the time. And a study at the University of Massachusetts found that when likeable managers present plausible arguments, even colleagues who disagree tend to buy into their recommendations.

The good news is that there are some behaviours that clearly correlate with being liked. Some people believe that likeability is innate; you’re either likeable or you’re not, and your “likeability quotient” is fixed. But that’s wrong – as with any skill, if you focus on the right behaviours and apply yourself, with practice you’ll get better at being liked by the people you work with.

Tim Sanders, author of The Likeability Factor, maintains that four traits are key to being liked in the workplace: being seen as friendly, connecting over shared interests, demonstrating empathy and being genuine. In conversations with students at Rotman, we discussed how these traits translated into the way these students conducted themselves on the job.

Being likeable

Likeable people …

  • Are generally upbeat and enthusiastic, showing up Monday mornings with smiles on their faces. That’s why in an interview, when first impressions are key, an upbeat manner and smile on your face will get you off to a strong start. By comparison, people who perpetually whine and complain tend to fall into the “unlikeable” category.
  • Have their egos in check and are focused on how their team does rather than looking for praise or credit.
  • Are genuinely interested in the people they work with, whether they are customers or colleagues.
  • Are reliable – if they’ve committed to deliver work by end of day Thursday, with rare exceptions it’s finished on time.
  • Have an appropriate sense of humour and ask lots of questions, drawing out their colleagues. And having asked questions, likeable people intently listen to the answers, giving the other person their full attention and often asking follow-up questions for elaboration. And of course likeable people never, ever interrupt the person they’re talking to, the kiss of death for being seen as likeable.

Looking for more ways to get work colleagues to like you? Here are four more proven approaches to increase likeability:

Find commonalities

There’s a large body of research that shows people are attracted to people with shared backgrounds and interests. That doesn’t mean that if you’re sports-phobic you’ll need to go on at length about the Canadiens or the Jets; after all, being sincere and genuine is key to being liked.

But it does mean that you’ll need to make an extra effort to find things that you do have in common with people around you. And if you have a job interview coming up, you should check out the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile beforehand, looking for common interests and background.

Make compliments

A simple way to be more likeable is to seek out opportunities to make genuine compliments. It doesn’t have to be big things – you can compliment someone on a new pair of shoes, how cute their kids are or how they answered a tough question in a meeting. People who consistently provide positive feedback are viewed more positively in return.

Even a job interview can provide an opportunity to compliment the interviewer. If you’re interviewing with a retailer, you could say: “Last Saturday I visited three of your stores to prepare for our conversation and I must say that I was impressed by …” and then list two or three items. Remember, you’re not making these compliments up, what you’re doing is articulating things that you feel positive about.

Seek advice

Many of the students I worked with were reluctant to ask for advice, concerned that this would undermine their perceived competence. But Wharton’s Adam Grant has conducted research showing that asking for help makes the person from whom you’re asking advice like you more – and that doesn’t just apply to summer students, it applies to everyone.

After all, everyone likes to feel that our opinions are valued and respected. What better way for someone to show that than to ask for our advice? There are a few conditions for this to work, however. First, it has to be a subject on which you have some level of expertise. Second, the request for advice has to be genuine – it can’t be something too basic. And finally, you can’t be constantly asking for advice.

Small touches

The last way to be more likeable is perhaps the simplest, and that’s to demonstrate consideration for the people you work with. Small touches when there’s nothing in it for you can make a big impact – remembering colleagues’ birthdays, bringing in gelato for your team to share for an afternoon snack or giving someone who’s expecting their first child a book with an amusing take on raising kids (such as Home Game by Michael Lewis). None of these is a big thing, but it’s remarkable how often small gestures such as these make a big difference.

As you think about your workplace, consider whether one item on this list appeals to you. Then put that behaviour into practice for 30 days until it becomes instinctive, and after that, move on to another strategy on this list. You may be pleasantly surprised about how your colleagues warm up to you – and who knows, you might find yourself liking them better in return.

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