BERMAN LARSON KANE
LIKABILITY MATTERS MORE THAN EVER AT WORK
“Likability” is becoming a bigger factor for success at work as social networks and videoconferencing grow, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. In fact, the ability to come across as likable is increasingly shaping how people are being sized up and treated by bosses and co-workers, the article pointed out.
Likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven. As an example, a study of 133 managers by researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that if an auditor is likable and gives a well-organized argument, managers tend to comply with his suggestions, even if they disagree and the auditor lacks supporting evidence.
Likability is more important—and harder to pull off—on video than in person. Sometimes this can result in a style-over-substance effect. People watching a speaker on a video conference are more influenced by how much they like the speaker than by the quality of the speaker’s arguments, according to a 2008 study in Management Science. The opposite is true when a speaker appears in person.
Social networking also places a premium on likability, as more employers track employees’ likability on in-house social networks and chat services. The article noted that employers recruit those who are trusted and well-liked to spread information or push through changes. Some companies also take these employees’ social clout into account when handing out raises and promotions.
According to the article, listeners tend to like speakers who seem trustworthy and authentic, who tell an engaging or persuasive story and who seem to have things in common with them, said Noah Zandan, president of Quantified Impressions in Austin, Texas. On video, these qualities can be hard to convey.
Many people make a negative impression on video by becoming stiff and emotionless, or by exaggerating their points. In fact, job applicants interviewed on video receive lower likability ratings and interview scores, and are less likely to be recommended for hiring than candidates interviewed in person, according to a study published in Management Decision.
But coaches say that likability can be taught. “Likability isn’t something you are born with, like charisma. It’s something you can learn,” said Ben Decker, chief executive officer of Decker Communications, a training and consulting firm in San Francisco.
The “big three” behaviors most important to a speaker’s likability are making eye contact by looking into the camera, smiling naturally when you talk and varying your tone of voice to convey warmth and enthusiasm, Decker told The Wall Street Journal. He also urges clients to “really think about the listener” and figure out goals you two might share. The ability to find common ground is a cornerstone of likability.
Senior executives at Charles Schwab & Co. take the Decker training partly because “making sure you come across as authentic and as someone who can be trusted becomes more important” when speaking to large groups on video or webcasts, said Jay L. Allen, executive vice president, human resources, for the San Francisco-based financial services firm. Managers also learn to speak with more enthusiasm on video, varying their tone, Allen added.
One common mistake people make on video, the article noted, is to play the comedian. Tim Sanders, author of “The Likability Factor,” and lecturer on the topic, cautioned: “If you insist on poking fun at someone, it has to be you.”
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