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Blog : Do you have the X-factor in the workplace?


Do you have the X-factor in the workplace?

Jodi Goldman, learnpurple Communications Manager looks at the likeability factor and how it secures votes in the work place - not just in a popular TV show.

Have you been watching the X-factor? No need to be embarrassed, it's happened to the best of us! Even if you haven't you probably will still know what I'm talking about since it's been dominating the press for the last several weeks. I am talking about the 'Jedward' phenomenon. As an image consultant I am finding it very interesting to be honest. here you have two incredibly untalented young boys who cannot sing, can barely remember the lines and can't really dance. Yet, they are becoming increasingly popular. Then you have Danyl Johnson - who is a fantastic performer, has an amazing voice but for some reason is not 'connecting' with the public. Me included: I don't like him at all. Another example of this would be Rachael Adedeji, one of the best voices in the competition, yet voted off by the public last night.

The catch phrase 'likeability' keeps coming up throughout the show, 'they have the likeability factor' (said by Louis in defence of the twins). And it got me thinking about a study done in 2005 by the Harvard Business School - which found that personal feelings toward an employee play a more important role in forming work relationships than is commonly acknowledged. It is even more important than how competent an employee is seen to be.

When given the choice of whom to work with, people will pick one person over another for any number of reasons: the prestige of being associated with a star performer, for example, or the hope that spending time with a strategically placed superior will further their careers. But in most cases, people choose their work partners according to two criteria. One is competence at the job (does Joe know what he's doing?). The other is likeability (is Joe enjoyable to work with?). Obviously, both things matter. Less obvious is how much they matter, and exactly how they matter.

The study was done looking at organisations that covered a variety of attributes - profit and non-profit, large and small, as well as North American and European. They found that these two criteria - competence and likeability, combine to produce four archetypes: the competent jerk, who knows a lot but is unpleasant to deal with (apparently Danyl); the lovable fool, who doesn't know much but is a delight to have around (the twins?); the lovable star, who's both smart and likable (my personal favourite - Olly); and the incompetent jerk, who, well, that's self-explanatory (to be honest, I had thought this is where the twins would be but apparently by public vote, not). These archetypes are caricatures, of course: organisations usually, well, much of the time, weed out both the hopelessly incompetent and the socially clueless. Still, people in an organisation can be roughly classified using a simple matrix.

Their research showed (not surprisingly) that, no matter what kind of organisation they studied, everybody wanted to work with the lovable star, and nobody wanted to work with the incompetent jerk. Things got a lot more interesting, though, when people faced the choice between competent jerks and lovable fools.

The research is extensive and enlightening, but in a nutshell it found that in fact, feelings worked as a gating factor: if someone is strongly disliked, it's almost irrelevant whether or not they are competent; people won't want to work with them anyway. By contrast, if someone is liked, their colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence they have to offer. And this tendency didn't exist only in extreme cases; it was true across the board. So, generally speaking, a little extra likability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with.

We already know that when it comes to our customers, likeability is key - right? Research has found customers' perceptions of the employees they deal with can influence their overall feelings toward a company. Nearly 60% of customers say that, when faced with rudeness, they take their business elsewhere, even if it means going out of their way or paying a higher price, which is why we put a lot of value on customer service training.

I guess the thing to remember is, it's not just important to be liked by our customers, but our internal customers too - our colleagues and our managers. It's also important to remember as a manager - people work for people, not companies! Still, and consistently rated as the number one reason why people leave their jobs: 'my boss was a jerk!'

So can likeability be learned?


According to Tim Sanders, author of The Likeability Factor, your overall likeability is based on four key elements, in this order of importance:

  1. Friendliness By this, Sanders means, 'expressing a liking for another person' - basically we like people who we think like us. This is communicated verbally, using kind welcoming words etc and non-verbally - open body language, positive energy, eye contact and smiling.
  2. Relevance Relevance has to do with the degree to which you express interest in another person's interests and needs. When you show genuine interest in someone's passion, or their deeper needs, you create a bond. They know you are sincerely interested in them. You can show this by asking questions about things they are interested in or dealing with currently. Remembering personal details etc. If you don't know, this is a good way to show interest too - ask them!
  3. Empathy This is about showing understanding from their perspective. You identify with them, how they feel, the situation they're in, and their motives. In important ways, you know them, and they feel that you know. As well, when your sense of them is without judgment, they feel accepted just as they are.
  4. Realness This can also be described as genuineness, or authenticity. It's about 'what you see is what you get'. Being true to yourself and your word. People who are real are often at ease, because they aren't trying to cover anything up. This in turns put others at ease.

I guess it doesn't always come down to the extremes: likeable but incompetent or vice versa, sometimes you have two people with similar skills or competencies, then isn't it obvious who would be chosen? It's important to think about likeability and are you doing what you can to differentiate yourself in this positive way.

What do you think? Have you worked with any loveable fools, or competent jerks? If you had to choose, what would you do?

For more information on the Harvard Business Review Study go to http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/4916.html.

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