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Work is not a popularity contest…oh, wait…yes it is

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Work is not a popularity contest…oh, wait…yes it is

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The need to maintain great relationships at work has never been stronger than today. Organizations are flatter, work is more collaborative and the future will bring even more of the same. The further we get from the industrial age workplace structure of our parents, the more important gaining the cooperation of our peers and even of our subordinates becomes.

There will be people who disagree with that, but I’d offer that anyone who doesn’t put strong value in relationships is ultimately shooting themselves in the foot. Sooner or later we all need a favor, information, or cooperation from our coworkers and those who haven’t invested are less likely to see a return.

The informal org chart

The way the workplace really works is far less obvious than the organizational chart. People who see the workplace as a community of potential supporters are far more likely to behave in ways that steadily increase their network of fans. The opposite is also true and those who see the workplace as a competitive landscape are more likely to find themselves in win-lose circumstances. In effect, popularity becomes an informal organizational chart that easily becomes more meaningful and has greater impact than the actual hierarchy.

Ultimately, popularity plays out in two simple ways:

  • If people like working with you, they become invested in your success and their support often can easily be the tiebreaker when you need a hand
  • If people don’t like working with you, they are invested in your failure and will use any and all opportunities to weaken your role and keep you from being successful.

Every enemy or poor relationship becomes a potential liability when times get tough.

The right approach

If we can accept that popularity has big work benefits, we need to take a look at how we can affect our own popularity in the workplace and thereby increase our effectiveness and career success:

  • Avoid being the center of attention – People who crave attention quickly show themselves to be selfish and less empathetic to coworkers. Nobody likes the show off or the drama queen/king.
  • Show interest in your coworkers – We spend a great deal of time with our coworkers and possibly more than with our families. If we show interest in our coworkers they’re much more likely to feel connected and will be willing to support our success.
  • Avoid the gossip – When you share gossip with your coworkers, you become someone who could be just easily gossiping about the person you’re talking with. Being friends with a gossip is risky and besides, what’s the benefit of talking badly about others?
  • Help people when you don’t have to – Offering to help others get things done is one of the kindest things anyone can do. It ends up being a favor that isn’t easily forgotten and is a great way to show team spirit. Be generous and don’t expect anything in return. Keep your help quiet and behind the scenes or it looks self-serving and works against you.
  • Pay attention to birthdays and personal events – You don’t have to be the part organizer to be appreciated for simply remembering birthdays and other personal events.

In the end, your success very likely comes down to your popularity. Tim Sanders wrote a great book a few years called The Likeability Factor where he talks about the importance of being liked. He refers to work as, “A coaching job or a sales job.” He talks in this video about building relevance with other people, being a better listener and being an emotionally attractive person:


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