The Likeability Factor

Have you seen the young dynamo on Jeopardy? His name is Arthur Chu, and he’s a brilliant young man who has won over $200K in 9 days. Can you imagine? What an amazing feat. And yet…. There is something about his style that makes watching him achieve greatness a less enjoyable experience, and it can be a lesson for us all. For sustainability in the workplace, success is not enough – likeability matters.

Before I go further, let me say that I don’t have anything against Arthur or his strategy of hopping around the board to find the daily doubles – a win is a win is a win.  I just notice his etiquette, or lack thereof.

He is abrupt and disrespectful. He shrugs his shoulder and bets 5 bucks if he thinks he doesn’t know the answer.  He cuts Alex Trebek off as Alex tries to engage in small talk.  He exhibits no emotion – that in itself wouldn’t be bad if a smile were thrown in when he wasn’t competing.  His behavior has swiftly undermined my desire to watch the game. Call me when he’s gone (which may be never at the rate he’s going).

So what if he’s cold and abrupt?  Well, I agree. So what?  I believe he will continue to run the competition right out the door, and with good reason. It’s his brains, strategy, focus – all paying off for him.

Here is why I bring it up.  You and I are not on Jeopardy running the board as if it were a game of tiddlywinks, as Arthur is.  We are in a job where we have colleagues and customers and managers and… annual reviews!   

Success in the workplace, for most of us, goes beyond what grades we get in school or what we know in terms of subject matter expertise.  In the end, how we are perceived by others as we go about our business has much to do with how effective we are, and how we are valued as a teammate.  Being likeable goes a very, very long way.  We are infinitely more likely to be forgiven for not knowing something than we are for being a cold, hard machine, that couldn’t offer a warm handshake if our life depended upon it.

We don’t have to be relationship-building rock stars.  You can be shy, and be likeable. You can be an introvert and be likeable.  You can be a “get ‘er done!” person and be likeable.  With effort and awareness, we can all be a little bit better at it (I write this to remind myself as much as anyone else!)

Think about those around you whom you are drawn to for their likeability.  They may be a good listener – one mouth, two ears.  They may catch others being great, and be generous with compliments. They may offer respect.  They may demonstrate awesome self-leadership in the face of adversity.  They may smile, and say, “Good morning.”  This is basic business etiquette. We should teach it in high-school as young adults begin to look for jobs and prep for college interviews.

One sure way to increase your likeability is to know your strengths and use them with passion. Another is to exhibit genuine interest in others, without expecting it back.  It helps to be just a little bit vulnerable – it draws people in, and is a sign that you’re human (hint: we all are.)

Bottom line:  What people are going to remember most about you is how you made them feel when they were with you. That is your legacy in the moment. Your reputation, your lasting legacy, is the culmination of all those little moments every single person on earth experiences with you.  If being in your presence is a consistently unpleasant occurrence, people will root against you. IT MATTERS.

I googled “being likeable” and came up with a bunch of good stuff. The article I believed was most helpful and enjoyable to read is by Jeff Haden from Inc.  Click here if you’d like to explore this topic in more detail

The next time you’re faced with the urge to cut your colleague off in mid-sentence, or to make sure others understand who the “important” person in the room is, or feel compelled to nit-pick at some detail in a friend’s presentation, remember Arthur Chu. Winner?  Yes.  Memorable?  Yes.  Do you want him on your team solving difficult problems in front of a valued, unhappy customer, with no idea as to how his advice might be packaged when it comes out of his mouth?

What say you?  

15 thoughts on “The Likeability Factor

  1. Wow – great post! I happen to be a huge Jeopardy fan and had the same reaction to Arthur Chu. Think back to when Ken Jennings was in the midst of his long run on the program. People tuned in just to watch him. He was as adept at the game but demonstrated humor and more of a sense of self.

    I occasionally had Arthur Chu’s on my teams when I was a manager. They were challenging to deal with because they might have been very smart and competent, but others just didn’t want to work with them. Hard to be in sales when you turn people off! But those Arthur Chu’s didn’t understand the problem. And as a manager it can be hard to articulate the issue.

    One of the things understanding your strengths does for you is give you more insights and self-awareness. Great idea to teach this in high school. Likeability and self-awareness are key life skills. Understanding your own strengths can direct an individual to the kind of job that is right for them.

    • Hi Barbara! Yes, the idea of a workplace Arthur Chu is what I intended to focus on. I remember being at a client site (we all worked inside the client’s IT organization) and one client (high-strung, easily offended) said to me, “Can’t your people say hello in the morning? Are they socially inept?” I instantly agreed with him. And yes, I don’t care what your strengths are, where you were born, etc – saying hello to clients in a client environment should be part of the basics. Of course, coaching those people to say hello (a couple were higher in rank than me) is another thing altogether. There is something called the Johari window which maps out how people see themselves vs how others see you – helpful tool, never seen it used in the workplace, which is unfortunate. I learned about it in my MS in leadership and biz ethics. Thanks for chiming in!!

    • See? I must have been channeling my inner Maya Angelou (we don’t have much in common – I’m sure she’s blessed with relationship building and communication gifts that I do not posses!) I want to make another point, and I hope others will see this – a dear friend reached out about this post. She is in Europe and has not seen Arthur Chu. High in empathy, my criticism of Mr. Chu made her a bit uncomfortable. She googled him and found a very nice interview with CNN – the link is below – and I would say that if Mr. Chu managed to compete with this tone, and smile and laugh during the game, he’d have more fans. Also, I don’t give a darn about his strategy – my point was that he lacks basic business behaviors. Maybe the very best thing to come from this for Mr. Chu is not the $ (though that would be FAB!) but the self-awareness he’s gained by seeing himself compete and receiving, uh, shall we say, “enormous feedback.” He’s focused on the money – I hope he moves to focusing on the growth, and I’m not talking facts/figures. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7J3Ewo_H9M

  2. I say YES! the likeability factor matters! But, then, of course, you are asking someone whose strengths are heavily weighted in the relationship zone. I believe that every interaction is an opportunity and that relationships are everything. How we engage every day in every little thing matters. (I can hear my Dad saying to me “It’s not what you say, Vic, it’s how you say it.”) Tuning in to HOW we engage with others – with life – takes slowing down and being present. Present to who we are, how we show up (i.e., self-awareness).

    My commitment to relationships has proved to be somewhat challenging this week. Because I build most of my relationships ‘virtually’ (I work from home), my interactions include email. How I respond matters, for it is how people receive me (and it’s how I receive them). So I find myself tuning in to the attitude I have, the energy I feel, the words I use as I respond. The challenge lately is that I am about 75 emails behind, and I am not sure where the time or energy to respond is going to come from. My sense is that it is better to NOT respond than to respond in haste, or just to get my inbox all caught up. What value is there really in a meaningless, non-response email ‘response’? What does that create in the world?

    I love the powerful Maya Angelou quote that Jeff shared – so many times her wise words have helped me remember what really matters.

    I agree bkorte that self-awareness is key – if we could help our youth (and adults) have a real sense of who they are, what makes them tick, what makes them great, we would create such amazing greatness in the world. And, here you are – we are – doing just that, my friend. Celebrating YOU and your likeability! :)

    • Hi Vicki! Thanks so much for chiming in- yes, you ARE blessed with those beautiful, big relationship-building strengths which is we we are so glad you’re in a new job that leverages them!

      Love that you’re choosing to execute with care so that all the relationship-capital you’ve created doesn’t fly out the window with something written in haste. Jeff, who shared that quote, has some rock star relationship building strengths himself – no surprise that he’s drawn to that kind of amazing quote from Maya.

      Barbara (bkorte) is a hugely experienced leader who has had her share of “interesting” people to work with. I have learned much from her over the years – and I learn from each comment left by you guys. Onward!

      • LOL Maureen, I have that quote printed and pinned to the wall over my desk at the office. It keeps company with the quote “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” – Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant

        • Jeff, your quote contrasts nicely with an interview I saw many years ago with Round the World Yachtswoman Tracy Edwards. Her team had just come somewhere that was not first and she said ‘When we win, we win as a team; and when they lose we lose as a team’. I am not sure I have got that quite right, it might even have started with ‘When I win…’
          I think that at least partly explained why the team wasn’t as successful as everybody hoped.

  3. Maureen — this comment is for your previous post (Build your help map) – for some reason, the system won’t let me post a comment – go figure!

    Thanks, Maureen! I came back to this post today since I’m headed into a design lab of my own next week. Love the IDEO principles (e.g., Encourage wild ducks, Defer Judgment) and will be inviting those into next week’s experience. I love how the Universe conspires to support the things I want to create in the world! Very timely, my friend!

    • Well how very rude? I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t let you post a comment there – I’ll see if I have some sort of “timer” on the darn thing (still learning the system!)

      I know, huh? Encourage those wild ducks, defer judgment, assume that others, with strengths and talents different from your own, can contribute mightily… UTOPIA! :-)

    • Ha! For those of you who don’t know Jeff V – he and I go way back on strengths and I was SURE he had Woo – and he didn’t, in his top 5 (I still think it’s #6!) In this case, Mr. Chu has low Woo. It would be really fun to know Mr. Chu’s complete profile…

  4. Maureen, I saw a news article about Arthur Chu, and the impression I got was that he was unpopular because he worked the game, choosing questions to maximize his chances of getting the bonus question, and betting tactically to minimize his chances of losing. It made no mention of his demeanor and I thought it rather unfair to criticize someone for playing to the rules.
    Maybe the British press were uncomfortable with a personal attack on someone that the readers had not learned to dislike for themselves. By going after the tactics they were on more solid ground and had something to criticize that was not based on personality.

    • Hi Hazel – yes. I’m sure they didn’t feel comfortable portraying him as being “unlikeable” in the process of winning – meaning it’s not the win nor the strategy, it’s the delivery. Imagine getting great food delivered to your home by a cold fish of a delivery boy or girl. The food still tastes great, but your judgment of the business might be negatively impacted by the people they hire (client facing, even!) Anyhow, because there is no video of a full game (that I can find) it’s hard to make the point without sounding like you (me) have a problem. With my Individualization, I find everyone interesting. Arthur Chu is interesting – but in my case, I’m turned off by bad manners, and I’m tired of him. There’s plenty of feedback out there for him – he can choose to use it or not. He’s back on the show tonight. It’s been odd because he’s had week-long interruptions whilst Jeopardy shows past winners from the 80’s and 90’s competing against one another (that’s a story for another time – some don’t have the brains/reflexes they used to – which means I don’t either!) Onward!

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