Article Topics

This site was built according to strict accessibility standards so that all visitors may browse it easily.

| Valid HTML 4.01 Strict |Valid CSS

|Level Triple-A conformance W3C-WAI accessible web content |Section 508 Bobby-Approved accessible web content |



|Career Coaching

| Books

| Radio Show|


| About Marty| Blog | Twitter |Press

email iconsend this article to a friend

Becoming Well-Liked at Work

By Marty Nemko

IJoe Clueless (a real person whose name I’ve changed to protect the guilty) is smart, handsome, and hardworking. Yet he’s been let go many times from corporate jobs and now, at 45, is a substitute teacher.

Joe needed all these lessons. Perhaps even you could use one or two:

LESSON 1. Joe was unduly negative: “That idea will never work.” or “This company isn’t going anywhere.” Even if you’re right, you pay a big likeability price for each complaint. So, when tempted to be negative, assess whether the benefit is worth the likely liability: Is this person open to criticism? Have you criticized him too often in the past? How likely is it she’ll change her mind?

You also improve your risk/reward ratio if you criticize only when you can propose (tactfully) a likely acceptable solution. Otherwise, you’re just seen as a whiner.

LESSON 2. Joe assumed that his obvious intelligence justified a know-it-all style. Even if your statements are brilliant, that style unnecessarily demeans everyone else. And who knows, even you might occasionally be wrong. So, make assertions in a way that allows for the possibility you’re incorrect, for example, “I think (insert your statement.) What do you think?”

Rule of thumb: If your argument is rejected, take no more than one more stab at it. If that doesn’t work, drop it. Pursuing it further is more likely to brand you as stubborn than to change minds.

LESSON 3. Joe, ideationally fluent, never let people get a word in edgewise. He’d talk for five minutes without stopping. Of course, everyone thought him rude, egotistical, and stifling of the exchange of ideas. Follow the Traffic Light Rule: During the first 30 seconds of an utterance, your light is green: You may speak without worry. During the second 30 seconds, your light is yellow: Chances are, your listener(s) has taken in as much as he can without wanting to respond. After the 60-second mark, your light is red. Yes, very occasionally you’ll want to run a red light--when you’re saying something important that couldn’t be broken up into two parts, allowing your listener to respond to the first part. But usually, at the one-minute mark, you should shut up or ask a question.

Rule of thumb: After you stop talking, half the time, shut up, half the time, ask a question such as “I’m not sure I was clear?” or “I’m wondering if that might apply to Project X?”

LESSON 4. Joe had a short fuse, going from zero to 60 in one second. He usually regretted his outbursts and apologized, but by then, it was too late--everyone dismissed him as a hothead. Remember, you pay a heavy price for displaying anger. Watch C-SPAN and you’ll see the nation’s most successful people discussing critical world issues, yet rarely rise from concerned to angry. Yet Joe sighed if he had to make the breakroom coffee.

LESSON 5. Joe was egotistical. He cared little about his customers or his colleagues. Joe cared mainly about Joe. Be customer-service and colleague-service focused. Go the extra mile to help your colleagues and customers get what they want and they’ll more likely help you get what you want. Nordstrom and Southwest Airlines attribute much of their success to hiring less on experience and more on commitment to pleasing customers and co-workers.

LESSON 6. Other people need charm school because they are shy, depressed, or lack confidence. Such people are prone to passive-aggressiveness, which like Joe’s traits, can doom a career. For example, they resent less intelligent colleagues for being more successful. They then use every IQ point to start rumors about the person, keep that person out of the information loop, or claim the person's idea as their own. Those techniques usually work for a while, but often, coworkers eventually wise up. When tempted to quietly sabotage others, decide whether it’s wiser to express your concern directly. (See Lesson 2.)

LESSON 7. Often, people violate these rules unintentionally. They work so hard or have such heavy family responsibilities that they lack the emotional reserve to behave as they know they should. Regularly take time to recharge your batteries. For example, take a few minutes to walk around the building, stare at a cloud, write a poem, or play with my dog, Einstein.

If any of these tips might help you, write them onto your to-do list. Keep them there.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian named Oakland career coach, Marty Nemko, "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach." He specializes in working with high-IQ people. 500+ of his published writings are free at

Home | Articles | Career Coaching | Books | Radio Show | Appearances | About Marty | Blog |Press