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The “Nice-Guy” Factor Fosters Commitment
by Dr. Karen Otazo

Excerpted from “The Truth about Managing Your Career and Nothing but the Truth”

When Lyndon B. Johnson was in the US senate he used to tell mentors like Sam Rayburn and Franklin Roosevelt, “You’re just like a daddy to me.”  In his homey Texas way LBJ associated himself with a “feel good factor:” because his mentors felt good about themselves when they were with him, they felt good about him too. It’s as simple as that.

I call this behavior “paying homage”.  This may sound a rather antiquated concept – the type of thing people do to kings and queens and in history books. However, it is important to realize that today’s business office is no less full of hierarchies and allegiances than the courts of yesteryear, and it is in your interest to observe and respect these. In the contemporary workplace, that’s not just about attending to those above you, but treating your colleagues and those who report to you with respect too.

Paying homage is not about being insincere or a sycophant, but about making others feel good about themselves and what they do for you, whether they are a boss or an employee, and their associating that feeling with you.  It’s telling people how they helped you or the business, paying careful attention to someone’s point of view, or simply thanking people sincerely for services rendered. It’s an important skill for everyone, whatever your level in the hierarchy.

Politicians understand how important paying homage is. Business people can learn a lot from them. My mother once met John F. Kennedy and never forgot that moment until the day she died. His focus and listening skills were so amazing that he made her feel as if she were the only person in the room. Bill Clinton has a similar reputation. Such ability to really see and hear another person is exceptional, with others just wanting to follow those who possess it. When a colleague tells you how much he or she enjoyed meeting someone that person was probably paying homage, consciously or not.

So how do you become one of those people?  Look for chances to let key contacts know the positives of your experiences with them, such as when they’ve done a good job, said something interesting, or supported you in some way. Give specifics whenever you can so that they know why you think they’re good. Remembering people’s names and small details about them - such as holiday destinations – is always appreciated. However, avoid obsequious behavior by only giving praise or attention where it is due. For instance, if you have enjoyed a speech you might compliment the speaker on it.  It works best to compliment something specific like the organization or impact of the speech, rather than a general compliment.  

Paying homage is about making the effort to outwardly express genuine thoughts and feelings, not faking them. Most people can spot sycophants. Bear in mind that it’s easier to pay homage in person than in writing– sometimes a casual comment looks over the top when written down. Paying homage in small amounts, but often and irregularly, seems to work best. 

To put this into a current context, the political races, of the three factors that matter the most—issues, party affiliation, and likeability—only one has consistently predicted  winners: likeability. People not only vote for, they also like to buy things from, marry, and spend time with people they like. If people like you, life and work get a whole lot easier.

It’s not about winning the office popularity contest. Likeable people are just those souls who are comfortable and easy to be with and who treat others fairly and politely. These character traits bring down others’ defenses, making them feel comfortable in your presence in turn, and happy to give you their time and attention. It’s then easier to get what you want out of them, since they will be looking for ways to affirm that connection.

Consider two people vying for a promotion. One is quite young and inexperienced. Friendly and honest, his assets include a genuine commitment to the well-being of individuals, and a tendency toward positive thinking. People really enjoy working with him. The other is an experienced, highly effective manager of large teams. She is smart, tough, and pedantic and likes to outline the worst case scenario. Who gets the job? Management may decide that it will be easier to teach the inexperienced one some management skills rather than change the interpersonal skills of the more experienced one.

That younger manager in this example may have had natural charm, but he was also a canny player. He knew which workplace behaviors brought others over to his side by making them feel appreciated and important.

Even if you don’t see yourself as a charismatic or gregarious type, you can follow his example and up your likeability simply by making time and space to empathize with others’ needs and concerns, rather than always seeing the world from your own perspective. You can make sure that you listen well, and allocate time for talking one on one with colleagues and junior staff. You can be careful not to lecture people, or to try to show how smart you are, and you can keep your words and behavior low-key. It’s those quiet, subtle but caring and committed behaviors that make the difference.

Other people’s opinions have a big impact upon your working life. The more you’re liked by others the easier it is to get their votes, whether you’re a TV performer, a political candidate or an executive.

 

 

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