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Likeability at work matters; technology makes it matter even more

April 8, 2014

By Kristin Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

We all know those people at work, the ones whose technical skills do not stand out but who still succeed because of their style, personal charm, and ability to build relationships on the job.

So how critical is likability for success at work? Research has shown that likeable people are more apt to get hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have their mistakes forgiven.  Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, goes so far as to say that your success is directly linked to your social skills. “The more finely tuned your social barometer, the more likely you will be viewed as a desirable colleague,” Cohen says.  On the other hand, “ . . . being cranky and unwilling to establish friendly working relationships, will have fall-out too.  You will end up unwanted on teams and not included on important and often below-the-radar communications.”

None of this is new. But while having the right social skills has always been a factor in job success, the growth of videoconferencing and social networks is putting a new emphasis on that dynamic. That is because establishing likeability and making connections with co-workers and clients over videoconferencing is much tougher to pull off than in person.

And yet, being able to pull it off in front of a camera is actually more critical for success than it is in person.  According to a 2008 study in Management Science, people watching a speaker on video conference are more influenced by how much they like the speaker than by the quality of the speaker’s arguments. The opposite is true when a speaker appears in person.   

The use of personal videoconferencing is expected to grow 47 percent annually through 2017, according to Wainhouse Research, a Boston market research firm. That tells you how important it will be to be able to develop relationships using your on-camera skills.

Some of the more common mistakes people make are coming across as stiff and emotionless, or going too far to the other extreme by exaggerating and over-acting. Authenticity and trustworthiness are still key to building personal connections, but they are harder to put across on camera.

Of course, there are some comparatively easy things you can do to increase your likeability quotient. Making eye contact by looking into the camera, smiling naturally when you talk, and varying your tone of voice to convey warmth and enthusiasm are some of the easiest ways to boost likeability.

But consider that finding common ground between yourself and someone else has always been a cornerstone to relationship building, no matter the medium. In face-to-face relationships that can take time. But in video conferencing participants tend to have shorter attention spans; therefore you must get to the point very quickly, and that adds an additional degree of difficulty in establishing that personal connection.

In addition to the challenges of more frequent videoconferencing, the use of social networks has come to put a higher importance on likeability as measured by the number of “friends” you have.  Many savvy employers are beginning to find ways to leverage their employees’ personal social media connections to reach more clients and customers online. Some employers are looking at the size and quality of the employee’s personal networks as factors in their hiring and promotion decisions. Their goal is to leverage their employees’ networks and online followers for sharing company content and targeting marketing promotions.

Many employers that have their own in-house social networks also track their employees’ likeability by the number of connections they have made internally. They find that the employees who have more “connections” are the ones who are highly trusted and well-liked. These employees make good vehicles to help spread important information and influence change within the workplace. Their social influences also matter when they are being considered for promotion opportunities.

It has always been true, and it still is, that much of business success depends on good relationships. Therefore personal likeability is a critical business skill. But the problem with technology is that it makes it much easier to disregard basic rules of conduct that build likeability, such as listening, being courteous, and cooperating with others. Technology brings with it barriers to likeability, and individuals need to consciously work at overcoming those barriers in order to succeed in business.

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