It’s always good to be positive and upbeat, to accentuate what you are doing right and to build on your successes.
But you cannot improve your character, and make yourself more likeable without identifying your bad habits and replacing them with good ones.
You recall Rodney King’s justly famous line: Why can’t we all just get along?
Being likeable is about getting along. It is not about being loveable; it is not about having a deep, intense, passionate relationship. It’s about living in harmony with other people.
If you need an added incentive, being more likeable and having more friends will do wonders for your mood. It might even make you more loveable.
This week I ran across two lists that listed the qualities that make you unlikeable.
One, from Ruth Mantell in the Wall Street Journal identified the bad habits that will make your co-workers dislike or ignore you.
The other, by John Hawkins on PJ Media lists the bad conversational habits that undermine our efforts to connect with others.
A few days ago I posted about how the smart phone/texting culture has deprived young people of the chance to develop their conversational skills. Hawkins’ column is a welcome contribution to the topic.
The therapy culture tells us that we will be more likeable and have better relationships when we become more sensitive, empathetic, caring and nonjudgmental.
This advice is wrong and misleading. Trust me, if you are the most sensitive and caring boor in the office no one is going to like you. If you don’t believe me, you can always try it. It isn’t very difficult. Just don’t hold me responsible for the results.
I very much liked Ruth Mantell’s open paragraphs because they made a clear and useful point about judgmentalism:
Your co-workers are judging you. Beneath a veneer of professional collegiality, they're taking note of the mess on your desk, how loudly you chew, even your word choices.
Obviously, serious misconduct such as discrimination and harassment can lead to a job loss. But small irritants can hurt productivity and build walls between co-workers.
If you had ever been tempted to believe that the world is not judgmental, get over it. If you think that you can do as you please and that people are obliged to like you for who you really are, get over that too.
Laws against discrimination and harassment do not mean that anyone has to like you. The kinds of behavior that make you unlikeable are not covered by the laws.
Mantell mentions a slovenly appearance, bad table manners, poor cubicle etiquette, all of which add up to general all-around messiness.
Hawkins begins his list of the seven deadly bad conversational habits with a slightly different take on bad manners. Rude and inconsiderate behavior, coupled with vulgar displays will cause others to flee you.
Mantell also says that your office colleagues will not like you if you are a fawning sycophantic suck-up. If you are trying to get ahead with flattery you will be seen as someone who does not want to compete fairly and who is not a team player.
Of course, if you make a point of not fitting in, of not being part of the office culture, people will find you to be stuck up, as though you are saying that you are too good for them.
Again, it’s not going to make them like you very much.
Mantell emphasizes a point that Hawkins also brings up: negativity. This ranges from bad-mouthing people, criticizing them to their faces, or, Hawkins adds, constantly bearing bad tidings.
You might think that sharing your misery makes you open and honest. In truth, it makes you a potential burden and an attention hog.
If you are constantly complaining about everything that is wrong people will quickly tire of your bad attitude. They are not having a conversation to have their mood brought down or to tend to your personal problems.
Aristotle once said that friends see the best in their friends. You cannot credibly be thought to see the best in your friends when you see the worst in everyone else.
Hawkins adds that it is bad conversational form to bring up contentious topics and to make tendentious statements. This implies, naturally, that being argumentative is not going to make you very likeable.
This is so because conversation is about finding harmony; finding a middle ground; meeting in the middle. It is not about expressing yourself openly and honestly; it’s not about getting it all off your chest. It’s not about producing conflict, confrontation and drama.
Conversation is not about you or me. It’s about us.
Both Mantell and Hawkins understand this point. Everyone should keep it clearly in mind.
If you want to be likeable think about how to get along, not how to be passionate or to make a point or to win an argument.
Hawkins astutely adds the unfortunate habit of talking without listening. He is saying that if you think that you are going to make a lot of friends by becoming a skilled raconteur you are wrong.
Talking without listening makes you a performer. It puts you on the stage, it shows you hogging the air space and making yourself the center of attention. It makes other people feel as though their contributions do not count. As you are taking your bow, they will be bowing out.
Conversation is an exchange, like an exchange of gifts. It is not a dramatic performance.