Is it possible to like everyone in your office? Think about how tough it is to get together 15 people, much less 50, who all get along perfectly. But unlike in friendships, you need coworkers. You work with them every day, and whether they’re your boss, direct report or equal, you depend on them just as they depend on you.
Here are some ways, based on psychological research and advice from career experts, that you can get the whole office on your side.
1. Know the difference between friends and coworkers.
It’s tempting to want to like your coworkers. After all, you may see them more often than your romantic partner. But the things you want out of a friend and a colleague are often different. “People liking each other is not a necessary component to organizational success,” Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and author of Credit and Blame at Work, told Harvard Business Review. In fact, liking people in your workplace too much is a “bigger problem” than liking them too little, according to Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University. Instead of dwelling on what you dislike about certain staffers, focus on their strengths and how to accomplish tasks together, which can improve relations. If you’re a manager, always be fair and vigilant about keeping your own interpersonal bias out of reviews.
2. Reveal, don’t hide, information.
If you have a bone to pick with someone in your workplace, you may try to stay tight-lipped around them. But you won’t be helping either one of you. Psychological research shows that people tend to prefer others who reveal information about themselves, rather than conceal it. A Harvard Business School study found that observers consistently rated those who were upfront about themselves more highly, while those who hid lost trustworthiness. This idea extends to the office: The same study found that employers were more likely to pick candidates who said they had done drugs over those who said no or chose not to answer. The lesson is not that you should make your personal life an open book, but rather, when given the option to offer up details about yourself or studiously stash them away, you should just be honest.
3. Slow down and listen.
Just as important as being honest about yourself is being receptive to others. We often feel the need to tell others how we feel, whether it’s a concern about a project, a stray thought, or a compliment. Those are all valid, but you need to take time to hear out your coworkers, too. “Rushing to get your own ideas out there can cause colleagues to feel you don’t value their opinions,” Rita Friedman, a career coach, told Forbes. Do your best to engage coworkers in a genuine, back-and-forth conversation, rather than prioritizing your own thoughts.
4. Put yourselves in others' shoes.
Sometimes we listen without really processing what we're being told. But a hallmark of a successful manager is empathy, or what's become known as "emotional intelligence"—increasingly a highly valued skill in professional environments. It can be difficult to get out of your comfort zone and imagine how someone else feels, particularly if their thinking is far from yours, but it's essential to wielding influence. When Lou Gerstner was brought in to turn around the ailing IBM in the 1990s, he held unscripted Q&A sessions with employees in a listening tour he called Operation Bear Hug. It helped shift IBM's culture and strategy and make the company competitive again. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg similarly hosts weekly Q&A sessions that allow employees to ask anything. Empathy "gives you better ideas, and it makes you worth listening to," Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design, writes in Harvard Business Review.
5. Spend time with everyone.
It’s common to have a “cubicle mate” or special confidant in a work setting. But in addition to those trusted coworkers, you should expand your horizons and find out about all the people around you. Use your lunch and coffee breaks to meet up with colleagues you don’t always see. Find out about their lives and interests beyond the job. It requires minimal effort and goes a long way. “This will help to grow your internal network, in addition to being a nice break in the work day,” Ryan Kahn, a career coach and author of Hired! The Guide for the Recent Grad, told Forbes.
6. Give compliments, just not too many.
Positive feedback is important for anyone to hear. And you don’t have to be someone’s boss to tell them they did an exceptional job on a particular project, or offer thanks for help. This will help engender good will in others. But don’t overdo it or be fake about it. Studies have found that lavishing people with a torrent of praise doesn’t work nearly as well as providing a mix of positive and negative feedback. One study in particular found that people responded best to comments that shifted from negative to positive, possibly because it suggested they had won somebody over.
7. Tailor your interactions.
This one may be a bit more difficult to pull off, but it can go a long way to achieving results. Remember in dealing with any coworker what they appreciate from an interaction. Watch out for how they verbalize with others. Some people like small talk in a meeting before digging into important matters, while others are more straightforward. Jokes that work on one person won’t necessarily land with another. Tailor your style accordingly to type. “Consider the person that you’re dealing with before each interaction and what will get you to your desired outcome,” Kahn said.
8. Put on a good face, always.
Being friendly may seem simple enough, but under the pressure of major assignments and deadlines, it can be hard to keep your cool. The image you project in a workplace, however, is always being watched and will affect how you’re viewed. “Small gestures can make a big difference,” Kahn said. Don’t forget to say good morning and good evening as you come in and leave. Learn names, and use them. Ask how people are doing. Keep a smile on, even when things get tough. It will help you get one in return.