The Sanjaya Factor

What is it?

Well here’s one of my dirty-little secrets…I watch American Idol. Yup–Religiously. It started off as something that my daughter and I could sit down together and watch and have a laugh and be entertained, chat, etc. And then she got bored and abandoned ship (weeks and weeks ago). What became of me? I’m hooked–even try to schedule my evening social life around it. Pathetic, eh? A couple of weeks ago I spoke in three time zones in four days and had to laugh at myself as I mildly fretted that I’d miss Idol because I’d be in the air getting to my next destination, only to realize in each case, when I hit my hotel room, that I was “saved” by the magic of flying westbound into earlier time zones and was therefore still on time for Idol — Brother! I need to get a life, but don’t tell anyone, OK? I figure once spring is really here–here in Toronto we’re starting to wonder if it will ever arrive–I’ll be just fine). But I digress…back to Sanjaya.

Just in case you’re not remotely an American Idol fan (and perhaps if you don’t read any newspapers, either)…you may have totally missed knowing about the controversy buzzing around 17 year old Sanjaya Malakar–a contestant who is, comparatively speaking, weak on vocals but surprisingly strong on making visual impressions each week with his constantly changing hair dos and don’ts (from tresses and locks to maligned faux hawks…like the rhyme? I threw it in as a bonus!).

The Sanjaya phenomenon has been covered in print, radio talk shows and, no doubt, around the office water cooler, too. There’s something about Sanjaya. He’s a mediocre singer–even by his own admission–but he’s made top seven and will go, perhaps, even further. Why? Because talent is important, true. But it’s not enough. It’s not everything. Perhaps you’re thinking, “What’s this got to do with me…my work, my professional competencies and abilities?” Well, in an ideal world the technically most qualified, most educated, most skilled, most “on-paper-suited-for-the-job” person would get the job, or the promotion, win the competition or whatever, right? In the real world, however, this is not always the case. Ask yourself, “What is my likeability factor? How would I measure up if it came down to a contest of genuine charm and grace versus refined talent and skill?” In the real world, being the “right” person for the job will only take you so far–the rest of the successful journey is carried by likeability, charisma, personal magnetism, etc. Call it what you will, but the last mile–and perhaps the most important one–is carried and often won by something other than talent.

Sometimes it’s a real head-scratcher trying to figure out why that person–that “less technically worthy” person–got the brass ring instead of another. For example, while surfacing the channels last evening I momentarily came across CMT/Country Music Station, while they were laughing and making grand fun of the look of shock and unmasked disbelief that melodramatically flashed across Faith Hill’s face when Carrie Underwood’s name was announced as Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMAs annual awards, instead of hers. It appears Ms. Hill fully expected to win and even went so far as to throw her arms up victoriously a split second before Carrie’s name was spoken (you can see it for yourself on YouTube). Now I’m not suggesting that Faith Hill lacks talent or charisma–hardly–but this example still nicely illustrates how a multitude of factors can be at play when it comes to “winning” at work and that it’s not always the most obvious frontrunner who will rise above.

So go ahead, of course, make sure you’ve fortified yourself with professional talent, skill and core competencies required to perform your work–they’re essential components for getting the job done–AND ALSO, as singer Bonnie Raitt sings, “…give ’em something to talk about.”

Like it or Not…Likeability Counts!

(The follwoing is an abridged excerpt from my new book, Getting Passion Out of Your Profession: How to keep loving your living…come what may)

I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous–everyone hasn’t met me yet. — Rodney Dangerfield

How likeable are you? What evidence can you cite to confirm your response to this question? Do you possibly suffer from “Dangerfielditis”? Or, how about that old Girl Guides and Scouts song, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m going to the garden to eat worms…(yum yum)”? George Bernard Shaw said, “In the right key anything can be said. In the wrong key, nothing. The only delicate part if the establishment of the key.” Think of the charmed people you know who can get away with comments that are eyebrow rising or provocative, with a twinkle in their eye and a curl on their lips, while others remain smiling and affectionately engaged. There’s one in every workplace and in every family and in every group of friends. You’ve probably just said their name silently or even aloud! How do they get away with it? A high likeability factor is probably the answer.

Likeability makes the difference in how you’re received and how your message and direction are embraced, and often it matters not what your positional status is in the organization.

To some extent, projecting likeability can’t be taught. It has to be learned and demonstrated by the heart, from the inside out. However, there are ways to increase rapport and trust with those whom you interact that raise your likeability rating.

Here are 12 suggestions for becoming more likeable:

1. Remember people’s names, and use them in conversation. Don’t let yourself off the hook with that tired old excuse, “I’m terrible with names”; figure out a way to get better at it. Make a game of it, if you must. Use rhymes (in your head, of course), or some other triggering link–do they have the same name as someone else you know, or someone famous that you’ll remember?

2. If you find yourself giving a formal presentation, and someone from the audience asks you a question, echo back that person’s exact words and use the metaphors they used to illustrate their points. People understand and relate to your answers best if you echo their words.

3. Thank people sincerely and in various ways. It only takes three minutes to write a thank-you card with three or four sentences in it (and even less if you prefer email). Can you find one extra set of three minutes a day to write one thank-you note, or even leave a voice mail of appreciation? I bet you can.

4. Smile. I’ve noticed that most people don’t walk around with a smile on their face, but if I smile first, nine times out of ten, they smile back.

5. Don’t just look at colleagues, clients, friends and family…see them! When you meet someone new, make sure you look long enough to note the colour of that person’s eyes. You may be surprised to discover how many spouses don’t know the colour of their own partner’s eyes! Much of the time we look at each other, in professional and in personal situations, without truly seeing each other. When you sincerely look at and see another, there’s an automatic twinkle in your eye that adds to your sincere charisma and likeability.

6. When dealing with a difficult or closed colleague or client, maintain your kind and warm professionalism at all times. Try thinking the following as you deal with said difficult person: “I respect you and I acknowledge you even if I don’t understand you.” Reminding yourself of this, and sincerely believing it, will usually cause the other to intuitively realize that you’re open to them, no matter what. This strategy may work wonders in a heated debate over a delicate issue during a strained workplace meeting.

7. When in a conversation, observe the other’s body language and subtly mirror it back. Sometimes we don’t know why we instantly like a particular person, but when it comes down to it, it’s often because they move and talk as we do. That feels safe and comfortable and so we open up. If you want the other person to be more open, make sure that you’re consciously aware of the body language you transmit.

8. Consciously observe others’ preferred learning style…is it auditory, visual or hands on? People’s word choices will help you figure this one out, eg. “I hear you”, “I see what you mean”, “Describe how it works”. Once identified, mirror back the learning style that the other has unconsciously telegraphed to you. Delivering your message in the other’s preferred style helps get your point across.

9. Practice your voice inflection. Remember that old saying, “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it?” There may be more times than you’ve ever imagined when you’ve used a tone of voice that has either mildly or seriously offended another. Agree? Practice conscious tone of voice daily.

10. Be a chameleon when communicating by voicemail or email. Some people like a little small talk before getting down to business; others are more “chop chop” and stay on task and immediately get to the point. When the other starts the communication cycle using their own style (provided it’s professionally acceptable enough, even if it’s not quite your style), or when you’re especially desirous of building a relationship with that individual, communicate the way they do. Sometimes this may stick in your craw, but if you can stomach it, it will help the other person relate to you.

11. Self Disclose. Share personal anecdotes that relate to the point you’re addressing. They make you seem more three-dimensional. It makes others laugh, and when we laugh together, a relationship grows.

12. Pay attention to the disclosures your colleagues and clients share (make either clear mental or literal notes to help your recollection). For example, I learned that one of my clients had a sick puppy and didn’t have a vet because she was new to Toronto. I recommended mine. Her puppy recovered, and now, every once in a while we bump into each other at the vet’s! Another was on the brink of becoming a grandparent for the 20th time (that seemed pretty remarkable to me), and yet another turned out to be my brother-in-law’s brother!

Practicing building rapport and likeability goes a long way to doing your job well and helps you through all kinds of unexpected situations. Developing rapport and likeability with colleagues and clients isn’t necessarily a natural gift–it’s often a learned skill that, as a professional, you can master. It’s not what you get from it…it’s how much further you can go, or how much more effective the two of you can be together, because of it. Rapport and likeability are the prerequisites for establishing trust. Once others trust you–as their guide, manager, friend, mentor or whatever–the heavens open. And that’s the big win for everyone concerned.

O’ wad some poower the giftie gi’e us, tae see o’orsels as ithers see us.
— Rabbie Burns

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