Simple Techniques to Increase Your Likeability at Work

March 4, 2013

Marty Nemko
Even if you're already popular, who wouldn't want to be better liked, at work and outside? Marriage and Parenting Researcher John Gottman's simple concept of moving toward/moving away can be helpful.

Every behavior in a human interaction is a moving toward, neutral, or moving away behavior. A moving toward behavior increases the bond between you and your conversation partner. Moving away behavior does the opposite.

When you read these, they may seem obvious. Yet so many people unintentionally perform moving away behaviors.

Moving toward behaviors
  • A question of interest: "How'd that project turn out?" (But not if you know it failed and you're merely playing gotcha.)
  • Amplifying: "Could your idea be applied to Mary's project?"
  • A commonality: "Hey, me too!"
  • Taking notes when someone is talking.
  • An offer to help: "I'm busy now but I'd be happy to help later this afternoon." ("I'm busy now" without the latter phrase is a moving away statement.)
  • Not-demeaning teasing: "I'll bet you don't dare ask the boss for a raise" said with a pleasant smile on your face.
  • Agreeing: "Good point."
  • Positive body language: a smiling nod of acknowledgement or agreement, arms uncrossed, leaning forward, legs uncrossed. The latter doesn't apply to women wearing dresses or skirts.
Neutral behaviors
  • Ignoring something you disagree with, having decided that the benefit of disagreeing is outweighed by the liability.
  • Providing a piece of information but not if it can be perceived as condescending.
  • Listening with a flat expression and body language. (Leaning forward and nodding would be a moving toward behavior.)
Moving away behaviors
  • You're walking past someone's cubicle. They're looking at you. You avert your eyes.
  • A sigh of frustration with the person. A mere sigh can signal, "I can't believe you did that. You're an idiot."
  • A commonality that demeans: "It's frustrating that we both went to the University of Maryland and I'm still sitting here in this entry-level job."
  • Negative body language: arms crossed or akimbo, lack of eye contact, foot-tapping, standing with your foot pointing toward the door (like you're eager to escape from that person).
  • Disparaging a statement's credibility: "Until now, no one has ever criticized me so much."
  • Diminishing a statement's value: "Sure, that could work but..."
  • Demeaning teasing: "You were brilliant in that meeting." (when the person got ripped for a comment they made.)
  • Disagreeing: "I could see your point but..." Of course, there are times to disagree but realize that you pay a price.
Gottman says it takes five times as many moving toward as moving away behaviors to keep a relationship positive. That may be a rule of thumb: For every five moving toward statements, you may have built up enough of a reservoir that allows you to make a single moving away statement without paying a heavy price. Being adherent to that pattern can come in handy when you feel the need to disagree with a person's assertion.

Alas, it's one thing to know what will make a person like you. It's another to make yourself do it, especially if you don't like the person, and most especially if the person has done you wrong.

It might help to remember the old saw: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Your moving toward behaviors might neutralize the person's enmity or make them more likely to think he or she can trust you with juicy information about others. After all, if the person has bad-mouthed you, he or she probably say all sorts of evil things about others. Knowledge is power.