Throughout my career, I’ve picked up nuggets of wisdom along the way from sought-out and unexpected sources alike. As a person who has fiercely battled the internal monologue of impostor syndrome his entire life, one bit of advice kind of put that fear to rest for me when it came from two completely different, but reliable, sources.
My First Run-in With “The Power of People Liking You”
In another life, I was pretty big into art. I didn’t want to be an artist or anything at this particular time, but I was fascinated by those who were artists by trade. If someone I knew was making a name for themselves in the local art scene, I had TONS of questions for them (some, admittedly, that I will still ask artistic people to this day).
Things like: What is your work process like? What inspired you to get into art? What keeps you going? How did you find your style? Who is your favorite artist? What might you try to expand into next? How do you successfully promote your shows?
Pretty typical things that I’m sure they’re used to answering over and over again as they carry on their time as creators and get acknowledgement.
But it was the answer to that last question from an unintended life role model that has stuck with me over the years. When I asked him about his promotion strategy for his work at the time when I was just turning 21 or so, he basically said (paraphrasing), “Most of the time when people show up to your openings – it’s not because they like the art or have the intention to buy anything. It is because they like you.” He then went on to talk about the importance of networking, getting your name out there, and staying in the good graces of people because you never know who may help you along.
I took some relief from his words over the course of that conversation, because that was the day my mind shifted a bit from “be the best” (which was always daunting and riddled with pressure) to “be the best collaborator you can be.” You still have to bring a certain set of skills to the table in any professional situation, but there’s a subtle nuance in pivoting your thoughts from hard-to-soft skills.
B2B ratings & review site Clutch found in their 2019 recruiting survey of 507 full-time employed people, that respondents discovered 25% of their job opportunities via networking & 14 percent via social media. To be the person that people think of “when an opportunity comes along” requires a certain social finesse that can’t be undervalued in today’s world. You increase your chances to be successful (however you define that) if people actually like you as a person.
My Second Run-in With “The Power of People Liking You”
My current job decided to do an “Ask for a Raise” Day event at one point out of the blue. People who were going to ask were encouraged to look at their job description and evaluate what they’ve delivered against those set expectations. And even if you didn’t get what you asked for, you were guaranteed a small increase just for going through the process of asking.
The purpose of this, I think, was to 1) deal with the stigma around asking for raises, and 2) address the stat out there that men are more likely to ask for raises than women (you can find things about that in tons of places, and some that argue against that point – I’m just giving context to THIS particular situation). I am a man, but I had never asked for a raise before. Ever.
So, I went through the process and did an honest evaluation of everything I had delivered against the expectations assigned to my role. As I was reviewing things with our HR person in charge of compensation, I talked to her about how I never really ask for anything because [insert lack of confidence reasons here], and most of the time I worry that people tolerate me because they like me, not because of my work.
Realizing my lack of certainty in my having been selected for things, she told me something that I’ll never forget in response…
She also assured me that if I didn’t have the adequate skills to perform my job in a satisfactory manner, I likely wouldn’t be employed – LOL! She reminded me not to discount the competitive advantage of being someone that others liked. Not in the sense of trying to make life a popularity contest – but just being known for being pleasant. It opens more doors and allows you to “stay at the party” longer in the business world.
So – as some of my friends would say – I received that blessing. And I also took with it the warning that on the opposite side of that, if people don’t like you – that can be detrimental to your career aspirations.
DO NOT Ruin the Invitation
I no longer argue with whether or not I belong somewhere if I feel a little “less than equipped” for the current situation. I accept that I may just have been invited because the person or people pulling the strings on a project may just like me as a person and be willing to give me a chance.
My running concern in those moments of having landed an invitation is to prove I belong there.
Likability may get you into the door in a few situations. You’ll develop a network of people who vouch for you and your capabilities because they had a pleasant experience with you or the results you delivered. DO NOT rest on that invitation, and DO NOT rely on reputation. That whole “Big Fish – Small Pond” saying exists for a reason, there’s very likely always somebody better than you.
DO NOT display undeserved confidence.
Focus on showing why you’ve earned a likable reputation? Yes. But also deliver the goods to reinforce that rep. DO NOT look at the invitation as undeserved, or pity, or process-bound obligation (e.g. “It’s because I’m a minority and they need a diversity hire”), or misguided on the part of those who bring you in. There will already be enough people doubting you along the way, so try not to sabotage yourself by helping the naysayers bring down your good vibes.
Do yourself a favor: Take the opportunity and run with it.