How you look at work is one thing. How you appear is quite another.
Almost on a daily basis you can find a TV program touting the latest fashions for men and women, some programs even providing “make overs” for audience members.
The problem is: new clothes, hair styles, or accessories can’t remake the way you come across to others. Looking nice isn’t the same as being nice.
Your interpersonal style, the way you interact with coworkers, contributes to how they approach working with you.
We generally prefer to work with people who lighten our load, physically and psychically. Just for fun, run through the names of the people you work with and describe their interpersonal styles in one word like:
- Prickly or warm
- Standoffish or engaging
- Negative or positive
- Supportive or critical
How would your coworkers describe you? If you don’t know, ask them. How would you describe yourself? Is there are difference?
I’m not going to tell you that all the nice guys and gals are zooming to the top of the corporate ladder, because there are plenty of unpleasant people who get ahead. However, there is more to gain by being pleasant in the workplace than by being a prickly cactus.
Your boss, coworkers or direct reports are powerful word-of-mouth agents for your at-work brand. They’re the ones extolling your style and your effectiveness at building and sustaining relationships essential to getting work done. You can be pleasant and still:
- Be a demanding boss
- Speak up for yourself
- Present concerns about a project
- Register a complaint
To be pleasant is to be agreeable but not necessarily agreeing. It means adopting a style that creates an environment where others feel respected, never shut down or out.
I can remember being at company meetings when there were hot issues being discussed. While there were caustic voices in the mix, it was those steady and pleasant-sounding ones that were generally heard and heeded by the majority.
Why? Pleasantness is an indicator of approachability, openness, inclusiveness, and warmth. It generally creates an environment where it’s easier for people to share what’s on their minds, even when it’s awkward or uncomfortable.
Pleasantness begets pleasantness. As our work places become more competitive and as technology changes the way we interact, it’s easy to forget the importance of treating each other with kindness and patience. When your prevailing style is to be pleasant, it:
- Makes working with you easier and less stressful
- Frees up the flow of new ideas
- Creates a sense of team, mutual support, and respect
- Makes it easier to accept disappointments
Pleasantness is a simple gift.
The art of pleasantries
We often forget the value of warmth and kindness when we’re being sucked into the vortex of deadlines, meetings, projects, and endless emails. Work can disconnect us from the people who are the hands performing the work.
Recently Tyler Perry, famed American actor, director, an screenwriter, perhaps best known for his in-drag movie role, Madea, was asked on Live with Kelly & Michael (12/09/2013) about the kinds of Christmas presents he gives to his dear friend, the famed Oprah Winfrey.
He answered: “We don’t exchange gifts. We exchange pleasantries.” Specifically, he gives personal letters, written in his own hand, and he likes to get them in return. It’s the human touch and the fact that letters can be saved and savored for years to come that means most to him.
We can exchange pleasantries at work every day, powerful gifts of our own making for our coworkers, in the form of:
- A warm greeting at the beginning of each day
- Expressed interest in their work, family, and/or hobbies
- An acknowledgement (a nod or smile) at a meeting when they make a point
- A written thank you note or email to express gratitude for their help
Our behavior is the mark of our interpersonal style. The more effectively we interact face-to-face, voice-to-voice, and heart-to-heart, the richer our relationships at work and the more value we bring to the job and to our careers.