A “competent jerk” runs the risk of losing out on opportunities and being ignored
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – How easy are you to work with? It’s worth asking and, even better, checking.
To paraphrase Bobby McFerrin of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” fame: In every work day we have some trouble. When you’re difficult to work with, you make it at least double for your colleagues.
And if you’re considered a “competent jerk” because of your work habits and personality, you run the risk of losing out on opportunities, being ignored, or ‘leaving’ the organization to spend time with your family. As Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo wrote in their Harvard Business Review article “Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks” several years ago, people prefer working with lovable fools over competent jerks.
You’re more desirable to work with if you’ve got a little bit more likability than extra competence, according to the researchers. If you’re liked, your colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence you have. But if you’re a jerk, forget it; no one wants to work with you.
So what can you do to be considered easy to work with, especially by colleagues and leaders who are pressed for time and influential over your career? Try these seven tips:
- Be available. Make sure you answer phone calls, e-mails, texts and other communication within a reasonable time frame, generally within two to three hours max if you’re working on a project or within 24 hours if you’re building a relationship with someone outside your organization. Also, if you’re not going to be around for a few hours or days due to another commitment, mention this in advance.
- Use terms and language that resonate with your customers. If your customers commissioned the work, they’ll appreciate it (and you) more if the work you’re delivering – and the communication that supports it – make sense to them. If you didn’t agree with their request, address this with them before you deliver the goods. Don’t surprise them. Or, just as bad, don’t argue with them as I’ve witnessed some people do.
As for language, mirror your customers’ vocabulary. For example, if a customer is in love with presentation decks, call them decks, not slide shows.
- Talk in headlines. Before you open your mouth, decide what your key point is, as well as three pieces of supporting evidence. Your headline may not be as pithy or punchy as the famous New York Post headline, “Headless Body in Topless Bar” but it should cut through the clutter. Then if the people you’re working with want the whole download or story, they can ask for it.
- Say “yes and” rather than “yes, but” or “no, but.” This technique is from improv theatre . The “yes and” phrase helps you keep the momentum going and move scenes forward rather than shutting down the action and people’s interest.
- Be prepared to answer questions, especially scenarios. Consider what you would do if you were in the shoes of your boss or colleague. Then if they ask you, “What would you do?” you could give them some helpful advice. Believe me, this approach is much more productive than responding, “Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t have got myself in this situation.” (You also should come to your customers with a solution, not just a problem.)
And when you’re asked a “yes” or “no” question, answer it directly with “Yes.”, “No.”, “Maybe.” or “It depends.” Or ask a clarifying question. For example, if someone asks you, “How much time are we giving them?”, you probably want to ask: “Are you asking me about customers, employees or some other group?” You want to pass up doing a data dump when someone is looking for what they think is a quick answer.
- Avoid saying “You’re going to love this work I’ve done for you.” Remember, your customer decides whether your work has value. You’re not doing yourself any favours by telling them in advance that you know best.
- When a snafu happens, resist any temptation to say “You made a mistake.” Even if the individual goofed and knows it, you’re making a bad situation worse. And if you accuse a colleague of making a mistake when you’re the one who screwed up you really are acting like a jerk.
For example, a colleague who has branded herself as “Ms. Integrity” recently told me she couldn’t meet with me when I tried to confirm our appointment. She said she had booked another meeting because I was sloppy and never got back to her with a definite date. When I checked my sent email messages and discovered that I had communicated a meeting date AND answered a complicated question for her in the same message, I was livid.
Where are the lovable fools when you need them? Or better yet, the easy-to-work with colleagues? Remember, easy-does-it works for all of us!
Liz Guthridge is a results-oriented, award-winning coach, consultant and trainer.
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