How to be respected AND liked

I recently read a few interesting articles about the “likeability/competence quotient” and why likeability matters at work. The first article stated that non-threatening likeability is more important than respect early on in a career, while career progression brings an inverse progression of competence and likeability. The second article much more broadly stated that likeability is becoming much more important in the workplace.

This topic seemed particularly relevant lately, particularly in light of the termination of Jill Abramson as the Executive Editor of the New York Times. Articles reported that her brusque behavior in the newsroom as well as her request for a raise so that her compensation was equal to that of her male predecessor were the cause(s) for her termination. It’s hard to imagine that a “brusque” male editor asking for a similar compensation increase, or even one who exhibited a strong management style in the newsroom, would have been fired. More likely, he would have been counseled by his boss to “tone it down” and maybe even given a coach to work on his leadership style. And, he probably would have been given a raise as well. Of course, we only know what is reported in the news about this fact set, but still it is hard for me to get my head around a man being fired for being “brusque”, “asking for a raise”, and trying his very best to put out an internationally acclaimed news journal. But, this does tell us something, perhaps, about the balance between likeability and respect (especially for women leaders).

Not surprisingly, when I googled, I found a few studies that have looked at workplace dynamics and whether people would rather work with a likeable incompetent or a competent jerk. (Likeable incompetent won over competent jerk, although the likeable and competent worker won over all other categories.) Other studies have shown that likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven. Companies may also hire likeable workers to influence colleagues and lead change within an organization. These studies were gender neutral.

It seems counterintuitive that being nice is a more important workplace skill than being competent. (Maybe this is indicative of my workplace style more than anything.) And, I would further assert that trying to be everyone’s friend in the office is bound to backfire. The studies refute my theories, though, and show that people would rather work with someone nice than someone not nice (all other things being equal).

So, can any conclusions be drawn based on the data and the conundrum? Does it matter whether you are entry level or along a path in your career? Here are my conclusions, from entry level to senior, which are based on nothing, scientific or otherwise, except my opinion.

1.  Competence matters.
Competence is the ante to get in the game. It is expected and assumed at any career level. That said, even those lacking certain skills or experience sometimes make headway in organizations, either through a winning personality or other factors.

2.  Should you aim for respect over likeability?
Once you are considered competent in your field, you should gain others’ respect. Typically this happens as you gain experience and trust because of your competence. Of course, when you gain the respect of your colleagues, and make friends, consider it as an added bonus.

3.  Is there a time to focus on niceness?
See #2. You’ve achieved some successes in your career, including that you’ve gained your team’s respect. But the coffee machine chatter is that you are not well liked, and few actually want to be on your team. Is now the time to focus on niceness? Maybe it is. I guess for Jill Abramson, in retrospect, maybe it was.

4. Establish and join networking groups and seek out mentors and advisors.
At any and every time and place in your career, establish “safe” groups or people with whom you can share that which you may not want to share with coworkers or subordinates (the “judgment-free zone”).

5.  One size does not fit all.
Points 1-3 are generalizations. You must decide based on the situation at hand when to emphasize competence over likeability, or vice versa.

All of that being said, why can’t you achieve competence and respect along with likeability—why should they be mutually exclusive? One article noted that the behaviors most important to a speaker’s likability are making eye contact, smiling naturally when you talk and varying your tone of voice to convey warmth and enthusiasm. Easy, right?

The bottom line is that we are in control of our actions and behaviors, and can make conscious decisions about how to act towards others. I hope these thoughts will help you, regardless of your path.

As always, thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment.



Are you fitting the mold or making one?

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you needed to be someone else to be successful?  Perhaps it was in a job interview, where you uncomfortably had to “dress the part” or present yourself in a certain way to show you were “just like them”.  Maybe it was acting like you loved a product or service that you actually despised – just to try and “win the business.” Or, it could even have been while dating someone – making believe you liked to do the same things he/she liked, just to spend time together (even though you really didn’t enjoy the activity at all). 

People do this all the time. I know I have found myself tempted on many occasions, and have even done so more than once.  However, after a few such experiences, personal and professional, I have realized that trying to fit a mold that someone else has created is simply a recipe for disaster, either in the near or long term.  The more time you spend trying to “fit the mold,” the more time you take away from creating your own.

Every one of us in unique. We each offer unique skills, experiences, backgrounds and perspectives.  And, if we are not allowed to share our uniqueness, our value is immediately diminished. Trying to “fit the mold” can also have several other negative effects.

1.  It causes unnecessary stress. 
Life is stressful enough as it is.  Why add this to it?

2.  It sets the wrong expectations.
If people think you are something you are not, they will also expect things that you may not be able to deliver on.

3.  It limits open and creative thinking.
If you are uncomfortable with who you are, how will you be able to speak openly and share ideas that may not fit the mold either?

4.  It gets in the way of doing well. 
Every minute you spend trying to be something you’re not, is a minute taken away from improving who you are.It delays the inevitable:  failure

5.  At the end of the day, it just doesn’t work.  
The job won’t last.  The work won’t be great.  Or the connection will eventually fade and the relationship will end.

So, the next time you are in a position where you feel like you need to “fit the mold” of another individual, culture or company, think again.  Recognize when you are trying to be someone or something that you are not, and know when to move on.  Be yourself.  Be authentic.  People will appreciate you for exactly who you are.  And, if they don’t, it’s their loss.

Please share your thoughts or comments with me here.

Thanks for reading!


What’s better than a paycheck?

As you can probably tell from my emails, I truly love what I do.  While some may think it’s a bit geeky, I love helping to navigate the ins and outs of the law to address business challenges.  And, of course, it’s nice to get paid for doing this.

But, I also love what my job lets me do.  The things that don’t come with a paycheck, but instead with a smile, a “thank you”, a “great job”, or simply the knowledge that I made a positive impact.  Some people call it “giving back.”  But, to me, it’s what you get back that is most rewarding.

If you are thinking about volunteering, donating, or joining a non-profit board, here are a few tips I’ve found helpful on how to get the most from giving back.

  1. Find an organization that shares your values. 
    If you are giving your time or money, it is much more fulfilling to give to an organization that shares your values and passions.  I was lucky enough to attend two amazing women’s educational institutions which gave me the building blocks to achieve professional and personal successes.  My core belief is that all who seek it should have access to the same education that I did.  Thus, I spend the majority of my philanthropic energy in service to my high school, Emma Willard, and Wellesley College.  By the way, through this philanthropy, the alumnae networks offer wonderful professional and business development opportunities as well as strong friendships.
  2. Give time.
    If your situation does not permit you to give financial support, many non-profits have roles for volunteers.  When I was a recent grad, paying back student loans and trying to pay my rent on what was left, I donated my time to help plan high school reunions and participate in phon-a-thons asking others to donate money to my beloved alma mater.  For many organizations, time is much more valuable than money.
  3. Go on a board.
    Many non-profits seek subject matter expertise in their board members.  There is a misconception that all non-profit board seats require substantial financial contribution.  While there generally is some expectation that a board member will contribute financially to the organization, there are some that would be thrilled to have a lawyer or accountant on board for their expertise.   This is also a great way to get board experience.
  4. Do your diligence.
    Going on a board, even a non-profit one, can bring potential liability.  As a board member, you will have fiduciary duties that you must fulfill.  Even donating money or time to a non-profit requires some degree of diligence to be sure that your contribution is being used appropriately.  Take the time to ask questions and learn as much as you can about the organization’s financial status and management before signing on.
  5. Give money.
    Every institution can use more money; I don’t know one that would say “No, thanks” to an unrestricted contribution.  However, if you truly want to do something impactful and feel good in the process, see 1-3 above.

Happy philanthropy!  I hope that your contributions to non-profits are as rewarding as mine have been.  Thanks for reading!


Turning a negative into a positive

How many times have you been in a position where you have had to deliver feedback that was negative – or constructive (the new negative)?  Perhaps you managed a team that included one or two members that underperformed.  Perhaps you needed to address something that went off the rails in a project.  Perhaps, in a volunteer role, you needed to offer advice or direction to a group or person who was unreceptive, indifferent or, even worse, belligerent.  Even as a board member, you may have needed to speak up about a touchy topic.  And anyone who has a family of any kind – be it kids, parents, sibs or just a close friend – knows that we’ve all needed to speak our minds about some topic or action that has rubbed us the wrong way.

Having been in many of the above situations myself as the giver (and perhaps even more often as the recipient) of negative feedback, I’ve gleaned a few tricks to turn negatives into positives.  I hope these help you in your day to day activities the way they now help me.

  1. Always start the conversation with something positive. 
    No matter how awful the conduct, or incompetent the work product, there is always some nugget of good that you can pull out.  Assume the best.  Most folks are well intentioned, put in the requisite effort and want a positive outcome.  Focusing on the positive as you enter the conversation can set the tone for a much more productive exchange about the things that do need improvement.
  2. Use the situation as a teaching moment.
    As they say, you learn from your mistakes.  Help others do the same by helping them not only understand what they may have done wrong but, more importantly, how they could have done better or acted differently.
  3. Share other perspectives.
    People often better understand the impact of their actions by seeing it from the perspective of others.  Take the time to demonstrate how others may be affected.
  4. Empathize. 
    We’ve all been in that place where we were on the receiving end of constructive guidance.  It is important to remember how it feels to be on the receiving end.  Empathize if possible, or at the very least, be compassionate.
  5. Don’t get frustrated by excuses.
    With criticism often comes excuses.  It is human nature to defend one’s actions.  Don’t get frustrated when the excuses come out. Accept the other person’s perspective – but be sure that yours is understood as well.

I hope you find these tips useful the next time you have to have one of those difficult conversations.

Thanks for reading!


Are you a Forum Shopper?

“Forum Shopping.”  I love this expression.  Not just because I love shopping – more importantly, because I am fascinated by the lengths people will go to get the answer they want.  In the legal profession, we call that “forum shopping” – asking multiple people for an opinion in a quest to get the opinion you are looking for.

At home, my kids use the technique often.  If my daughter comes to me first and doesn’t get the desired response or result, she will quickly go to my husband, ask the same question, and conveniently omit to mention the conversation she just had with me on the same topic. (In many cases, she gets what she wants from my husband, but is punished later for the approach.)

Admittedly, I have also gone “forum shopping” on occasion. For example, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I found it very difficult to cut back on caffeine – even though most doctors advised to do so.  But, after extensive research, I found a web site (most likely sponsored by the Coffee Growers’ Association) that posited that drinking three cups of caffeinated coffee per day was not hazardous.  I copied that link and shared it with all who dared to challenge me.

Fortunately, my kids turned out OK (although my five year-old son somehow enjoys coffee.)  But forum shopping can be risky – especially when used for business.  Here are four reasons why:

  1. If you have to search hard to get the answer you want, it is likely not the best answer
    If you truly want or need a professional opinion, you should heed the advice provided.  You can always find someone to take your side and agree with you – but that doesn’t make it the right answer.
  2. When you reject the opinions of others, you may alienate them as well
    While you may have found one person to give you the answer you want, you are in turn rejecting the opinions and advice of all those who told you otherwise.  If you want or need their trust and support to move forward, this is not a good way to earn it.
  3. Going around the process shows disrespect for it
    Organizations work hard to build processes that ensure good decision-making.  Forum shopping exposes a loophole in many of those processes.  If others catch on (and they will), standard process will become irrelevant and bad decisions can follow.
  4. Diverse perspectives are only valuable when they are all truly considered
    When forum shopping, you are asking for multiple perspectives – but only to get the one you are looking for.  This is not truly getting a diverse opinion.

Of course, there are times when forum shopping can have a positive result (refer to my coffee example earlier).  But, I recommend proceeding with caution.

Please share your thoughts or comments below.


Words of wisdom

How To Calculate The Real Cost of Services

As an attorney who has worked on both sides of the table (firm-side and client-side), I have become highly sensitive to attorney billing practices – or for that matter, billing practices for any professional service.  Far too often, I have seen a client, myself included, select a service provider based on cost—because that provider offered a lower per unit rate.  However, after engaging service providers in various industries to provide services, based on rate as well as other factors, I have come to learn that the lowest rate does not always represent the best price or quality, and can be more expensive in the long term.

 To help make sure others do not make the same mistakes I have, I hope that this list of cost considerations beyond the “hourly rate” helps you find the most effective providers for your business.

1.  The cost of speed
Some people simply work faster and more efficiently than others.  If Provider A is billing $1,000/hour and Provider B is billing at $250/hour, you would think that Provider B would be less expensive.  If Provider A had the experience and expertise to deliver the service 5 times faster than Provider B, (s)he is not only less expensive, but also more effective in a shorter time frame.

2.  The cost of learning
At many service organizations, monthly quotas and bonus structures incent individuals to bill every minute of their time.  But, should you really be charged for the time it takes for them to learn the basics of your industry? Or, if they are being paid for their expert advice, should you be paying for the time it takes them to become an expert?  Not all time should be billable – make sure the rules of engagement are clear ahead of time.  Otherwise, the costs can add up quickly. 

3.  The cost of mistakes
If a provider makes a mistake, you should not be billed for the time it takes to fix it.  Period.  Otherwise, you are literally paying for their mistakes. 

4.  The cost of your time
Each of the above scenarios are focused on the time that the provider spends on a project.  What about your time?  Every minute you spend reviewing work, fixing mistakes, and teaching them about your industry or your business is time lost for you.  How much is your time worth?

5.  The cost of inferior work
Perhaps the greatest cost is the lost opportunity cost that can result from inferior work.  At the end of the day, ROI is the most important measure.  If (using the previous example), Provider A can deliver a product that is 5 times more effective than Provider B, then Provider A is the better choice (assuming hours billed are equal).  Quality of service is difficult to gauge before choosing a provider, and should be the most important factor in the selection of a service provider.  References or personal recommendations can help.

I hope that the few minutes you took to read this article saves you exponentially more time in the future.  Have a great day.


Words of wisdom

Helpful Hints For Successful Negotiation

Negotiating a deal or an agreement can often be stressful – and even adversarial.  But, more often than not, it represents the beginning of a relationship (as opposed to the end of one).  Therefore, it is not only important to get the terms you desire, but that all parties walk away feeling good about what they got (or gave).

Here are a few negotiating tips that I have found help achieve that end goal.  Use them as you’d like.

1. Let the other side go first.
When you let the other side present their position first, you are immediately in a better negotiating position.  There have been times when I have been in the position of having to present my stance first.  Once the negotiations have concluded, I step back and say, “Darn, if only I had known XYZ, I could have gotten more!”

2.  Be prepared. 
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve witnessed people negotiate against themselves because they were not aware of what was already agreed upon in a draft agreement.  Know your starting point and be prepared to defend your stance.  Knowing what is “market” and having examples to reference can also help.

3. Know where you want to end before you begin.
Part of preparation is knowing where you want to end up.  And, what your fallback positions are.  You may ask for, but not get, everything you want.  Know your “must haves” versus “nice to haves” before sitting down with the other side.  This requires honest conversations among your side of the table as part of your preparation process.

4.  Don’t be afraid to ask for more than what you want. 
The direct approach can often be the most effective.  Rather than game playing, trying to one-up the other party, or the parties on your side of the table, clearly and succinctly state your position.  Start high.  Ask for more than what you want to ensure that you will end up closer to your ultimate goal.  And then, be quiet.  And listen.

5.  Know who you are negotiating against. 
A quick LinkedIn or Google search can provide a lot of intelligence. It always helps to know who you are dealing with.

6.  Make the other side feel like they won.
As noted earlier, negotiations often represent the beginning of a relationship.  So, it is important that everyone walks away feeling like winner as it will not be the last time you see one another.  If the other side feels like you took blood and their first born child, the resulting business relationship may be less than fruitful.

At the end of the day, never lose sight of the ultimate business goals, while always keeping in mind the legal framework within which those goals, and that business, operates.  I hope these tips help you next time you are at the negotiating table.

Thanks for reading!