By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I've been in my career for a long time, and I am surprised I am not further up the corporate food chain. I'm friendly and adaptive, and I get along with everyone. For all my popularity, I still can't seem to achieve the respect and influence I deserve. What can I do differently?
A. You can realize that success in the workplace is not a popularity contest. I had a wise woman tell me early in my career, "You can be respected or liked, but you can't be both."
I'm not recommending you go out of your way to upset everyone. The old cliche that you should be nice to people on the way up because you'll meet them again on the way down is still true.
What I do recommend is that you ask yourself a powerful question every time you have to make an important decision in your career. Pretend you are at a crossroads and that one road leads to being approved of. Now ask yourself what you'd do to guarantee your popularity. Then put yourself back at that crossroads and ask yourself what youíd do if your goal were to be effective. After 30 years of helping clients answer this question, I can guarantee you that these two answers will not be the same.
If you figure out what to do to be effective, you may come to be liked. But if you always choose to be liked, you will rarely be respected.
Obviously, none of us are born with advanced interpersonal skills to go along with our natural hair color; thus, if we don't make a point of learning people skills, our careers will suffer. But great interpersonal skills don't mean our goal is popularity. People skills help you go after your goal of effectiveness with less chance of alienating people. Conflict is a critical part of productive teams; so people skills help you resolve issues, not avoid them.
There will be thousands of moments at work when an investment in people skills will pay off. If you have a great idea, you do need to learn how to get your coworkers to see why your idea will help them. If your boss criticizes you, it is essential that you learn to gather information rather than defend yourself. When you don't like what someone is doing, you need to learn how to ask for what you want without insulting your coworker.
However, at the end of the day, if you can never risk displeasing anyone at your office, you'll ruin your own peace of mind and your opportunities to do great work and have fun. As the wise humorist Bill Cosby once observed, "I don't know what the key to success is, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone."
The last word(s)
Q. My dad just died from a heart attack after a super stressful career, and his death has me questioning the meaning of life. You often write on philosophical topics, so I'm wondering: Do you think there is a meaning in life, and where would you look to find it?
A. Yes, as Einstein put deduced,"God doesn't play dice with the universe." So I believe there's order to the random chaos of our work and personal lives. If you want to find this meaning, find the closest mirror, look deep into that person's eyes, and start to explore inner space - it's the last great frontier.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact her at www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
This was printed in the June 17, 2012 - June 30, 2012 Edition