How To Be An Office Hero: 3 Myths, Busted

You rely on a set of social assumptions to get ahead at work, but some of those assumptions don't match with science.

David Wagner, Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

July 28, 2014

2 Min Read

because they're worried about crossing a social line. So it creates the sense that we should all be more assertive, except the problem is that people who are over-assertive don't know when they are, so the advice could be disastrous for those who are already too aggressive.

To respond to this finding you need trusted mentors and colleagues who can tell you when you've gone over the line. Be too aggressive too often and you run the risk of people not liking you. Worse yet, you won't even know it.

Myth No. 3: I don't have to be liked as long as I'm respected
This is true -- if you have no intention of ever having a job or convincing people of anything ever, especially over videoconferencing or social media. Otherwise, you're going to need to be likeable. A 2010 study showed that the early stages of an interview where likability is measured influences the perceptions of being qualified and the likelihood of getting a job.

And this Wall Street Journal article cites several studies that show it is extremely difficult to persuade people in an argument if the persuader isn't liked. This is especially true if the conversation is held over video conference or social media. Given how much of business is conducted over one or the other, you better start getting ready to shake some hands and kiss some babies.

When you can, have important meetings in person. Likability is less important than the argument in person (probably because most people are more likable by default in person). When you can't, the best way to be liked is to come across as genuine and trustworthy. Authentic stories are especially powerful in remote settings. And remember the lesson from myth two -- find some people you trust to help take a temperature reading of how people actually feel about you.

As you can probably tell, these three phenomena are tightly linked. People like people who keep their promises and know where the lines are socially. Managers often have to do things people don't like, such as making them stay late or giving them a tight deadline. As the second myth showed, no one likes a softy, either. It isn't hard to be an office hero if you spend just a little more time learning about human nature.

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About the Author(s)

David Wagner

Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, leadership, and innovation. He has also been a freelance writer for many top consulting firms and academics in the business and technology sectors. Born in Silver Spring, Md., he grew up doodling on the back of used punch cards from the data center his father ran for over 25 years. In his spare time, he loses golf balls (and occasionally puts one in a hole), posts too often on Facebook, and teaches his two kids to take the zombie apocalypse just a little too seriously. 

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