Why I only work with people I actually like — and how I make it happen

only work with likable people

GHO Sydney managing director Eithne McSwiney.

If you’ve worked in an office full of humans for any length of time, you’ll know that not everyone is likeable.

Unlikeable people may have caused you to hate meetings, hate your job, or even leave a company entirely.

On the other hand, liking the people you work with can do great things to performance, team morale and even company revenue.

Unsurprisingly, a work culture filled with people who don’t like each other can become a massive problem for staff retention and productivity. Ensuring your business is filled with likable people is, therefore, an essential goal for any leader, but getting there takes a lot of work.

So without further ado, here are some of the best ways I’ve found of making it happen.

Work with the same people again and again and again

One of the things I’m most proud of throughout my career is I continually work with the same people over and over.

When looking for a new hire, the first thing I do is think back to all the people I’ve worked with in the past. Aside from cutting out ambiguity and risk, working with valued ex-colleagues is a great way to reconnect and learn from their experiences. Friendship lends itself to long-term tenure and loyalty, which is a win-win for everyone.

From a business point of view, the best work you will ever win is from clients who want to work with you based on previous experience and mutual respect.

In fact, up to 50% of our new business comes from clients who we have worked with before. Relationships built on trust and proven results stand the test of time — and save you from the curse of the unlikeable client.

Be yourself and those around you will too

I’ve been forced to leave a company twice in my career (otherwise known as ‘gone to pursue other opportunities’).

On both occasions, it was for being my authentic self and standing up to bullying.

It didn’t do my career any good at the time, but I slept better at night knowing I had done the right thing and spoken out, loudly. It made me the person I am today.  

If you can find a place of work that accepts you for who you are, chances are you’re going to accept and like them too. Authentic people are drawn to other authentic people, which is great, because being someone you’re not is exhausting.

In the words of the late, great Toni Morrison: “You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.”

Find people who criticise you

I’m not talking about the kind of criticism that makes you feel belittled and small, but the kind that makes you think: ‘Why hasn’t anyone ever told me that?’

The most likeable people I know are able to spot my weaknesses, and help me work on them in a constructive way — the work equivalent of the friend who will always let you know if you’ve got food stuck in your teeth.

As hard as it can sometimes be to accept, I welcome criticism and feedback. If someone is brave enough to tell you what you are doing wrong, then they deserve a place in your life and are someone you definitely want to work with.

I am, and will be to the day I die, a work in progress. Constructive and well-meant feedback creates powerful alignments, not alienation, and results in a bunch of people who want to work with each other.

The mantra at my business is: ‘Life’s short. Work with people you like.’

This sounds simple in principle, but filling your business with likeable people takes a lot more skill than you’d think — and will involve some serious introspection.

To be liked means to be respected, and to be respected means to have earned the trust of the people around you.

Once everyone on your team has that mutual trust and respect in place, you’ll be amazed at the work you can create together.

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