Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Likability Trumps Competence

Professors at the Harvard Business School and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business have found that it’s better to be likeable than competent in business. In research designed to understand the dynamics of work groups, they found that when you need to get the job done, a team will pick the likeable guy over the competent one every time.

And while this turns the standard managerial logic on its head, it is perfectly understandable. People want to work in a positive, relaxed environment. They want to succeed with the least amount of friction and feel good about what they are doing. They will suffer a friendly fool much faster than they will tolerate a know-it-all or an asshole.

You can overcome gaps in your knowledge and experience to succeed in a team environment but you cannot recover if nobody likes you. If you are liked people will work with you, look past your limitations and reach out to you. If you are not; you are on your own buddy.

Professors Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo conclude “a little extra likability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with.”

What blows my mind is that seeming obvious conclusion is so counterintuitive to the legions of corporate weenies I’ve encountered. To help them and their beleaguered managers, our professors lay out some simple guidelines to make work teams more effective:

We like people who are similar to us.
We like people who are familiar to us.
We like people who like us.

Therefore if you are leading a team you should “manufacture liking” by promoting familiarity among the members, create a sense of similarity-- that we are more a like than not and in the same boat and create an intense cooperative experience to break down suspicions and differences between team members.

Although this sounds like the plot of every military “boot camp” movie ever shot, it is a lesson that still eludes too many of our best and brightest corporate types. Maybe the imprimatur of the Harvard Business Review will get somebody to act


Anonymous Michael Wexler said...

Hmm... this is really psych 101. Well, Social Psych 101. Any basic textbook will explain this, or read Cialdini's book "Influence", http://www.media-studies.ca/articles/influence_ch5.htm available at amazon or any bookstore. What amazes me is that this got so much press, and that it got in HBR. Perhaps the HBR folks should look at what psychologists discovered in the 60s and 70s... and perhaps the psychologists and organizational behaviorists should do a better job of marketing their findings.

11:58 PM  

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