Didn't have any time to check my teeth for stray bits of spinach. Didn't have any time to check my personality for stray bits of angst...
PHILADELPHIA — Didn’t have any time to check my teeth for stray bits of spinach.
Didn’t have any time to check my personality for stray bits of angst, although I know they are there.
I was running late and had already yelled at my kids, and my husband, too. Lots of negative energy despite the beautiful weather.
But I didn’t want to mess up when I met Tim Sanders.
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After all, he just wrote “The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams.”
What if he didn’t like me?
Oh, I know, reporters aren’t supposed to care whether we’re liked. Thick skin, hard heart, cool head. That’s not me, but even so I’m feeling ridiculous about wanting to be liked by this man.
Sanders, who also wrote the best seller “Love Is the Killer App,” believes that likable people get ahead. If they are CEOs, their companies get ahead. If they are middle managers, their departments hum with contentment and industry. Success and happiness stem from likability.
So if he doesn’t like me, am I a failure?
Sanders, a “leadership coach” at Yahoo!, travels the country giving speeches about likability.
Recently, he was here speaking to 250 people who use software developed by SAS Institute, a North Carolina-based global software company that he says is likable, headed by Chief Executive Officer James Goodnight, also likable.
(Goodnight’s L-factor is high because he enforces a 35-hour workweek. What’s not to like about that?)
Sanders describes a “positive feedback loop.” The more he likes people, the better he feels. The better he feels, the more people like him. The more people like him, the better his work goes. Round and round.
“Morally, spiritually, ethically, that’s what you should do,” he said. “But all of us want to be more successful.”
Sanders said it was the CEO’s job to develop a likable company. The converse also is true: “A fish stinks from the head,” he said.
The way to be liked, according to his book, is to start by being friendly. So walking to meet him, I practiced by saying hello to strangers on the street.
Just before I met Sanders, I met Bobbi Harris, an SAS publicist who had just emerged from the ballroom where Sanders was speaking.
Flushed with excitement, she said: “I want to make a list of people who should hear his message.”
Because I’m cynical about people who can boil down human relations into factors and cute titles, I had to ask: Why didn’t she see Sanders as just another motivator at a conference?
The question stopped her, and in a moment of empathy (which Sanders says is an ingredient of likability), I understood that there are some people in Harris’ world who perhaps aren’t so likable.
“It’s what I needed to hear,” she said. “It’s what I believe.” So no matter how trashy it gets, she’ll stay the niceness course and “keep doing what you know you are supposed to be doing.”
Then it was time to meet Sanders.
We saw each other across the room.
We crinkled our eyes warmly. He shook my hand and put his hand on my arm.
I had Harris on my mind when I asked Sanders what to do if the boss doesn’t have a high likability score.
Sanders didn’t hesitate: “Quit your job if your boss is unlikable, because you are going to get sucked down with him.”
If you can’t quit, he said, vow not to “deliver negative energy.”
Instead, try to find something to like about your boss. Praise him for being likable and be willing, kindly, to challenge him when he’s not.
Likability, Sanders said, can be learned.
Then he told an amazing story about a crabby middle manager of nine people.
The manager resolved to change and started by saying two nice, true things to each person.
The day after that, the manager received an expensive television game system from one of the employees.
Wow! What happened? The employee sold the gun he was going to kill himself with and bought his boss a gift instead. Sanders insists that this is a true story.
“Every day we have this chance to participate in the end of suffering,” Sanders said. “Likable people end suffering. They don’t contribute to it.”
While I was with Sanders, he was nice to everyone and everyone was nice to him.
Isn’t all that likability exhausting?
Sanders, 43, admits that sometimes in traffic at home in San Jose, Calif., “someone will cut me off.” Finger-waving occasionally ensues.
“It’s hard for me to carry the friendliness experience into work when I’ve had a road-rage experience,” he said.
Sometimes, if he gets a little touchy at work, someone will say to him, “Hey Tim, you’re not being likable about this.”
How obnoxious! In empathy, irritation surges in my veins.
Sanders likes the feedback. “It takes a community to keep someone likable at work,” he said. For me, it takes coffee.
As it turned out, Tim Sanders and I spent about two hours together last month. Did he like me?
I was tempted to ask.
But I didn’t.