Being popular is not more important than being competent, but knowing how to get along well with others is a vital career skill.

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You may think that the secret to career success is simply being excellent at what you do.

And that’s important.

But you need more than just mere excellence. You also need to get along with the people at work. When employers stress the importance of being “a good fit,” this is what they’re talking about. The genius no one can stand to be around seldom goes as far as the solid team player everyone likes, respects and supports.

So do this:

Be interested. While you may not want to be BFFs with everyone at your workplace, it won’t kill you to ask, “How was your weekend?” Similarly, when people approach you, don’t just continue tapping at your keyboard. Stop what you’re doing and look at them. It’s sort of a dying art, as is the art of listening, which means giving people the time and space to express themselves without interrupting them or jumping on small mistakes.

Be generous. Even if a success was entirely due to your efforts alone, you will look like even more of a winner if you share the glory. So be lavish with giving credit. Share appreciation, too. Sure, it may be Bob’s job to, say, supply you with paper clips, but go ahead and thank Bob for those paper clips anyway. It costs nothing, and it fosters an atmosphere of civility. Finally, be generous with your own integrity. Speak well of others. Behave dependably. Live by your deeper values.

Be tolerant. Don’t expect to like everyone. And don’t expect everyone to like you. Accept that you’re going to get along well with some people and less well with others. But do assume goodwill. No matter how misguided you sometimes feel your colleagues’ actions are, allow for the possibility that they believed they were doing the right thing at the time. Be tolerant of yourself, too, and recognize that your ideas and work could always benefit from outside input.

Being popular is not more important than being competent but, with human beings, the likability factor can’t be ignored. Fortunately, even the least naturally sociable among us can learn how to earn and keep the esteem of the folks with whom we work.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at