Nobody likes a brownnoser. Most people can detect insincerity a mile off, and the slime that emanates from someone engaged in networking is almost palpable. Unfortunately, it is true that the majority of jobs are landed via personal connections.
So how do you get closer to the people at work without acting like a creepy sycophant – and more importantly, who should you try to befriend?
- Your Co-Workers
Your co-workers are the biggest presence in your life. Think about it: You spend more time hanging out with them than anyone else you know. It only makes sense that you should try to play nice. The research speaks even louder: Employees who report having a best friend at work are also the happiest, most engaged and most productive.
Making friends at work can be daunting, especially for introverts, but it doesn’t need to be a big deal. Go out for lunch together, or extend an open invitation to a group function outside of work, like a party or a barbecue. A friend at the office will make your workday that much more bearable.
- Your Employees
They say people quit bosses rather than jobs, and the science agrees. What this means if you manage other employees is that it’s not enough to merely do your job. A boss has to be more than an administrator – he has to be a leader, and a leader is someone who motivates people.
This flies in the face of conventional American workplace wisdom, which dictates the cold, robotic catechisms of old: “You don’t need to be liked; just respected.” Think about that. While the two aren’t synonymous, they are linked. Maybe you can like someone without respecting them, but honestly now: Can you think of anyone you respect but don’t actually like?
If you manage employees, they should like you, and you should do what you can – within reason – to be likeable. Suck up to your inferiors by treating them with kindness, empathy and respect. After all, most employees report those are things they’re not currently getting.
- Clients and Customers
This one seems like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating: If you work in a customer-facing capacity, or represent your company business-to-business, you should absolutely do your best to create a personal connection with the person on the other side of the table.
More important than being liked, however, is being trusted. Like a pushy salesman, clients can generally sense a person with selfish motivation. Strive to be someone your clients, customers and business partners know has their best interests at heart.
Listen up. Administrative professionals rock, and your respect for them shouldn’t be confined to one patronizing work holiday out of the year. These are the people who do the work no one else wants to: calling people, stuffing envelopes, retyping screwed-up spreadsheets, aiding overworked peers with menial drudgery and generally putting out fires everywhere they go.
Making friends with clerical isn’t a career-move, it’s basic common sense. Sooner or later, you will screw something up, and being on good terms with a super-powered secretarial sorcerer may just be the thing that prevents a minor mistake from becoming a catastrophe.
- The Accountant
Ever had a problem with your paycheck? If not, you probably aren’t looking closely enough. Payroll mistakes are frighteningly common, and you’ll understand why when you realize one simple fact: Software helps out, but payroll is still done by a human being, and it’s a pain in the butt.
You think it’s hard doing your taxes? Try interpreting the slew of crap calculating payroll and benefits encompasses – IRS codes, insurance bylines, vacation time, sick leave, etc. – and you’ll quickly realize there’s a reason many companies simply hire out.
Do something nice for your company’s accountant now, before there’s a problem, and you’ll have a much easier time when one actually does arise.
- The Cleaning Crew
This one sounds strange if you’ve never kept an odd schedule, but those who have generally know the score. Most offices keep an off-hours cleaning crew who, besides being down-to-earth people you should learn to respect anyway, also carry The Almighty Keys.
You think the dreaded accidental lockout could never happen to you? Think again. I once worked with someone – we’ll call her She-Hulk – who shut herself out at 6:30 after everyone else had gone home. Her car keys and cellphone were still inside. She-Hulk had to bust the door off the hinges to get back in. She was mortified. Don’t let that be you.
- The IT Guy or Gal
Here’s something you need to know: Your IT department hates you by default. No, not you personally – basically, its everyone outside the IT department. Why? Because everyone outside the IT department can barely manage to turn on their computers.
That may not be the case with you, but it most likely is the case that somewhere along the line. Somebody is going to do something completely inexplicable, and you’ll need help to fix it.
Now, earning the trust of your resident IT beast is a slow process, involving carefully administered doses of snark, booze and “Star Wars” references. Lucky for you …
If your company has in-house legal, be sure to show them some love: Their job most likely consists of sending people carefully crafted threats all day, and that kind of back-burner hostility can take its toll on a person’s sense of whimsy.
Besides, chances are at some point in your life you’ll need legal advice, and while your friendly company lawyer most likely can’t help you directly, she can usually point you in the right direction.
- The People at the Coffee Shop Next Door
When I was little, our school principal liked to remind us, “From the moment you step out your front door until the moment you step back in, you are a student at this school.” Likewise, from the instant you clock in until the instant you clock out, you are acting as a representative of both your company and your personal brand – whether you’re in the office, out on official business or just grabbing an espresso to get through the afternoon.
Remember that fact at all times, and treat everyone you meet with the same respect you would pay your boss.
While we’re on that subject, the No. 1 person you should suck up to is …
- Literally Anyone Other Than Your Boss
Being friends with your boss is fine. Going out of your way to exceed your boss’s expectations is fine. However, don’t be a suck-up when dealing with those in a position of authority. It won’t help you, and unless you’re an incredibly gifted actor, there’s a very good chance it will have the exact opposite effect.
If your aim is to advance your career, the best way you can curry favor with your boss is simply this: Show up on time, meet your deadlines, do your job well and treat everyone around you with sincerity and respect.