It’s no secret that the ability to connect with others on a personal level, foster authentic relationships, and navigate the complexities of workplace dynamics plays a pivotal role in career advancement. This brings us to the concept of being personable, a skill set that goes beyond traditional charisma and is crucial for thriving in the professional landscape.
Being personable is not about theatrical charm or scripted charisma; instead, it’s about genuine connections and effective communication. It involves cultivating a positive and empathetic approach in your professional interactions, understanding the nuances of workplace relationships, and actively contributing to a collaborative and supportive environment.
We’ll explore how to be more personable at work, dispelling the notion that it’s an elusive trait reserved for a select few. Instead, we’ll highlight how this skill can be learned, refined, and strategically applied to enhance not only your professional relationships but also your overall career trajectory.
How to be more personable
Embarking on the journey to become more personable involves honing specific qualities that focus on authentic connection-building. Now we’re not saying learning these skills is easy. People who suffer from social anxiety or low confidence may find that supplementing their efforts with professional assistance yields the most effective results. But, given committed practice and, when needed, additional support, anyone can refine their ability to connect with others over time – something that’s particularly helpful in the workplace.
Here are 11 skills to practice to be more personable at work.
1. Practice active listening
Personable people are great orators who know how to hold others’ attention. But being personable isn’t just about talking; it’s about listening. And listening is so much more than simply not talking.
We’ve all been stuck in a conversation with someone who doesn’t listen. They might interrupt you constantly or stare at you glassy-eyed, waiting until you’re done, then respond with something completely unrelated. You probably leave the conversation with the strong suspicion they were only waiting for you to stop talking so they could continue speaking. Rude, right?
What they’re doing is hearing: the soundwaves are going in, but they’re not connecting with the brain. Listening, on the other hand, involves showing the speaker you’re paying attention to what they’re saying, processing it, and responding appropriately. This is called active listening.
2. Talk through body language
Nonverbal communication accounts for around 55% of the meaning of a message, so if you’re actively listening, you need to show it.
- Use direct eye contact. However, try not to stare unnaturally. Feel free to blink and shift your gaze from their eyes occasionally.
- Tilt your head; this is a sign of empathy.
- Minimize distractions. Avoid looking around the room, staring off into space, and perhaps most importantly: checking your phone.
- Respond with your body. You can do things like nod your head to express agreement or to show you understand or smile when they’ve said something funny or clever.
You don’t need to overdramatize your actions, but in general, your body should work with your mind to show that it’s listening and processing.
3. Verbally communicate
On top of non-verbal queues, you’ll also want to incorporate verbal queues. Responding to others with the occasional “of course,” “amazing,” or “I understand” shows people that you’re paying attention and really taking in what they’re saying.
4. Encourage conversation
Asking questions is a great way to demonstrate engagement, but one question is never enough.
To use an example: say you ask your friend how their day went. If they respond with ‘fine, thanks,’ you have two options: (1) say ‘OK’ and go back to whatever it was you were doing, or (2) ask them a follow-up question (which is technically known as a probing question) to elicit a more in-depth response.
Probing questions is always the best route to take – especially in the workplace, where people may need a little more encouragement to open up.
5. Show empathy
Sympathy and empathy often get confused, but they’re two different things. Sympathy is showing concern for another person when something bad happens. Empathy is having the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and identify with their experience.
Here’s an example: say your friend’s hamster dies. Sympathy is saying you’re sorry to hear their news and sending them a bereavement card. This is fine, but it’s a little cold.
Empathy is listening to them, telling them you understand how they feel, and sharing your own similar experiences to relate emotionally. If you can’t relate to the situation, asking questions can still demonstrate empathy because you’re showing them you want to understand how they feel.
6. Use people’s names
“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie
Using people’s names makes them feel acknowledged and respected. Look out for this tactic next time you’re in a situation where a smooth-talking salesman is showing you the moves: chances are, they’ll drop your name into the conversation more than once. There’s a big difference between “Men like to drive this car” and “Steve, I can see you driving this car.”
Bring this little trick into the workplace next time you speak to a colleague or client. It’s a nice touch that makes your interactions with people warmer, friendlier, and more engaging. Just make sure you get their name right.
7. Remember things about people
Personable people don’t just hold engaging conversations; they can recall them later on. From important work details to small, personal facts, personable people can show deep understanding through frequent recall. This can be as easy as remembering their children’s names and asking how they’re getting on at school or remembering someone’s favorite band, film, or book.
If you struggle with remembering smaller details or simply want to make things easier, you can write down important information after the fact as a reminder.
8. Use touch
Touch is a great way to show connectedness with the person you’re either speaking with or listening to; a light touch on the arm says ‘I understand’ or ‘I know you can relate.’
Now it goes without saying that discretion is key here. Read people’s body language to make sure they are always comfortable. If they shrink from you or flinch when you touch them, then don’t do it again. And if you’re unsure if touch is appropriate at any given moment: assume it’s not. It’s always better to touch too little than too much. Overplay this card, and you may find yourself called in for a meeting with HR or, at the very least, be branded with the nickname ‘Handsey [your name here].’
9. Stay positive
Smiling at someone is an incredibly welcoming gesture that makes you seem more approachable. But make sure yours is the real deal: a genuine smile involves your mouth and eyes. It’s called the Duchenne smile, and when you see someone beaming like this, you naturally feel positive emotions toward them.
The same goes for communicating with people: when you’re happy, it makes other people feel positive, and they enjoy being around you. Personable people can find humor in a situation (even if it is a bad one) and give off the impression that they’re happy and content. They talk about the good things, find the funny side when things go wrong, and show empathy in bad situations.
10. Help others and ask for help
“We rise by lifting others.” ― Robert Ingersoll
Building confidence in yourself is important, as is building confidence in others. Make others feel important by acknowledging and complimenting a job well done – and if you need to critique someone, do it constructively and kindly. This means sandwiching criticism between positive feedback and proposing a helpful solution.
While offices are often highly competitive, individualistic places, it’s better to avoid getting sucked into this mindset. Personable people lift others and, in doing so, lift themselves. ‘A rising tide raises all ships,’ as they say. So offer to assist people as much as possible – and don’t be afraid to ask a favor or two of your own.
11. Be consistent
Being personable is not limited to in-person interactions. In fact, you want to be sure that your personable attitude doesn’t fall by the wayside the second you’re communicating via email or your team chat app. Consistently presenting a personable attitude, regardless of the communication medium, is key.
While intention and tone are more difficult to distill in text format, you can account for this by using a more empathetic writing style. If you’re worried you may sound brusque, don’t hesitate to add an emoji or GIF to lighten the tone and add a visual element to your message. This isn’t appropriate for most clients, but what’s a gif between colleagues?
Benefits of being more personable at work
Being more personable at work influences not only your individual career trajectory but also shapes the overall dynamics of your workplace. Some of the tangible advantages that come with being more personable in the professional realm include:
- Strengthening Professional Relationships: Personable individuals tend to build strong, enduring professional relationships. Colleagues appreciate the genuine connections, making collaboration more enjoyable and productive.
- Team Cohesion and Morale: A personable demeanor contributes to a positive team dynamic. By fostering an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere, team cohesion is strengthened, and overall morale is boosted.
- Effective Leadership: In leadership roles, being personable is a valuable asset. Leaders who connect with their team members on a personal level are often more successful in inspiring and motivating others.
- Conflict Resolution: The ability to connect with others facilitates smoother conflict resolution. Personable individuals can navigate disagreements with tact, preserving relationships and finding constructive solutions.
- Enhanced Collaboration: Collaboration thrives in an environment where individuals feel valued and understood. Being personable fosters an atmosphere conducive to open communication and collaborative efforts.
- Career Advancement: In professional settings, likability and positive relationships can positively impact career advancement. Colleagues and superiors are more likely to support and endorse individuals who are easy to work with.
As you invest in being more personable, you’ll likely find that the benefits extend beyond professional relationships to positively influence various aspects of your career.
This post was originally published on August 14, 2019, and updated most recently on December 4, 2023.