“It’s just a popularity contest!” People who say these words scornfully are usually very unpopular. Of course it’s a popularity contest—even in the workplace. How else are we supposed to make decisions? Being likable is important to your career success.
Look, I’m sure you’re really good at your job, but lots of people are really good at their jobs. There are few out there who are so awesome at what they do that they don’t have to be likable.
All things being equal, it’s the likable folks who get hired and who get spared when it’s time to let people go.
So, do your bosses and co-workers like you or do they dread your arrival and make fun of you in the break room?
Here are 20 reasons your colleagues might hate you.
You’re lazy: Never one to come forward with an idea or offer to pick up the extra work, you coast by, letting others take the reins. Last in, first out. It’s never your job, always someone else’s. Everybody dreads getting stuck with you on joint projects. Beware the wrath of the person who gets stuck doing what you should be doing.
You complain: It’s always raining, either literally or metaphorically. You’ve got too much to do, the coffee in the machine is gross, Marvin in the next cubicle breathes too loudly, it’s too cold, your chair swivels too much. Everyone hates a whiner.
You’re a Pollyanna: Guess what. Not complaining enough or always looking in the bright side can also drive folks batty. When the fire alarm is going off all day and everyone has a headache, don’t be the jerk who keeps insisting that people “should be happy it’s not a real fire!”
You gossip: Talking behind people’s back is bad. It makes you look petty and untrustworthy. And trust no one; the same person who appears to share your distaste for Sheila in HR is fairly likely to go tell Sheila what you said about her, over drinks, because they’re buddies.
You don’t gossip: Never engaging in such chat, however, can make you seem self-righteous and aloof. It’s a fine line. I recommend erring on the side of non-gossip, even though the gossips—and they are plentiful and often powerful—will not like you.
You’re an obvious brown-noser: Nobody likes a suck-up. Everyone knows what you’re doing when you’re always telling the boss how much you love her outfits and gushing over her seemingly mundane accomplishments or abilities. I’m not saying don’t kiss butt. Just be smart about it.
You don’t kiss enough butt: Because you definitely need to kiss butt, and probably more than you think. It’s smart to be strategically obsequious. People always glide a little smoother when they’re buttered up. Rivers might be above the ocean but they flow into it, making it the most powerful body of water. I got that from, like, Robert Cialdini or something.
You steal credit: I once worked with someone who would tell our superiors, “we” came up with an idea, when it was actually my idea, or, even worse, she’d outright claim the idea was hers—right in front of me. I never figured out if she was deluded or crafty, at which she was weirdly successful, because I would have looked like a child correcting her—so she got away with it.
You don’t listen: Are you the person who never listens to a word anyone says, then goes and does a crappy job, making bunch of mistakes, because you don’t know what you’re doing because you didn’t listen? Nobody likes that person.
You ask stupid questions that draw out meetings: Everyone is just about to wrap it up, then you ask some totally meaningless BS “question” just to make sure people know you’re in the room, like, “So, going forward, are we going to implement the strategy by making sure there are checks and balances? Because at the end of the day, there should be accountability management, and we should make sure we’re all on the same page.”
You talk too much: You offer a constant verbal onslaught and the innocent, polite query of how you are doing results in a lengthy exploration of your roommate situation, that mysterious rash, and the last episode of “Dancing With the Stars.” You have to tell everyone about the lunch you ate, the book you read, and the toxic elements in your shampoo. Zip it. For your own sake. Think “need-to-know basis.”
You’re a control freak: You need to do everything yourself, because you don’t trust anyone else not to screw it up. Then—and now I’m just piling it on—you complain that you’re doing all the work. Gah!
You’re inappropriate: You tell dirty jokes, making people uncomfortable; then you look around with a “Come on, guys! What?” expression. You swear, and you talk about sex. Keep it clean and be respectful. When it comes to jokes and language, play to the most uptight person in the room, not the least. The same applies to dressing inappropriately. You know what cues to follow as to your attire. Take them.
You brag: You know that guy who has to tell everyone how well he’s doing? How much the boss likes him? How big his car and house are? He has to let you know about every deal he closes and every woman he sleeps with? Don’t be that guy. Yeah, we all know he’s just insecure. But don’t be him.
You’re not friendly: You don’t show an interest in the people around you, ask about their lives, or compliment their shoes. You don’t sponsor people in their runs for cancer research or offer to buy coffee. You never want to have lunch together, listen to a story, or share a joke. You suck.
You’re too friendly: On the other hand, you don’t always have to be fist pumping out a “Go, Team!” and gathering everyone for group hugs.
You take too many sick days: Why are you always absent? Are you really sick? Like, sick for real? Or are you just one of those annoying people who can’t come into work because it snowed three inches overnight, even though you live six blocks away?
You come to work sick: What are you doing, bringing your germy coughs and sneezes and snot into the office where everyone can catch them? Have a little courtesy.
You’re not autonomous: You’re always asking how stuff works and how to do this and how to do that when you could very easily Google the answers. Better yet, you ask people to do stuff for you. People don’t like this. They have their own stuff to do. You don’t know how to use Photoshop? Download the manual, for crying out loud.
You smell: Yes, you want to smell natural because antiperspirant rots your brain or whatever. (I know; I used to reek.) But human stench is offensive. Make sure you don’t stink. For your own good. Also? Your breath. Brush your teeth. Floss. See the dentist. Always carry gum or something to freshen your breath, and if someone offers you a mint, take it. I can’t prove it, but I bet there are very few CEOs who aren’t aware of this.
Elizabeth Bromstein writes about pop culture, lifestyle and careers. She spends a lot of time laughing at her own jokes. A version of this article first appeared on Workopolis.