“I’m getting feedback that I’m not personable,” a beloved client told me. “I’m really focused on doing the work — and social chitchat seems like a waste of everyone’s time.”
I looked at my client: a nice, kind man, a linear thinker, highly technical, high achieving. About five years into his career at a big tech company.
“I’ve gotten advice that I should memorize one thing about each person at work, so that I can ask them about it and pretend to be interested,” he said, dubiously.
We agreed that sounded awful. And disingenuous. And probably not very personable. “One of my co-workers loves the Seahawks. I could ask him about the game, but I don’t care or know the first thing about the Seahawks,” he said.
How could he be perceived as personable at work without trying to change his personality, we wondered.
“Tell me about your friends,” I asked him. “What are you like with your friends?”
“I’m very focused and engaged with my friends,” he said.
“How do you know that you are focused and engaged?” I asked.
“Well, I’m off all my technologies when I’m with them,” he said. “They get my attention when we’re talking.”
“Are you on your technologies when you’re talking to your colleagues?” I asked.
He paused. He described starting meetings with his laptop open; of leading meetings while taking notes on his laptop; of ending meetings wrapping up his notes and thoughts on his laptop.
“Maybe I should delegate note-taking, but I actually like taking notes,” he said. “It helps me think and keeps my thoughts organized.” (I can understand that; as a former journalist, I can’t think straight if I’m not taking notes.)
“But I could start and end meetings with the laptop closed,” he mused aloud. “I could take a few minutes to greet everyone and say hello. And I could close my laptop at the end of the meeting and check in personally, say goodbye and wish everyone a good day.”
“That doesn’t sound disingenuous,” I said. “That sounds just like you: gracious, patient, caring.”
“You know, the other thing that strikes me about this approach,” I told him, thinking out loud. “This is a shift from an administrative attitude to a leadership attitude.
“A shift from nose-to-the-grindstone, deep in the weeds, execution mode, to a more expansive, strategic, big-picture approach.”
First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.