I had the following conversation with my son after he had his car serviced:
“Mom, they did a great job on my car,” he told me.
I asked, “Why do you say that?”
His reply: “As I was leaving, we talked about new cars and the mechanic told me to have a safe trip home.”
I thought to myself that my son knows very little about the inner workings of cars, yet because the mechanic was nice and friendly to him, he believed that the man had done a good job on his vehicle.
He is not alone in how he judges the quality of someone’s work.
A colleague recently decided to go with one software vendor over another because, as she said, “He was so friendly.” I call this phenomenon the “halo effect” of being nice. (The term “halo effect” was first coined in 1920 by psychologist Edward Thorndike, who concluded that your impression of someone will influence your view of his or her abilities.)
And there are consequences to not being nice.
David Von Drehle, a Washington Post columnist, wrote an opinion piece concerning the recent troubles surrounding New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. In it, he commented: “Many things have been said of Andrew Cuomo, often with respect and occasionally with admiration — but ‘nice to people’ is not one of them.” The headline on the column explains that comment: Andrew Cuomo is plummeting, and there’s no one left to catch him.
Remember that being nice and friendly will not make up for inferior work. Let me say that again: Being nice and friendly will not make up for inferior work. What it will do is encourage people to view you and your work positively. People will enjoy working with you or for you if you are nice to them. And that is an advantage in anyone’s line of work.
Here are five steps to follow to encourage others to react to you in a positive way:
1. Greet people. This is one of my more common suggestions, yet people still tell me that they often feel ignored by others. People believe that they greet others, but I encourage you to monitor yourself over the next couple of weeks, and make sure that you really do. You need to say “Hello,” “Hi,” “Good morning,” or offer a similar greeting to people you know – and to people you don’t know. This is also true during Zoom meetings. Greet people when you join the meeting. If people are talking when you enter the meeting, you can smile and wave.
2. Make some small talk. You don’t need to know people’s life stories, but a little small talk can help establish a connection between people. Use “safe” topics. You can talk about the weather (front-page stories such as hurricanes generally have more conversational appeal), traffic, common experiences, travel, sports (if everyone is interested), entertainment (movies, plays), holiday celebrations, upbeat business news, vacations, current events (cautiously), and the activity you are attending. Additional information on small talk can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.
3. Offer to help, when you can. Why not lend a helping hand, if possible? If someone seems overloaded with assignments, assisting that person is a nice thing to do.
4. Speak well of others. You appear gracious when you speak well of other people’s accomplishments, not just your own.
5. Have an exit line. An exit line establishes the ending of an encounter and paves the way for the next meeting. Sample exit lines include, “Nice talking to you,” “Have a great weekend,” or “Have a safe trip home.”