For those new to corporate America, the term “cross-functional leadership” sounds like a specialized skill that one develops over years of work experience. But for those of us who’ve been in the game for a while, we know that it’s just a fancy term for “getting people to do stuff for you even though they don’t report to you.” We also know that it’s a vital skill needed in any corporate job at any career level.
Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of the best cross-functional leaders of all time, said: “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.” (source) Getting others to like you—and demonstrating that you like them—is the first and most fundamental way to enlist help from others. When people like you, there is a greater chance they will help you when you need it. They will be more forgiving when you make mistakes, more likely to cheer you on when you succeed, and more willing to bail you out when you are in a pinch.
The good news is that building likeability among co-workers isn’t difficult. It doesn’t require raw brain power or innate talent. It does, however, require deliberate effort and sensitivity to those around you. Here are six easy ways to get your co-worker to like you:
1. Build the relationship BEFORE you need something: Invest the time to get to know your co-workers on a personal level with no strings attached. Walk over to a co-workers desk and talk with him or her about anything but business. Take them to lunch—and pay for it. Find out something that you have in common that can help you connect on an individual level. You’ll be surprised how fast you can build a relationship in such little time.
2. Perform random acts of kindness: Suppose you find out that a co-worker is struggling with a business problem; figure out a way to help them solve it. Perhaps they need someone to listen to them vent; invest 15 minutes of your time to be a sounding board for them. There are endless ways that you can show kindness to co-workers. These acts communicate “I like you” to the recipient. However small or subtle the acts may be, they can have a huge impact. The magic is in their randomness and sincerity. They can’t be contrived or geared to immediately get something in return. Give willingly and good things will flow back to you eventually.
3. Write hand-written thank you notes: In today’s digital age, it is so easy to shoot off a quick text or email and thank someone for their help. This is a good thing, but taking the time to write a hand-written note shows more effort and can make a huge difference. I don’t remember the exact wording of the thank you notes I’ve received in the past, but I certainly remember the people that wrote them. And I remember feeling that they cared about me as an individual.
4. Ask for help: This one sounds counterintuitive. One should, theoretically, seek to give help rather than take it in order to develop a relationship. Yet asking for help demonstrates authenticity and vulnerability—two universal human traits to which anyone can relate. We all feel vulnerable at work in some way or another. Showing vulnerability by asking for help enables others to let down their guard when they are around you while at the same time feel good about their own contribution as an employee.
5. Send a complimentary note to their boss when they do a good job: Who doesn’t like to look good in front of his or her boss? (see my prior post: What 10 years Have Taught Me About Bosses) This helps employees feel like you are supportive of their career goals and that you want them to succeed.
6. Demonstrate Loyalty When it Counts: When something goes wrong on a project, never disparage or belittle a team member in front of others—especially in front of those that are higher up in the organization and wield power. If needed, take corrective action with a team member in person, but always ensure them of your loyalty and friendship as you do it. Co-workers need to understand that you've got their back when it matters in order to continue supporting you.
These suggestions may seem overly obvious and basic. They are. But consider for a moment your own habits. Do you consistently perform acts of kindness for co-workers, or do you let the demands of the business get in the way? Do you seek to sincerely thank someone who has helped you out? When was the last time you wrote hand-written a thank you note? Are you confident enough to be vulnerable and allow people to help you? Do you see others in your organization doing these things on a regular basis? I would place a bet that the problem with these ideas is not that they are overly-simple, but that they are under-used.
This is all upside for you. Try these ideas out and reap the rewards, and then let other people wonder why your cross-functional partners prioritize your work over anyone else’s.