There was a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed this week in which the author was advising a smart but abrasive younger colleague to “try being likable“. The phrase that really struck me was “Think of what you could accomplish if people actually wanted to help you”. The piece was focusing on interacting with peers, but it reminded me of discussions I’ve had with peers about interacting with the people who make it possible for you to do your job, which I’ve touched on previously.
For example, most of my work is done on a super-computing cluster. In order for me to do research, I need the server up and running. Last Friday was System Administrator Appreciation Day, and so my group brought the sys admin team various goodies. They just did some major system upgrades which are having stability issues. Because they remembered me , when I contacted them about it, I probably got more information thank I otherwise might have, and extra follow up. Also, because we primarily interact over email during the year, it helps to put a voice to the words on their screen. It is also very easy to misinterpret the tone of email, especially if you’ve only ever interacted with someone electronically.
You don’t have to fawn over people to get them to like you, just express sincere thanks when they do something that makes your job easier or possible. In many ways, interacting with support staff can be treated as a form of networking. At this point in my career, I see networking as having two major aims: helping me find a job when I graduate, and helping me do my job now. If someone helped you find a job at their company, you’d probably want to show them gratitude in some form. Why wouldn’t you thank the people who help you get things done?
Who makes it possible for you to do your job?