In an ideal world, people would get promoted and advance their careers based on their actual job performance and what they contribute to their organization. In the real world, however, most people move up in their careers–or don’t–based on more arbitrary reasons, namely whether their boss likes them or not. This is why so many academic studies have highlighted political skills and likability as predictors of individuals’ career success and why many leaders get to where they are by managing up rather than down.
Like it or not, impression management and self-promotion often pay off more than talent or hard work. As Ben Dattner noted in his excellent book The Blame Game, a disproportionate number of high achievers in any firm specialize in blaming others for their mistakes and taking credit for others’ achievements.
If you are interested in assessing your potential career prospects with your current employer, it’s important to find out whether your boss likes you or not. This is a critical aspect of what psychologists call meta-perception: knowledge of how other people see you. To paraphrase David Bowie, you are only the person the greatest number of people think you are. Your boss is just one of those people, but their opinion counts significantly more than others.
If you work for someone who doesn’t like you, you’ll need to work very hard to change their opinion. People are generally very quick to form impressions of others and then very resistant to change them, even when they are based on very short and superficial interactions, such as a job interview. This is one of the reasons for the consistent correlation between the attractiveness and likability ratings of politicians’ pictures by people who don’t know them personally and election results. We like to think that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but we do it anyway, and there is no second chance to make a good impression.
While there is no definitive way to know what your boss actually thinks of you, here are four factors that increase the chances your boss likes you.
You have a high EQ
Emotional intelligence (EQ) has been seen as being a form of actual intelligence. But this meta-analysis indicates that individuals who are emotionally intelligent are mostly emotionally stable, extraverted, agreeable, and conscientious. In essence, they have happy personalities, and dealing with them is more rewarding. As Oscar Wilde noted, “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.”
Although personality is not fixed, it’s harder to change after your 20s, so it is unfair to evaluate employees more negatively just because they are dispositionally grumpy, moody, or unfriendly. Besides, these individuals may be more likely to come up with creative ideas than their more agreeable, coolheaded, and likable counterparts.
Your boss has a high EQ
Even if you are not particularly high on emotional intelligence, you would benefit enormously from working for a boss who has a high EQ. A happy and optimistic boss will generally be more engaged at work, which will influence their views of their employees. To some degree, likability is in the eye of the beholder, and seeing people through a higher EQ lens makes them rather more interesting, attractive, and fun. Tolerance of stress is also quite useful when you have to manage people who are likely to irritate others or are easily irritated by others.
You two have similar values
Another factor that will determine if your boss likes you is whether or not you share their values. For starters, most managers like to recruit people who think–and sometimes even look–like them. It is a socially acceptable or subliminal way to express their own narcissistic tendencies. When someone says, “this person is amazing” and that person happens to think, act, or look a lot like them, you know they are trying to tell us that they are actually amazing. This also exists in employees. If you “love” your boss, they are probably rather similar to you.
Your colleagues think your boss likes you
While individuals are often mistaken about what others think of them, there is much higher accuracy when we draw on the so-called wisdom of the crowds. Research suggests that the combined views other people have of you and your performance will be a much better indicator of your performance than your own. So you can just ask all your colleagues whether they think your boss likes you and average their answers to get a sense of the truth.
Of course, they may never know how your boss really feels about you deep down. But if your colleagues seem jealous of your relationship with your boss, then you should probably consider the possibility that your boss does like you and is even positively biased toward you.