Harvard-trained neuroscientist: The No. 1 ‘cheat code’ highly successful people use to get ahead at work

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Harvard-trained neuroscientist: The No. 1 ‘cheat code’ highly successful people use to get ahead at work

Having meaningful relationships with your colleagues can make you happier and stave off burnout. It can also help you build a more successful career.

Research has consistently shown that being liked at work can positively influence your career advancement, from negotiating a raise to landing a promotion. 

Gaining a colleague’s respect or making work friends isn’t a privilege reserved for high performers, says Juliette Han, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist and adjunct professor at Columbia Business School.

Becoming more likable at work is a skill that anyone can pick up pretty quickly, says Han, who is also an academic advisor at Harvard Medical School.

According to Han, there’s one “cheat code” highly successful people use to form stronger bonds with people at work: They find common ground with the people they work with.

Han isn’t suggesting you take up the same hobbies or interests as your boss or co-workers to get ahead in your career (unless you want to). Instead, look for small opportunities to align yourself with your colleagues in conversation.

Expressing gratitude, offering compliments and seeking advice on work-related matters are all easy ways to build rapport with others.

For example, if a colleague thanks you for your help on something, you could say:

“No problem, I know you would do the same for me.”

As Han explains, “Showing you care about them and reminding them you are a team is one of the easiest ways to make people feel valued and want to support you at work.”

To make a positive impression on your manager, consider seeking their perspective on a task you’re engaged in or a challenge you’re encountering.

Here are two questions you can use to kick off a productive conversation with your manager:

  1. “You’ve handled similar situations so well, what kind of approach would you recommend here?”
  2. “I want to better understand how this project fits into our team’s overarching goals, what’s your point of view on that?”

Han says these questions show that you trust your boss’s expertise and “want to make them look good.”

If you’re assigned to a project with your manager, consider approaching them with the following line:

“I’m really excited to work on this together. How can I best support you on this?” 

“You want to have a clear, open dialogue with the people you work with to show that you listen to and respect their preferences,” Han explains. “People don’t do it enough, even though it improves collaboration and can also reduce chances for conflict.”

It never hurts to pay someone a compliment, either. Praising someone on a presentation well done, their work ethic or a skill they’ve mastered “can go a long way,” says Han.

“One of the most common reasons some high performers don’t rise to the top of their careers is they think working hard and being laser-focused on what they are doing, and what they are doing alone, will be enough to get them there,” Han explains. “But you can’t be successful without learning to work well with others.” 

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