Yes, It is a Popularity Contest: Why Your Professional Success Depends on Your Rapport with Everyone

Published: Apr 19, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Ben Carpenter

Like managers at all levels, you probably spend a lot of your time thinking about how to impress the boss. Whether it’s getting that big project turned in a day early, appeasing the combative client everyone else avoids, or just bringing your supervisor a cup of coffee, you do whatever you can to ensure that you’ll be promoted as soon as possible.

But when’s the last time you thought about making a good impression on anyone else at the office? Many people believe they have to worry about pleasing only their higher-ups. They believe if their boss is happy with them, everything is going to be perfect.

The reality is, your boss’s perception of you is largely going to be a reflection of how everybody else in the organization feels about you. If many, or even just a few, people in the organization feel negatively toward you, then your chances for success diminish significantly.

Now and throughout your career, you should build alliances and rapport with all of your colleagues. This attitude should extend from the security guards to the CEO.

Here, I share several ways to build rapport with everyone (your boss included!) in your organization:

Lend a helping hand. Offer to print things for the administrative assistant of another department head who’s visiting your office, give advice to Cubicle-ville’s newest hire, or take five minutes to proofread a colleague’s report. When you don’t have to share your time, energy, or knowledge with someone but do so anyway, you’ll earn that person’s lasting respect and loyalty.

Don’t let anyone have anything negative to say about you. It is important that everyone you come in contact with has a positive experience with you. Even if someone is a pest, rude, or stupid, always treat him respectfully. Bear in mind how your boss views you will be heavily influenced by what people in the company tell her.

Think of your company before yourself. When you’re a rookie in the big leagues, you have to prove that you’re going to be an asset to the team, not a drain on its resources or a liability for the coach. Often, that means putting others’ needs and wants (and, yes, especially your boss’s) ahead of your own.

Don’t agree to anything you don’t fully understand. If you ever find yourself tempted to feign understanding and simply nod along, even though you have no clue what’s going on, don’t.

Your integrity, credibility, and reputation—and possibly your job!—are all at stake. Whether you’re working with a client or a colleague, it’s always better to swallow your pride and say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand. I need you to explain.” Oh—and that’s just as applicable in your personal dealings as it is in your career.

When you’re upset, choose to look forward, not back. Sure, you can choose to focus on your anger and irritation for hours, or even days. But that doesn’t do you a bit of good. Instead, resolve to channel your thoughts and efforts toward playing the hand you’ve been dealt in a way that will benefit you the most and preserve your relationships.

Learn to appreciate diverse work styles. Yes, it can be difficult, uncomfortable, and downright frustrating to work with people who take a different approach from you. But no matter what the situation is, always try to seek out and utilize your team’s talents, even if you don’t understand their methods. You can never be sure you have the best answer until you’ve heard all viewpoints.

Own your mistakes. No matter how much you know or how hard you try, you are going to make mistakes as you pursue your career. I promise, if you’re a hardworking, valued employee, when you do own up to your mistakes, your confession will be viewed as a sign of strength, not weakness, by your coworkers. Plus, you’ll be in a position to learn and improve.

Be a good steward of the “little” things. Most people don’t think much of letting the so-called “little things” slide. So when you pay attention to small, often-overlooked details, you’ll distinguish yourself from the pack. Trust me, putting in just a little more work than most people are willing to do is a great way to propel yourself toward success. People notice and appreciate it when you make their lives easier!

If you want to be a leader, act like one. Even if you’re the lowest man or woman on the totem pole, you can still display leadership qualities like having integrity and a good attitude, providing others with helpful feedback, and treating them with respect. The fact is, very few employees consistently show leadership skills. If you’re the exception from day one, the Powers That Be will notice.

Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. You’d be surprised by how many professionals don’t live by this rule. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been handed excuses and requests for extensions instead of the finished product. But I can tell you that that type of behavior is not going to do you any favors in the workplace.

Don’t complain about your job to your coworkers. There will be plenty of things you don’t like about your job. But complaining around the water cooler is never a good idea. Any time you’re unhappy with something at work, discuss it directly with your supervisor.

Don’t pick fights. Fighting in the office is a bad idea, period. It makes people unhappy and unproductive, and is a huge waste of time and energy. My best advice is to always take the high road, even if you’re gritting your teeth the whole time.

Don’t badmouth your coworkers. This is my personal golden rule for business: Never say anything negative about anybody in your office. Those comments have a way of getting back to the people they’re about.

Never forget: Everyone is important. Don’t become so focused on pleasing your boss that you forget to develop positive relationships with the rest of your colleagues. Those relationships will directly shape your professional reputation, which will be just as instrumental as your résumé in achieving the success you want.

About the Author(s)

Ben Carpenter is author of The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Choose a Career, Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Manage Your Money, Stay out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life (Wiley, April 2014, ISBN: 978-1-118-91702-2, $25.00). For additional free content including excerpts, videos, and blogs, visit