Monday, April 13, 2015

The Like Button.

Ramble begins.

Okay. So I can't sleep. Well, actually, I literally can't because I need to put something in the dryer that is in the washing machine right now that must be dry by morning. Either way, I'm up.


Okay, so check it. I want to pick your brains about this conversation my mom and I had while at the beach last week. To put it in context, I was reflecting to my mom about different experiences that I've had working with residents and medical students. "Emory is a place with smart people," I told my mom. "It's rare to work with someone who isn't really great. But some are just super great."

Mom shared that her experiences, though different as a former elementary educator, allowed her to relate to that. I went into the whole spiel that I give students on my team about being exceptional and ways to get closer to that and she listened intently.  "Are they all exceptional after that?" she asked.

"I see a lot more. But sometimes, no. They do really, really well. But kind of stall at 'very good.' Which is still fine, you know?"

"So what's missing?" Mom said.

That's when the interesting part came up. We sat there staring at the waves rolling in and both thought for a few moments. I spoke first.

"I think to some degree you just have to be likable. Not so much ass-kissey. But there has to be the right mix of being cool with yourself and your surroundings that makes people enjoy being in your presence. Which sucks because some folks just aren't fully likable. Does that even make sense?" That's what I said to my mom and quickly she concurred.

"The real question is, 'How can a person become more likable if they aren't already?'" Mom said.

And yeah. The first thought in my head was, like, Steven Covey and Dale Carnegie and their books on this type of thing. I also thought about what I've always told myself is the magic to getting folks to like you is not giving a shit if people like you or not. Which, now that I think of it, is ridiculous. Of course you give a shit.

Don't you?

But I guess what I am up thinking about is just how the "giving a shit" manifests itself, you know? Like, the rule is that you aren't supposed to try hard to make anyone like you. That, I mostly agree with. But this whole concept of just sort of walking around with a virtual finger up at the world because you're "doing you" kind of backfires on a lot of people.

At least that's what I think.

Lord knows I've had my share of folks who don't like me. And, yeah, at certain points in my life it's really upset me. But I can honestly say that mostly I've found favor with people. So Mom and I talked and talked about this and tried to figure out what sorts of things work and what doesn't. We agreed that step one is always being cool with yourself but there still seems to be something more. Eventually we brought the question to my brother--a guy who really is one of the most likable dudes I've ever known--and he had a swift response.

"You have to be interested in people. Genuinely. And they have to know that."

Simple, right? But yeah, it is actually. It all makes sense. You have to be cool enough with yourself and  not take yourself so seriously that you can't open yourself up to celebrating others. Or allowing yourself to be intrigued or--dare I say it--improved by other people.

Yeah. That. I think.

So I think I'm going to add that into my little talk on "how to be an exceptional medical student or resident on the wards." I mean it. Because the thing is . . . sometimes a person can work very, very hard but just because of some missing piece in the likability arena, that holds them back from the full embodiment of being perceived as such. The missing "like button."

Good Lord. Does this even make sense? Probably not.

So I guess I'm just thinking. And trying to find ways to push myself and those working with me to their personal best. This is super important with my students who have big life milestones that rely upon it, you know? I mean, if they work as hard as they possibly can but can't quite figure out how to win friends and influence people there will likely be more doors silently closing. Which stinks because they don't really slam. They just sort of gently shut without explanation.

Right. That. What I mean is. . . this isn't likable versus unlikable. It's more like likable versus nondescript maybe. Or like . . .some little thing niggling that makes folks feel like they can take or leave you. Or readily leave you,  you know? Which is fine when you don't work with people or need people in your line of work to be successful. But for a lot of jobs, people deeply matter.

Most jobs even.

Anyways. What do you think? I mean, about likability? What makes you like someone? Can a person work at that? Should they? I'm just wondering.

I'm going to leave you with this--an excerpt from a note I received from a medical student who happens to be one that already liked very much before receiving this note. And yes, the note was flattering as hell. But mostly, the level of thought and reflection that went into it speaks volumes of this person's attention to other humankind.
You create this really cool balance between uniting and delineating.  Yes, you occasionally allude to various differences in your life experiences that you attribute, in part, to the hue of your skin.  You make it crystal clear that we are not all the same and that maybe only babies are “colorblind.”  Maybe only babies should be colorblind.  Pretending that we don’t notice the obvious differences staring us back in the face may be an injustice. And boring.  And ignorant.
You don’t paint an illusion that the grass is greener on your side.  Rather, you share a reality that constructs this magnetic bridge thing that has all these people lined up wanting to cross.  And yes, being black and being female are important components of the whole Dr. Manning.  But I had been mistaken in thinking I wanted to pick your brain about just race.  It was all of it.  The whole.  Also maybe I just wanted to say “I dig it.”  Perhaps from your perspective, it is just you being you.  But from my perspective, it stands out as uniquely badass.  

You know what? I think I would have liked this just as much--maybe even more--if it weren't written to me. And yeah, I'm pretty sure that this is just how this person who wrote this is wired. But damn. Talk about a thoughtful string of words. Man. So I'm wondering. . .  do you think something like this--this level of human interest--is learnable by all of us? And should we all be striving to watch, listen and learn from others and then quietly (or sometimes openly) deconstruct your observations to grow from them? Do you agree with what my brother said about this? Or does it all really just come down to having great hair, nice teeth and decent skin?


Okay. There's my washing machine finishing up. Weigh in okay? Or go ahead and silently judge me for sounding crazy. Either way, the fact that you even bother to read this or any personal blog makes me like you already.  Ha.

Ramble complete.

Happy . . .errr. . .Monday. Night night.


  1. Such an interesting post and so much to think about, here. My overall feeling is that the level of SELF-consciousness it takes to DO this stuff is beyond the ken of many people -- and I'm not sure it's an authentic thing to "strive to be excellent" for a lot of people. You've framed a lot of this in very stark either/or terms, too (the extraordinary, likeable person versus the middle finger guy/gal). I thought of someone like Bill Clinton who had this incredible ability to make everyone around him feel like he really SAW them, yet the opposite of that was his very real and demanding ego that NEEDED this constant affirmation. Does that make sense? Whenever I read your professional/clinical posts, I am always struck by what a good observer you are and how well you appear to really just LISTEN to your patients. I think that's definitely a characteristic of some or even just a strength, and I also think it's something that can be improved upon or even, at best, learned. That's my two cents.

    1. Have I ever told you how affirming it is to me that you bother to read and comment here? I feel so happy when I see your comments. Swear, not being the ass-kissey person I just referred to. Just had to get that out first.

      Okay, yeah. It probably did sound starkly black and white at some parts ha ha. But what I was more trying to impart was this probably small divide between likable and nondescript. That is "some little thing niggling that makes folks feel like they can take or leave you. Or readily leave you." I probably didn't so such a good job saying it amidst my rambling at that wee hour. Ha ha ha. I didn't so much mean the opposite of likable per se--although I do think about that sometimes, too.

      I'm struck by you and all you manage to do and know. I really like you. Through your writing, yes. Which mostly means I would in real life. Okay. Still rambly since I'm up early. Ha.

  2. Honestly, I think there is probably a vast range in the scale of humans' abilities to be empathetic. And isn't that part of what we're talking about here? There are people like Bill Clinton, as Elizabeth pointed out, who seems to be able to perfectly zone in to someone else's life story, to make them feel truly listened to. And there are people who for whatever reason, just cannot seem to relate to others on basic human levels. Perhaps low self-esteem, perhaps that is simply the way they are wired. Can these things be taught and learned?
    I think so but I do not think they can be faked.
    Perhaps some people would best be suited in more of a lab environment. And that is okay. We need all sorts of minds in this world. But your students DO need to learn to have the qualities you speak of. People don't necessarily want the smartest doctor if she doesn't seem to care. And they will not give these doctors all of the information they need to create the best treatment plans either. It will become cut-and-dried. As you so very well know, there's hardly ever a situation where a medical problem is unrelated to so much more than just one body system.
    All right. I'm not really awake here yet so I'm babbling. But in my experience, likability has to be a two-way street. And it may come naturally to some (and they are fortunate) and it must be taught to others. Just as with almost all human behavior.
    And if there is NO sense of humor in there, it ain't ever gonna happen.
    Just thought I'd throw that in there.

    1. Everything I said about Elizabeth--you, too. I love having you smart women here. And YES to the humor part.YES. And HELL YES to the part about not being able to fake it. That is really deep. I'm putting that on a post it note in my head to ponder for the rest of the day.

  3. This is something I've struggled with since like, forever. I'm smart and funny, but even my boyfriend describes me as socially awkward--near Aspergian at times. I like my space and peace and quiet. I live alone out in the middle of nowhere on purpose. But I like people too, and I have struck out my whole adult life on making friends. I've had a few here and there, but they tend to move on while I tend to miss them when they're gone. A lot of my work relationships have gone south over the years and currently I feel very isolated in a work group that has junior high dynamics.
    Meanwhile, I have taken up photography as a hobby. If you asked, I'd tell you that I photograph animals and nature, but I've also found that I have some amazing images of people too. There must be some instinct there!

    1. Wow, KirstenJL. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your honesty. Do you think it is just a part of being introverted or something else? I'm sorry to hear about your current work place. But, to me, this level of self awareness has to mean something. You seem to have that for sure which I think is huge. And it's something I l like about you.

  4. Such an interesting thought-provoking post. I think your brother is one smart dude. He zeroed right in on the heart of the thing. Your mom is a wise one, too, because she quickly identified the essential question. To my mind, likability is also about kindness, about generosity of spirit, as in not just being genuinely interested in another person, but also giving space to their quirks (assuming those quirks are not harmful to others of course). I also think we tend to like people who give us back a reflection of ourselves as someone likable. And yes, that goes two ways. Can it be learned? Probably only by one who is motivated to be likable. Some people just don't give two hoots. One could argue that is another kind of gift. Who knows?

    1. Such great insights. Wow. Yes, I like what you said about we tend to like people who give us back a reflection of ourselves as someone likable. That is SO true. Adding that to my post it notes.

  5. When I read this post I immediately thought about it in the light of my Emory docs. I think that your brother hit it on the head.

    "You have to be interested in people. Genuinely. And they have to know that."

    Like most patients, I don't really know what separates a good doc from a bad one. If I want to know if a doc is good, I have to ask a nurse. They do know. But I do know which doctors are genuinely interested in me. Those are the ones that I trust. I don't know if my primary care doctor (not an Emory doc) is really good or mediocre. I do know that what he tells me is usually right. And I know that he can tell when something is really wrong by looking at me. I trust him. I'm told by a few of my nurse friends and a friend who is an anesthesiologist that my EP (an Emory Doc) is one of the best in the nation for the condition that I have. But I see that he is more interested in my device than he is in me. I have to keep reminding myself that he really is that good. To his defense, he's just very reserved. But honestly, if my primary doc made a major mistake, I'd be likely to overlook it. If he did, it might make me want to go somewhere else.

    1. Real talk right there, LIsa. Thanks for this. You are teaching right now because other providers are reading your words right along with me. 'Preciate you.

  6. I think likability is tied to a person’s personality, which is fixed. I think not being mismatched to our endeavors is the bigger concern. If we’re not fine-tuned to the space and energy that we’re occupying, that’s what leads to mediocrity or falling into that “nondescript” category. It’s like driving with your emergency brake on or walking in a pair of ill-fitting shoes; sure, you’re making progress, but it’s unexceptional progress.

    Can a person work on her likability? Perhaps, but only in a cosmetic sense. She could work on it as a way to get ahead and stand out among her peers, but when she goes home at night and takes the makeup off, there she is with her regular, nondescript self. However, I do think that people can and should work on their social graces.

    What makes me like someone? If I can effortlessly connect with someone who’s on my same frequency - eye to eye, spirit to spirit - without much prerequisite.

    For the record, when I hear people say “I’ma do me, Boo-boo!” I think that if you must announce, either in word or deed, that "you're doing you," you're probably trying to convince yourself more than anyone else that your "you" is worth doing.

    1. Girrrrrrrl. . .the doors of the church are now open! I am soooo happy to have y'all in this conversation with me. This is EXACTLY the kind of insight I was looking for. You guys rule.

  7. I am cracking up at your "You Go, Glen CoCo" shirt... LOL!!! Where did you get that? So funny!


    1. You can't sit with us! LOL #meangirls #haveseenitamilliontimes #onfridayswewearpink

  8. You are not crazy; it seems to me from following this blog and other spots that you are pretty bad-ass in every good sense of the word. You bring a unique perspective to your little corner of the world that no one else can, influenced by a million different things, and do it in a way that's interesting, intelligent, up-front, and without any trace of the "you owe me something" that you sometimes see in the writings of certain kinds of people. (Usually people who are from some group that has been or is still stigmatized in some way, and I can think of many; we are both part of at least two of these groups that I'm aware of.) Most of all, I think a lot of your writing makes us all see more of the similarity than the difference between people; we are all HUMAN after all, and that should be what's most important EVERY time.

  9. From the deck of the Poop..

    Love this post.. At a Black Employees Network meeting during my working years, someone asked me if I could talk a bit about “how I was able to get to my level at Hughes?” (Director and General Manager of F-15 Radar”. My response was “the best answer that I can give to that question is: Figure out how to make people like you”. That doesn’t mean being a “TOM, or a Kiss-Ass”. If you asked 100 people here at Hughes that know me, “What do you think about ole Tony Draper, at least 99 will give a positive response. “ If you operate day to day in a way that people feel like you are approachable and will genuinely listen to what they have to say, they will like you. The operative word is Genuinely. You can’t trick people or BS them into thinking that you care about what they have to say. The best way to do that is to really care! That somehow comes through. My secretary told me once that I had missed my calling. She said that so many people of all levels and races came to my office to talk to me; I should have been a Priest. She actually had little sign made up and mounted over the entrance to my office that read “Padre”. The nickname got widespread enough that the Senior Executives called me Padre.
    It all goes to what Will said: You have to exude to people, "I REALLY CARE ABOUT YOU”. Now the obvious question is, how do you do that? Can you learn to have people believe that you really care? I believe that you can. An older engineer that I had know for some years, stopped me in the hallway and jokingly said to me, “Tony, you walk around here all the time with that smile on your face, you must not know what the hell is going on!”. I replied “George, if knowing what’s going on will make me walk around with that scowl that you have on my face, then I don’t wan’t to know what’s going on! smile
    When i walked into the restroom later, i just looked in the mirror and realize that I did have sort of natural smile on my face. I think that this my me more approachable and made people more comfortable talking to me.
    That’s my little piece. But remember, the caring must be genuine!!!



"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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