Last weekend, my local public-radio station ran a 2009 interview with Don Sobol, author of the Encyclopedia Brown series. Sobol talked about his 10-year-old mystery-solving main character and said that one of his most important tasks was making a really smart kid likeable to his readers. That caught my attention because I am constantly on the prowl for strategies to help really smart grownups be likeable.
Those of us who work in higher education have the opportunity to interact with a fair number of people who seem to think that being smart always trumps being congenial. For the most part, they do not mean to be unlikeable; it just doesn’t occur to them to make an effort to be pleasant. Their often standoffish or surly behavior prompts others to avoid them, which creates a nasty and perpetual cycle. “They are rude to me, so I have no choice but to rude to them.” I find this sad, but I can’t exactly ring them up and suggest they take a course on emotional intelligence, hire an executive coach, or start taking nice pills. But when someone asks for my advice, well, then I get an opportunity to have an important conversation — like the one I one had with one of my former graduate students when she called to ask for career advice.Email This Article