The importance of being amiable
In late 2010 a colleague and friend of mine, Trevor Hawkins, died suddenly. In remembering him, my fellow ACU colleague Professor Robert Pryor spoke about Trevor’s remarkable amiability. This provoked me to think deeper about the value of amiability at work.
Amiability is an employability attribute that is often overlooked and undervalued. To be amiable means to be friendly, likeable or agreeable in disposition. On the face of it, this seems an obvious quality that would benefit anyone seeking to be successful in work.
However it is a mistake to underestimate both the power of amiability and the apparent of scarcity of it in the workplace. To recommend that others be friendly or open is easy, but in practice people often find it difficult to be amiable.
All of us, even the most repugnant, can usually manage a few moments of unctuous agreeability, but such sporadic or self-serving gestures are more likely to raise questions of insincerity and integrity in the surprised minds on the receiving end. To be amiable means to be consistently and authentically open to others. It means being approachable, at all, or nearly all times.
To be approachable, or to approach others requires connection, and as my colleague Brené Brown has pointed out in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, to connect with another requires courage. Connection requires courage because in reaching out, or opening up, we risk rejection, criticism, perhaps even derision. Work is an important form of social contribution, and therefore when we work we contribute and so connect to others and society generally. Therefore work requires courage to connect with others.
If we are to open ourselves through contribution and connection to rejection or criticism, we must also have compassion not only for others, but also for ourselves. A common reason people fail to connect derives from their highly self-critical tendencies. If I have done such a wonderful job in accepting a very negative view of myself, I’d be crazy wouldn’t I to risk having this negativity confirmed through connecting with others.
Amiable people like other people.They respect other people. They are interested in other people. They want to see others succeed and will work to help them achieve. Perhaps most importantly, they like themselves or at least they are self-accepting. They are at ease with themselves and so can be at ease with others. There is no pent up energy, no points to prove, no audience they perceive they need to impress.
There is generally a quiet, peaceful, groundedness about amiable people. They do not seek or need the limelight. They are team players and need no ghastly false team bonding to make them so. Indeed, they are more likely to arrange events spontaneously that respect the needs and preferences of others and in so doing they naturally build an esprit de corps.
Rarer still is the amiable person who is also a shrewd judge. Someone who can hold an opinion about another person, but not get so carried away by their own views that they lose perspective and fail to appreciate another’s other qualities.
Amiable people are popular. They are go-to people who are consistent, competent, respected and reliable. Amiable people have a sense of perspective, but at the same time they are not removed or remote. They have a maturity that is understated and reassuring.
When one starts to unpack amiability, it is obvious that amiability should never be taken for granted and never underestimated. Some people are blessed with a natural charisma and amiability, for the rest of us, working towards being more amiable in the workplace strikes me as one of the more worthy resolutions to put on our lists for the new year at work.
Yes it is obvious that being amiable is likely to help our careers, so why does it get overlooked so frequently? Look around your workplace, or more widely, and take notice of very amiable colleagues. They are potent role models and just imagine how much more pleasant work would be if there was more of it at work. For those of us lucky enough to have known Trevor Hawkins, we had a master class and an inspiration to help us become more amiable.