THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Economic reality: You can't convince the complainers

A recent study by SkillSoft found that five of the top-ten elements of workplace happiness have to do with interpersonal relationships, so it seems that most people understand the importance of being well liked.  

But not everyone knows how to be. And it's not easy. Being well liked at work means taking a lot of risks, and when it comes to deciding to make a risky move, people are inherently reluctant.

Good social skills start with being vulnerable. If you want to create a relationship with someone, you need to open up a little piece of yourself so they can see inside and find something to connect with. Some relationships will be close, some will be casual, but all will be based on your figuring out how to open up just a bit. (Keith Ferrazzi gives a great step-by-step approach to this process in his book, Never Eat Alone.)

You can judge your own competence by how well you manage yourself in a mess, says Eric Dezenhall, a publicist who specializes in managing disasters. "So much of crisis management comes down to basic likeability," says Dezenhall, author of the book Damage Control.

Dezenhall says that mental gymnastics to craftily shift the blame have unimpressive results. "It doesn't matter how smart you are. What matters is if we like you."  

When things go wrong, the first thing you should consider is apologizing. Saying you're sorry is powerful.

"The public is enormously forgiving of genuine contrition," according to research about bouncing back from a career mess by Jeffrey Sonnenfelt at the Yale school of management. For example, medical malpractice suits go down significantly when a doctor is willing to apologize for a mistake.  

However, an apology works only when you're truly sorry. Dezenhall points out that an apology made just to make a problem go away often does more harm than good because it is, in fact, inconsistent with who you are and not believable.  

This advice brings to mind the reaction to my panel discussion at BlogHer last weekend. Not during, but after. The room was totally packed, and there were questions flying the whole time, and I answered questions how I usually do: short and direct.  

Later I saw the online aftermath of the panel, and there were a few bloggers who were very upset.

Of course, no matter what I say, there are always a few people who are upset. Some weeks, there are a few thousand people upset. In general, I read the comments, learn from those I can learn from, and move on. I asked some friends what I should do about the unhappy BlogHer bloggers. All my friends told me to ignore it. "It doesn't matter," is what they said over and over.

It is this moment– when you find out that someone doesn't like what you've done– that determines how well-liked you are at work. You can't bow to every complaint about what you do, but you do need to get good at figuring out which people to address and which to ignore. Both decisions are risks.

Here's what I learned from the criticism about me at the blog Suburban Turmoil: it's more effective to be short and direct in writing than it is in person. The comments section on the blog post complaining about me was already boisterous. So I thought I might get trounced again for adding my own comment. But I took a chance and apologized because I could do it with honesty.

On the other hand, I received nearly 100 personal emails from people attacking me for the last column I wrote on Yahoo Finance, and I'm ignoring them. Well, except for this one, which I can't resist publishing, from Eduard Bauer:  

"Please stop giving horrible advice. Your detachment from reality is hurting the American economy."