Being happy at work is the golden question. We want to be liked by our coworkers and do our best work. Yet, the key to being happy at work was a shock to our podcast guest this week, Vanessa Van Edwards.

Vanessa is Lead Investigator at Science of People. She is the bestselling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People. Her book has been translated into 15 different languages and more than 20 million people watch her on YouTube.

Vanessa’s shares tangible skills to improve interpersonal communication and leadership, including her insights on how people work. She’s developed a science-based framework for understanding different personalities to improve our EQ and help us communicate with colleagues, clients and customers.

She works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

Takeaways from our conversation:


Vanessa says we take our success development for granted. In school we have classes where we can keep building upon; for example, after per-algebra, you take algebra, then progress to geometry, etc. Rarely are we taught to take a step back and look at our progress holistically. 

As adults, we enter our careers and we think about developing specific skills. For instance, in our case as healthcare professionals, that’s clinical skills. When we take a step back and examine our goals, that helps you to separate between a job from a career. This helps you to develop purposeful career goals instead of one-offs.

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We don’t hear a lot about people smarts or street smarts in comparison to the intelligence quotient, book smarts, SAT scores, etc. ‘PQ’ or personal intelligence is a faster way to get to our communication goals because it is the only job skill that applies to any industry in any job. Most importantly, people skills, communication, relationship building, first impression, confidence, presence are multifaceted and can be helpful to you no matter what job you’re in.


Vanessa refers to a study in the interview where researchers looked at the factors at work that impacted day-to-day happiness. A lot of people guess the answer to happiness at work is salary or feeling capable of your skills. The researchers found that the number one factor is your relationships with your colleagues. Vanessa describes a phenomenon that’s common for most people, which is ambivalence.

For example, you walk into work and think, “Do these people really like me? Do I really know them? Would I ever have dinner with these people?”

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Ambivalence is worse than toxic. Having ambivalence relationships with people at work kills your happiness- it can make you feel unproductive, restless, and bored.

Toxic people are easy to work with because you know they’re toxic and you can avoid them (to the best of your ability). On the other hand, working with ambivalent people zaps your energy, which can impacting your happiness at work.

A helpful strategy to identify those ambivalent people- take out a paper and pen and write down the five people at work that you’re unsure about. You’re unsure if you like them, you’re unsure if they like you, you see them everyday and you don’t really know them, or if you email them on a daily/weekly basis. Now think about what are three different things you could say about them if you’re about to introduce them on a conference call. 

Firstly, walk through how that would go:

    1. She’s great at ______________
    2. She’s wonderful to work with when we do ______________
    3. Personally she loves _____________

That’s going to help you break out of ambivalence. If you can’t think about anything nice to say about them, keep thinking about this for the next few weeks.

Secondly, once you are able to harvest those three facts, Vanessa says you will feel less ambivalent about someone. Of course, at the end of this process you may find out that you don’t really like that person. Hopefully, this exercise can help you find the best in the people that you work with.


“Treat others like how you would like to be treated,” is a golden rule that we teach kids. Vanessa replaces this phrase for adults with: “Treat others the way they would treat themselves.” This takes a lot of conscientiousness and purpose. When you think about the way people do things as opposed to the way in which you would like to do things, you can meet them in the middle or act as they would act. 

The personality matrix can be broken down in this acronym:


Openness: level of creativity and degree to which you are willing to try new experiences

Conscientiousness: level of care that you take in your life and work; your ability to plan and organize effectively

Extroversion: level of sociability; where you draw your energy from and how you interact with others

Agreeableness: level of willingness to compromise; your orientation towards others

Neuroticism: level of emotional reactions; emotional stability and general temperament

For example, if you’re high conscientious and you pitch someone an idea at work that is low conscientious in the way in which you’d like to, they will get overwhelmed and won’t want to work with you as much. They would most likely procrastinate in responding back to you. Try to approach people in their language.

Let’s take that example where you pitch a low conscientious person an idea. If you’re going to compromise and do it their way, you’d present them with the three main bullet points instead of a whole manual. 

Vanessa Van Edwards Science of People Burnt Out to Lit Up podcast Joy Energy Time Erika del Pozo burnout healthcare occupational therapy how to be happy at work how to be likeable interesting


How to be happy at work takes a little bit of work, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Have your entire office take the OCEAN quiz on Vanessa’s site and everyone can screenshot and print their results. At your next meeting, it’s fun to guess everyone’s personality matrix before you see each other’s results. Vanessa recommends playing a guessing game and then people can reveal their results.

This can happen for the first ten minutes of a meeting for every meeting and continue it as a guessing game until you phase it out. After figuring everyone out, you can have all the highs on one side and the lows on the other- for example, high agreeables together, low extroversions together etc. to discuss, and then trade and mingle- highs and lows can get together and discuss.

Vanessa has witnessed the transformation that goes on in a team after completing the OCEAN activity. Radial change occurs within teams because this activity brings forth the things that people don’t know how to talk about. 

They’re not huge issues- rather, it’s things like:

At the end of a long day, I need __________

When I’m going through a problem, I verbalize aloud or in my head; I prefer that you either email/text/Slack me based on this problem.

These are the little things that if they go unnoticed, add up to big problems. In other words- that can lead to being unhappy at work. This OCEAN matrix activity can be done in a professional way and bring up issues that come up everyday, but aren’t discussed.


How do you get people to like you- aka, how can you become likeable?

Vanessa wrote Captivate because she believes that most people skills books are written by extroverts. She is an ambivert, and it’s hard to learn people skills from an extrovert’s perspective. 

The phrase “To be interesting, be interested” holds truth for extroverts; however, that phrase for ambiverts and introverts can be daunting.

Vanessa breaks that phrase down even more. The way to be interested in someone is by asking conversation sparkers. As one of Vanessa’s favorite backpocket tools, she believes you must stop sticking to social scripts.

“How was your weekend?”

“Good, good.”

“How are you?”


“How’s your family?”


Social scripts kill every piece of charisma in your body. In everyday conversations with our coworkers, friends, or at networking events, we get into the habit of following these rote scripts. As a result of following these social scripts, you become very uninteresting because there is nothing to be interested in. 


Vanessa challenges you: 

How can you slightly modify those questions to still be safe and still be comfortable, but to be a little more sparking?

Vanessa Van Edwards, Lead Investigator at Science of People

When you ask someone an interesting question that ‘sparks’ them, you are actually eliciting the creation of dopamine in their body which helps them feel excited; you also elicit the creation of oxytocin which makes them feel connected, heard, and trusted.

 A slight variation to “How was your weekend?” could be “What was the best part about your weekend?”

Remember, the key to how to be happy at work is to focus on building your relationships, and the key to being likeable is to spark people and show genuine interest in learning about them.

Vanessa Van Edwards Science of People Burnt Out to Lit Up podcast Joy Energy Time Erika del Pozo burnout healthcare occupational therapy how to be happy at work how to be likeable interesting
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