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Trying too hard to get everyone to like you? Here’s exactly when (and how) you need to

Research proves likability contributes to success at work. But for some roles, it’s less important. Science helps you figure it out.

Trying too hard to get everyone to like you? Here’s exactly when (and how) you need to
[Photo: Helena Lopes/Unsplash]

Do you know how likable you are?

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You may want to find out because according to Psychology Today, this metric predicts success, not just with friends and family, but as you advance your career.

Before you can figure out how likable you are, it may help to understand what likability actually means. Generally, it refers to an agreeable personality with traits including “selflessness, cooperativeness, helpfulness, tolerance, flexibility, generosity, sympathy, and courtesy,” according to research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Scientists have conducted multiple studies on how likability contributes to success at work. One study shows that not only are likable employees thought of as having more positive personality traits, but they are also actually evaluated more favorably than less-liked employees.  Another from the University of Massachusetts indicates that managers will comply with the suggestions of well-liked employees more than those of less likable employees, even when the well-liked ones lack evidence for their suggestions.

When you mix in conscientiousness, a likable person is less inclined to engage in behaviors that are counterproductive to their work. So it’s no surprise that people who got high marks for being both conscientious and likable received higher job performance ratings than those who were conscientious but not all that agreeable.

According to Michael Lovas and Pam Holloway, authors of Axis of Influence: How Credibility and Likeability Intersect to Drive Success, likability may even surpass competence, especially when it’s coupled with credibility.

There are right and wrong ways to appear likable at work

Baking muffins for everyone at the office, picking up slack for a lazy coworker, volunteering to take notes at meetings, constantly cracking jokes, and sharing secrets about people may be effective ways to bond with your coworkers, but they may not be the most helpful ways to make you more likable.

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Instead, avoid gossiping, deliver results, be helpful to others, and hone your engagement skills.

You can also focus on developing essential skills and behaviors, such as:

Learn to listen with empathy

Active listening focuses on the development of listening and concentration skills to better understand, respond, and remember what is being said. On the other hand, empathetic listening requires that you listen with a truly open and nonjudgmental mind. This helps foster better working relationships, selling ideas to management, interviewing, and improves your ability to handle emotional individuals.

Find common ground

Think about the person you are talking to or working with and determine what you have in common as well as your shared goals. Research shows that people who seek to find common ground have better interpersonal relationships.

Develop “good personality” traits

When cooperation and collaboration are required it pays to be selfless, tolerant, and flexible (all traits that make you easy to like) to more easily resolve conflicts and achieve a common understanding.

Likability becomes less important the higher up the corporate ladder you climb

Managers often have to engage in tasks that are more confrontational in nature and may need to sacrifice some likability to get ahead. In trying to gain the respect of colleagues, they should instead focus on persuading others to cooperate rather than seeking to influence by being likable.

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Should managers try to compensate for the need to become less likable as they work their way up the career ladder? Not really.

They can focus on traits such as perceived empowerment, leadership style, and personality traits to improve their workplace instead.

In the case of empowering leadership, power is shared between managers and subordinates. The four key behaviors in play here include highlighting the importance of employees’ work, employee participation in decision-making, emphasizing employees’ strengths, and removing bureaucratic constraints. Research out of Baylor University shows that this actually helps reduce employee cynicism and boosts productivity.

Is getting people to like you worth the fuss? That depends on where you stand in your career journey. Given that it becomes less important with seniority, cultivate likability early in your career so that when you achieve a more senior role you can focus on developing leadership qualities. Good leaders aren’t just likable, they’re effective and get things done.


Harrison Monarth is an executive coach for senior leaders and a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book is the second edition of the global bestseller Executive Presence-The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO (McGraw-Hill 2019). You can find him on Twitter @HarrisonMonarth or Linkedin

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