Does it Matter if They Like You?

Conventional managerial wisdom says, “It doesn’t matter if they like you, as long as they respect you.” I can also hear the echo of countless bosses and mentors over the years, “You’re not here to be liked.” “If you worry about whether they like you, they won’t respect you.” I get the sentiment and, as with anything else, it’s a matter of degree. But, I’ve never seen these as opposing characteristics. Why can’t a leader be respected AND liked? Demanding and likeable?

Frankly, I’m all for being likable, and I’ve finally found the research to back it up.

In their Harvard Business Review article, Competent Jerks, Loveable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks. Casciaro and Lobo shared their extensive research across a wide array of industries which found that although managers SAY they prefer to work with competent over likeable people, in reality, they actually seek out and work with people they like, even when they’re less competent.

We found that if someone is strongly disliked, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people won’t want to work with her anyway. By contrast if someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competency he has to offer.

Of course the best player is the “loveable star” who is both competent and likeable.

A recent Wall Street Journal article cites another study which found that being likeable matters.

Likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven. A study of 133 managers last year by researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that if an auditor is likable and gives a well-organized argument, managers tend to comply with his suggestions, even if they disagree and the auditor lacks supporting evidence.

How to Foster Professional Likeability

1. Don’t be a jerk, even if you’re competent.

2. Make a point to get to know the human beings you work with.  It’s easier to like someone you know.

3. Listen more, talk less.

4. Create opportunities for your team to connect and learn more about one another.

5. Capitalize on your likeable team members. Have them help bridge and build relationships for those competent players with a more jerky edge.

6. Lower your jerky tolerance threshold. Resist the urge to let your competent players get away with bad behaviors.

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Posted in Career & Learning, Energy & Engagement and tagged , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

20 Comments

  1. Yes, it matters if you want people to go above and beyond what’s required.

    If you’re not well liked, people tend to do the minimum to keep their job.

    p.s. btw Karin, I like you. 🙂

  2. I enjoy reading your blog. Today i will add my comment.

    In my culture, when a person greets a leader, she/he would say: ” I respect you sir/madam”. But the problem is the language has the same word for “respect” and “fear”. As it turns out the hidden meaning of the greeting would be: “I fear you sir/madam”.

    What I have never understood is whether or not the language deliberately coined one word for fear and respect. Probably this has to do with the culture and the mind.

    With time I observed a shroud cultural leader walked on this fine line. But if you should expect people to out of their way (especially) to bail you out, if it happened, then it would be much better if they liked you.

    • Edward, so great to have you join the conversation. That’s so interesting. Now you really have me wondering about the origins of all that as well. Intriguing.

    • Bruce, lunches work. I also like to start meetings with giving people an opportunity to connect. “What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week (it can be personal or professional). Finding ways to occassionally get out of the office together and do something fun. I’m almost finished a free ebook with easy to implement exercises a leader can do with the team that could help as well.

  3. The best way I become “likeable” is that I genuinely like people, even when I have to stretch myself to find something to like about some person. I find that most people respond well to me, even if we disagree strongly, when they can see that I authentically find them likeable.

  4. Ouch, with this one!

    How important is it to be likeable? Just ask Hillary Clinton—probably the only reason she lost the nomination to Barak Obama.

    People who are likeable are simply more successful…sometimes being likeable even trumps competency. I’ve seen examples where people are kept on simply because they were too nice to fire or transfer! I bet we all have…

    On the other hand, someone who is competent but unlikeable has a lonely road ahead…

    Great article, Karin!

  5. It is so important to be likable, way more important than to be competent. Don’t get me wrong. We need to be proficient in our jobs but when we take interest in others and help them to discover their gifts and strengths, they will be there for us in the difficult times. They will be forgiving when we make a mistake or can’t give them the vacation days they want. And that is what likability is all about. Cultivating meaningful relationships and showing others we are their greatest supports.

    Thanks Karin for a great post!

    • Thanks so much Terri. You raise a great point about forgiveness of mistakes etc. Meaningful relationships go such a long way.

  6. I personally find being likeable very helpful when it comes to giving feedback. I find that people are more open to feedback when it comes from someone they like -as opposed to coming from a ‘competent jerk’. Since feedback is so essential for my team, it was important for me to establish at least some likeability.. to pave the way for a more open and comfortable environment.

    Plus it makes the daily grind a bit easier 🙂

    • Katy, Excellent point! I find it very hard to hear the truth from someone I dislike. Great to have you join the conversation.

  7. Hi Karin, your blog topic reminded me of my stint working in several MNCs here in the Philippines. Being liked and competent matters most. Charisma makes people work diligently even if not seen while Competence makes people believe you are in control. Bottom-line, the result is sustained teamwork performance! Today, working with a social mission team of community volunteers, it applies the same! Thanks for following @sulongkabataan1 God bless!

    • Manny, Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I’ve found it really matters in the call center world. Glad to have you join the conversation, I hope you will continue your participation in LGL.

  8. I have a client who is very likable and her peers love her yet the problem is that her boss wants to feel the love. The boss wants to see employees at the bar on Friday at 3:00, not only doing good work at the office. The boss actually gives jerks his ear when they show up to hang out. Employees are faced with a choice of hanging out or getting the work done. I’m all for creating opportunities for connection but the boss needs to remember that social connection, team building are not one size fits all. Needless to say, the boss is not very well liked.

    • Alli, oh that’s a nightmare. It sounds like an important time for the employees to talk offline with him and really discuss what would make their relationship most effective. He may be convinced he’s doing the right thing… trying to connect. This imperfect boss, may need some support, and it’s okay if that comes from his team.. it often does.

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