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.