Do you think it’s more important to be trusted than competent at work? Are personality factors, such as warmth and likability, actually more important than being good at your job when it comes to longevity in a particular position?
My mantra has always been that it’s better to be liked than good at your job.
Do you agree?
Thinking back on places you’ve worked during your career weren’t there always some people who were kept around because the boss liked them, or trusted them, or didn’t feel threatened by them? Weren’t there a few “yes-men or yes-women” from your past that fit this description? Who knows, maybe they were having an affair with the boss, as everyone said.
Beside the point, but you get where I’m going: This is a provocative issue! It can be counter-intuitive, even polarizing. What’s your take on it? I’d love to know.
You might believe your competence in the workplace ensures your longevity there. You may think your ability to remain in the job you love is primarily the outcome of how well you perform it. This is so much more important than being liked at work, right? Sounds reasonable. After all, we’re not in high school: There’s a business to be run and we’re there to build the bottom line!
Nice Is Not Enough
And Executive Coach Caroline Dowd-Higgins would probably agree with you: “Being likable without being respected” is limiting to your career progression because “winning the popularity contest shouldn’t be your goal,” she says.
“It’s natural to say you want to be liked and respected, but when forced to make a choice, I urge you to seek the respect of your co-workers and your boss because being nice is not enough. Being courteous and professional in the workplace is expected, but if one is too agreeable, passive, and overly-compassionate it may hinder your chances of getting promoted or working on prime assignments. Being overly-nice is probably not in your job description, so don’t succumb to the self-sabotaging behavior.”
“Don’t volunteer to take notes or get coffee for others if that’s not expressly in your job description. I know that women tend to be nurturers and that’s great, but do it at home with your loved ones and don’t get too personal at work. If you find yourself acting like your co-worker’s mother or become the company pop psychologist because you are a really good listener, you are being too nice. Get back to work!” Dowd-Higgins adds. (1)
Career and Leadership Coach Shivani Bhagi concurs, adding that it’s easier to be liked as an individual once people respect you for the choices and decisions you’ve made in your professional role.
“Provided I could justify my position on an issue and aimed for a win-win without intentionally putting anyone at a disadvantage in the process, I knew I was doing my job and doing what I was being paid to do. When people respect your decisions, AND if you’re personable, approachable, and helpful, it’s a great combination to have when it comes to stepping up as a leader,” she says.
“If you don’t believe in yourself, respect your own decisions, or stand by your own values, no one else will, and that’s the quickest way to lose respect even if you are a likable character,“ Bhagi adds. (2, emphasis mine)
Relationships Matter More Than Work
Of course, cultivating respect at work is vitally important—especially for women, who should command as much respect as men. But there’s more to consider when weighing trust against competence. Charlotte Beers, the former chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and author of I’d Rather Be in Charge, argues that relationships often matter more than work. This is the harsh reality, however unfair it may seem, where the quality of your work can be trumped by the relationships you build or break, she says.
“You have to recognize that there will be a moment in time when you will not be able to be represented by the quality of your work but rather by the relationships you have. Make as few enemies as possible; it’s really just good form. Men can compete ferociously with each other and then turn around and lend a hand to their opponent. Here’s the bottom line: The person who is very good at relationships is the one who gets to be in charge,” says Beers.
She adds: “It’s a small world and your boss today may be your customer in five years. Every person counts in our connected world-of-work, and respect is a key element in maintaining professional relationships.” (3)
Writing for LifeHacker Australia, Lui Spandas expands on this, reminding us of first impressions and why approachability is more important than coming across as competent when meeting someone new in the workplace. What’s more, this can have lasting career consequences, she says, citing research from Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy.
Cuddy has studied first impressions for more than 15 years, deducing two factors that people assess when meeting someone new for the first time; namely, trust and respect—and these relate to warmth and competence, respectively:
To develop a first impression quickly people will want to know: “Can I trust this person?” and “Can I respect this person?” There’s a misguided idea that competence is valued over warmth in professional work environments. But warmth, or trustworthiness, is the more important quality to communicate when meeting someone for the first time, says Cuddy, adding: “Competence is evaluated only after trust has been established.”
“If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far; in fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative. A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you’ve established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat,” Cuddy told Business Insider.
Spandas adds: “Some of the mistakes employees make at work because they believe competence outweighs warmth include skipping social events, not asking for help, and exuding an unapproachable demeanor—all in the name of appearing smart and capable. This can backfire, as these individuals may be overlooked for promotions because nobody got to know and trust them in the company.” (4)
Career Blogger Harrison Barnes underscores this value of being well-liked at work, concluding: “Regardless of your job, you are part of a social dynamic inside your organization. Beyond any other single thing – including your work product – the largest obstacle to anyone’s success is a social dynamic turning against you. If your co-workers don’t like you, word will spread and your career in your organization may be doomed. If a group of superiors doesn’t like you, the same thing will occur.” (5)
Where do you stand on this surprising and provocative issue? Do you have a story to share? Please take a moment to share your feedback in the comments below.
1. & 3. Dowd-Higgins, Caroline. Do You Want to Be Liked or Respected at Work? The Huffington Post. Feb. 5, 2013 (Accessed Jan. 31, 2017) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/caroline-dowdhiggins/career-advice_b_2611326.html
2. Bhagi, Shivani. Is it Better to Be Liked or Respected at Work? The Huffington Post. Nov. 26, 2015 (Accessed Jan. 31, 2016): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shivani-bhagi/is-it-better-to-be-liked_b_8656394.html
4. Lui, Spandas. Trust Vs Competence: What’s More Important In A Professional Work Environment? LifeHacker. Jan 18, 2016 (Accessed Jan. 31, 2017) http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2016/01/trust-vs-competence-whats-more-important-in-a-professional-environment/
5. Barnes, Harrison. The Importance of Being Well-Liked in Your Job
Jan 24, 2014 (Accessed Jan. 31, 2017): http://www.hb.org/the-importance-of-being-well-liked-in-your-job/
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