Liked or Respected… Are they Mutually Exclusive?

It’s no surprise that as humans we all have a desire to be liked by our colleagues, friends and family. But does our likability compromise our right to be respected? And where does one become the other?  This age-old question still has professionals scrambling for the right answer to ensure they act accordingly.  But what do these words even mean?

  • ‘Respect’ – A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements
  • ‘Like’ – To find something or someone agreeable, enjoyable or satisfactory

Although they might mean different things to different people therefore, these two words do appear to be intrinsically linked. For example, employees will want to be liked by their fellow colleagues to ensure meaningful workplace relationships are formed while managers might prioritise respect to lend gravitas to their position further up the hierarchy.  Ultimately the need to be liked decreases as the maturity and seniority of the individual rises. People who are more comfortable and dedicated in their roles are arguably too preoccupied to consider workplace socio-politics.

We live in the generation of the popularity mindset where individuals will put themselves out time after time for the sake of their colleagues, yet the eager-to-please employee is often overlooked for career advancement in an organisation. Being ‘nice’ is usually an insufficient qualification for progression to management positions and can even have a sabotaging effect on your career, in spite of the fact that creating strong interpersonal relationships adds value to the professional community and creates a positive office environment.

Every individual in a professional environment will at some point have the moral dilemma of respecting a person but not necessarily liking their views, behaviour or decisions.  It’s common knowledge that you don’t have to like everyone you meet but you are certainly expected to give them the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions. Employees who are the “go to expert” and an invaluable resource at work in their field are not only recognised by their managers but also their colleagues. Experts within the organisation know that it’s good to be respected but also beneficial to be approachable. This will obviously come from spending time within the organisation and getting to grips with the people and the culture.

Teams that have built rapport will find it easier to work with each other as there is less chance of confrontation when assistance or criticism may be needed. However relationships that are too ‘pally’ may crack under pressure. This is due to the reality that ‘friends’ are less able to understand each other’s behaviour when professional circumstances cause it to change or become uncharacteristic.  But people can also be challenged in different ways that may in fact better suit their personality in order to reach a more positive outcome.

Behavioural psychologist Bruce Tuckman found that teams go through four stages of group development which came to be known as the forming, storming, norming and performing cycle. The development framework shows initial team development where employees are focussed on being conscientious to others and making a good impression. Following this, cracks start to appear as employees become focussed on team position and relationships. Teams then start to understand key responsibilities and roles within the group and are committed to the task at hand. Finally the team understand they have a mutual goal to work towards and are strategically aware.

After undertaking these stages of team development, individuals are able to form relationships that can be tested when uncomfortable situations may arise without the fear of confrontation. This allows for a stronger and more agile workforce which is able to hit problems head on and surpass their existing norms with ease.

To conclude: The myth of ‘nice guys finish last’ has ceased to exist within this generation’s organisational cultures yet still serves as a staple of the dog-eat-dog business persona of yesteryear. Creating strong relationships has become crucial to have a successful and fulfilling career.  Being likeable can open doors due to the fact that more people will simply correspond more positively with a relationship dynamic that is non-confrontational and logical.  But the popularity positives can start to run dry when individuals start seeing you as less of a colleague and more as a friend.

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