How to Balance Being Liked
and Respected at Work

See also: Ethics and Goodness in Professional Life

Professional brand is key to moving your career forward. Rather than likeability, it's respect that helps to fully control your reputation.

Let's get one thing clear. When it comes to working in office environments, it's not just about what you do, but how you get it done. This is how you build your professional reputation. And you must know that reputation is key in business.

Reputation is just as valuable for entire enterprises, as for individual workers. It's thanks to reputation that you get promoted and score exciting projects.

Naturally, your reputation will depend on the kind of relation you develop with your colleagues. This is the moment to ask yourself: would you rather be liked or respected? Or perhaps strike a balance between the two? Here are some tips to show you how to balance respect and likability, developing a professional reputation that helps to move your career in the right direction.

Why Likeability can be Tricky in the Workplace

Professionals often fail to understand that building a reputation doesn't have to be a choice between being liked and respected.

This perspective on leadership comes from that famous Machiavellian view that “It is better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both”. But any office newbie knows that being cold and calculating in personal relationships ultimately backfires and leads you exactly nowhere.

This is not to say that you should strive to be liked at the office. People easily exploit niceness. Professionals who want to be liked ultimately lose in the office game. They're never the ones who get promoted or offered exciting projects to work on. Sure, being nice is not a bad thing, but you cannot count on it to help you further your career.

This is something especially important to consider for inexperienced female professionals. Women brought up in Western cultures are taught that being nice is essential to lead a successful life – but it's clear that it won't help female professionals to further their careers.

So, how do you avoid becoming the victim of likability?

  • Never share too much personal information
  • Don't try to please everyone; it's not worth your time
  • Don't shy away from company politics – be an active participant
  • Never apologize for mistakes made by other people
  • Seek opportunities, don't just wait for them to appear
  • Accept that confrontations are sometimes necessary
  • Be assertive and learn how to say “no”

Why Respect Matters?

Now that you know that likeability isn't your best solution for professional success, let's consider respect.

Respect has a positive association – it's related to the deference or esteem your colleagues and supervisors feel for you and your expertise.

Let's be clear on one thing – being nice doesn't earn you respect. In fact, respect is earned through lots of hard work. Respect of others builds the foundation for your reputation. It's what makes executives notice you and recommend you for promotion.

But is it possible to be both liked and respected? Absolutely! In this article written for Forbes, Kare Anderson argues that striking a balance between strength (the source of respect) and warmth (where personal likeability comes from) is possible.

Interpersonal relationships grow on warmth – it helps people to connect with you on a more meaningful level. Naturally, you also earn respect by helping colleagues. So, how do you make the most from likeability and respect?

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

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Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

5 Tips to Help You Strike a Balance Between Likeability and Respect

Here are some tips to help you become respected and liked at your workplace:

  • Show responsibility for your mistakes – once you enter a position of responsibility, you'll be taking risks and mistakes are simply bound to happen. Take full responsibility for any setbacks and you'll be showing your colleagues that for you, they're opportunities for growth. Seeing what you've learned from your mistakes, workers will respect you.

  • Have faith in yourself – this doesn't mean that you should become stuck up and conceited. Believe in yourself, and you'll find it easier to believe in others. It's a source of empathy and self-assertion. Once you develop your professional identity, never sell out on it. This consistency in action is what earns you respect.

  • Stop thinking about the opinions of other people – business is tough and sometimes you'll need to make difficult choices. Don't let what others think get to you – you're the one who has to make the decision, not them. Even if it hits your colleagues, they won't hate you for it. Just pay attention to how you communicate it to others and you’ll be good.

  • Don't forget that different things work for different genders – this point is important. In Western cultures, a simple sentiment like anger can have completely different significance for men and women. For men it can earn respect, while women may be deemed emotional and irrational, confirming the patriarchal division of character features into male and female. For women, it's far more important to appear rational and calm. Some believe that likeability and respect are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. And it might be true – female bosses often need to pay a likeability penalty.

  • Show others how to treat you – help others understand that you deserve respect. Treat them respectfully and they'll extend the courtesy to you. Instead of complaining about professional relationships, negotiate what you want out of them. Train people around you to treat you with dignity and respect. Make sure to never accept aggressive, bullying or bossy behaviors.

It seems that striking a balance between being liked and respected is a harder task for women than for men. But that's not an excuse to settle for being nice and lose out on important careers opportunities just because supervisors never thought of you as one who takes risks and has full control over their career. Don't get overly friendly with your colleagues, but be human – only then you'll earn their respect.

You should always consider your reputation as a significant factor in your career development. Consider what you'd like to be known for and what kind of reputation will help you to realize your goals. Think about your industry and what sort of reputation it requires of its members. Only then will you be able to fully control your relationship and steer your career in the right direction.

About the Author:

Carol Williams

Carol Williams is part of the HR team behind Company Directors platform.

Carol combines her experience in HR and employee management with her interest in building a personal brand and professional reputation as well as her passion for writing.