HR Manager Florida Fruit Shippers
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Being Liked or Respected at Work – How to Strike a Balance

16th Nov 2015
HR Manager Florida Fruit Shippers
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Working at the office or in any other environment is never just about getting the work done. In fact, work is also about how you get things done – what you do and how you do it build your reputation as a professional. You probably realize that reputation is just as valuable to individual professionals and so entire companies, so if you'd like to get promoted and recognized, you'll need to work on that.

Entering a workplace, you'll have to decide what kind of relation you'd like to develop with your colleagues and supervisors. Is it better to be liked or respected? Here are a few tips to help you navigate the issue and build a solid professional reputation.

You want to be liked? Better think twice

People often think that choosing between being liked and being respected is like choosing between the Machiavellian love and fear. His view that 'It is better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both' has shaped our perspective on leadership. But being cold and calculating won't get you far in the office game.

The opposite – being liked or being perceived as nice – seems like a good option. Still, it does carry some downturns. Being nice, you'll risk being recognized as someone whose nature can be exploited. You'll be the one who never gets to work on highly sought-after assignments or gets promoted. Being liked at the workplace will create a nice atmosphere, but it won't help you to advance your career.

This is especially true to attitudes assumed by inexperienced female professionals. Women are brought up in cultures which expect them to be nice, but sitting still and speaking only when spoken to won't get them far in their careers.

If you fear that you might fall to this trap, here are a few tips to help you avoid being too nice for your own good at the workplace:

  • Avoid sharing personal information
  • Actively participate in company politics
  • Don't passively wait for opportunities to arrive at your doorstep
  • Don't apologize for someone else's mistakes
  • Stop trying to please everyone
  • Accept that confrontations are sometimes necessary
  • Learn to be assertive.

Being warm in interpersonal relationships is important to add value to the professional community, but your colleagues aren't supposed to be your friends so set your eyes on the prize and push on. Being nice will only distract you from reaching your goal.

Why is being respected more important than being nice?

Think for a moment what being respected means in the professional context. Respect evokes a positive association of deference or esteem for a person. We respect people who are experts in their field and aren't afraid to share their expertise with others – they get recognized for their work.

Being nice will never earn you respect. It takes a lot of work to gain the respect of people you work with, but the effort is worth it. Your reputation is what will make executives notice you and recommend you for promotion.

How to be respected at work?

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

  • Believe in yourself – don't become aggressively confident, but rather more emphatic and self-assured. Over the course of your career, strive to develop a professional identity. Never compromise or sell out on it – consistency will earn you respect.
  • Show others how you should be treated – if you treat others with respect, they'll be more likely to extend that courtesy to you. Learn to negotiate relationships to get what you want out of them. Instead of complaining about them, own them. Give yourself permission to 'train' people around you to treat you with respect and dignity. Never accept behaviors that are aggressive, controlling or bossy.
  • Stop worrying about what others will think about you – when making an important decision, you should stop thinking about the opinions of others, but focus on the impact this choice will have on the business. Making a hard decision won't lead others to hate you for it – but only as long as you pay attention to the manner in which you do it.
  • Be responsible for your mistakes – entering positions of responsibility, you'll take risks and mistakes will happen. If you acknowledge them and show others what you've learned from your errors, you'll gain their respect.
  • Mind the gender difference – it's clear that our culture allows different behaviors to each gender. While men who get angry attract more respect, higher status and better job titles, women come off as emotional, confirming everything patriarchal culture tells us about female leadership. Women in general gain more respect by being calm and rational.
  • Use your body – you'd be surprised to learn how important is body language in your interactions with other people. During an important meeting, be compelling to everyone present –a series of excellently handled meetings will render you a go-to expert in situations which require strong leadership. Before entering the conference room, check your body language to avoid leaning away, crossing your arms or touching your face (or other parts of your body). All these gestures convey lack of confidence and make you look less approachable.

Can you be both liked and respected?

It's not easy to find the right balance between being liked and respected. Kare Anderson argues in Forbes that it's possible by striking the balance between strength (understood as the source of respect) and warmth (the source of personal likeability). (

This is also regulated by gender. In case of women and men, being perceived as a person who does their job well comes from a different place. Some behaviors earn men respect while making women look irrational – obviously, respect cannot come from this.

Likeability and respect tend to be positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. Women who are successful and good at their jobs usually need to pay a likeability penalty - especially if they work in fields considered to be male domains.

Being liked and respected is a real possibility for men, but not so much for women – female executives need to work much harder on maintaining this balance. But most often, they simply choose one option over the other. So far, we've seen women in executive positions picking respect rather than likeability.

How to control your reputation at work?

When considering your career development, always take the factor of reputation into account. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I want to be known for?
  • What can I change in my reputation as I develop my career?
  • What does my industry expect from professionals like me?
  • What kind of reputation will bring me closer to realizing my goal?

Ask yourself these questions from time to time. This is how you can ensure that you're on the right track to becoming the kind of professional you'd like to be.

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