Do You Really Like Me? Tips To Increase The Nice Factor Just Enough

Strive for the balance of being likeable and being respected as assertive.

Strive for the balance of being likeable and being respected as assertive.

Everyone wants to have cordial relationships at work; everyone wants to be liked. No one wants to be the hated boss or co-worker. No one wants to avoid someone in the office because of her unpredictability.

But how can you turn up your popularity factor, perhaps in order to enlist more people to work with you on your team, or perhaps even just to make collaborations and meetings go more smoothly and amicably? And how can you do it in such a way that it does not seem insincere and too much?

One of my favorite songs from the play, “Wicked,” is when the character, Galinda, tells Elphaba, her goal is to make her more popular. The lyrics show what one female colleague can do for another:

“Don’t be offended by my frank analysis/ Think of it as personality dialysis/Now that I’ve chosen to become a pal, a Sister and adviser/ There’s nobody wiser, Not when it comes to popular /I know about popular! And with an assist from me/ To be who you’ll be/ Instead of dreary who-you-were—well are!/ There’s nothing that can stop you/ From becoming popular.”

Popular or not, as a leader, it will definitely go more smoothly if you have buy-in from your team and if they generally like you. And if you are moving up as a leader and new to an organization, having others wanting to be around you and enjoying spending time with you working on projects is a plus.

Popular or not, as a leader it’ll go more smoothly if your team generally likes you #womenleaders

New research from CV-Library in the United Kingdom of a survey of 1,200 employees shows that 94.2 percent certain traits make a co-worker more likable. Those include being positive (61.8 percent), being approachable (40.8 percent) and having a sense of humor (39.8 percent), according to OnRec.

Other admirable traits  that make a person more likable include open-mindedness, honesty, compassion, patience and enthusiasm.

The research shows “86.6 percent of workers believe that being liked at work can get you further ahead in your career. Almost two-thirds (61.6 percent) felt that assertiveness is crucial to maintaining respect among colleagues. And while over half (59.5 percent) agreed that those who are too nice struggle with assertiveness in the workplace, 91.8 percent did state that it is possible to be both likeable and assertive,” according to OnRec.

Traits that work against you, predictable so, are arrogance, procrastination, laziness, cynicism, gossipiness and vulgarity, the survey shows. Toxic behaviors like this are contagious.

According to Chrstine Porath writing in Harvard Business Review,  being positive must combat negative attitudes. She writes, “Alexandra Gerbasi, Andrew Parker, and I found that the effect of one de-energizing tie is four to seven times greater than the effect of a positive or energizing tie. In other words, bad is stronger than good. This means that countless coworkers are often sucked into the negativity, bringing about a host of ill effects, such as less information sharing, plummeting motivation and performance, and a decreased sense of thriving at work (defined as feeling energized and alive and that one is continually improving and getting better at one’s work). Instead of focusing on how to accomplish their task goals, employees’ cognitive resources are likely to be spent on analyzing their de-energizing relationship and how best to navigate (often around) the person. Teams experience more conflict and less cohesion and trust, which result in a decreased ability to solve problems and overall lower team performance.”

Likability and positivity are about more than a popularity contest. It’s about the success and viability of the team and the organization. And while most women bristle at the thought of being told to smile, it is not a bad thing to do at work.

“You’ve probably heard the phrase that smiling is contagious. It’s a fun challenge to put this into practice at the office,” writes Lisa Quast at Seattle Times.

“Just remember, this isn’t about creating a fake persona of perpetual happiness with a plastic-looking smile glued to your face. It’s about genuinely connecting with people at work in a way that makes them (and you) feel good,” writes Quast, a certified executive coach, and author of  Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach.

Seeking feedback and being genuinely interested in what co-workers say may also up your likeability quotient.

Seeking feedback and being interested in what co-workers say may up your likeability #womenleaders

“Flip the switch from telling to asking by spending more time gathering feedback. Yep, that means you’ll need to listen more and talk less, but just think about all the great information you’ll hear when you start asking co-workers for their feedback and opinions on various work projects or challenges,” Quast writes.

No one is suggesting that you are always smiling and that you put smiley face emojis in every email. Because being too nice is also a problem.

“You might simply want to avoid offending anyone, but if you’re constantly equivocating, people may question if you ever say what you mean. If you’re praising their work to their face only to throw your support behind another approach, people will get suspicious of your gushing words. To keep friendliness a priority, you can practice being direct without being brusque or blunt. Think about being specific in your praise rather than just being generally effusive all the time,” Claire Karjalainen writes in The Daily Muse.

We’ve all heard about the compliment sandwich (which means start with a compliment, hide the criticism in the middle and end with a compliment) so colleagues and employees can handle your tough approach. While tone adds a lot to the likability of anyone at work, you want to be sure you are not the one who is always happy.

“When you give suggestions, resist the temptation to pad them in a lot of qualifiers (‘What you did was great, but maybe, you might perhaps, if you want, consider…’). Remind yourself that straightforward, honest communication will be seen as helpful,” Karjalainen writes.

Above all, being likable does not mean you are a doormat.

“Being too nice also invites people to disregard your boundaries — without even feeling like they’re taking advantage of you,” according to Karjalainen.

Taking this not being too nice attribute a step farther, maybe you should temper the politeness. We all know that women say “I’m sorry,” almost as often as they say “hello,” but many are saying practicing being straightforward and what may feel rude may also earn you some confidence and respect.

“Impoliteness in the workplace isn’t about intentionally insulting co-workers or bullying subordinates. It’s about being willing to take difficult decisions, prioritizing long-term benefits over short-term people pleasing, and about being unafraid to tackle any challenge with confidence and self-belief,” writes Beth Leslie in We Are The City.

We can all be a bit more demanding, according to Leslie, who writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specializing in matching candidates to their dream internship.

One in five people never negotiate their salary, she writes.” Such people subsequently end up earning an average of $500,000 less by the time they’re 60. Unfortunately, women make up a disproportionate percentage of these no-negotiators. Worse, they tend to ground their reason for doing so in social niceties – 31 percent said they feel uncomfortable demanding more money, and 18 percent say they’re worried they’ll seem ‘pushy.’ Asking for more isn’t ungrateful – it’s business.”

Be assertive.

She adds, “When you have something to say, say it assertively. Of course there are occasions when uncertainty is desirable but if you’re confident of an idea or hypothesis then present it as you would present a fact. People are conditioned to pay attention to authoritative speech,” according to Leslie.

The bottom line is – just as in the fairy tale of Goldilocks and The Three Bears—the approach can be too hard, too soft, or just right. You want your peers and clients, colleagues and customers to like you. But you also want to be considered a competent, confident leader.

Find the balance that works for you. And be nice and firm about it.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon