Do I have to be liked to be successful?

“If all people see is anger, they’ll see anger. Do you ever remember a person not likeable winning?” Rahm says, slapping Massa on the chest. “Be likable.”

This was the direct quotation inadvertently recorded when Rahm Emmanuel was giving this advice to Congressman Eric Massa. This recorded conversation has had a resurgence of interest and media play given Congressman’s Massa’s embarrassing debacle earlier in this month.

This ‘likability’ advice intrigued me – as for years one topic which often came up during business cocktail hours was ‘would you rather be respected or liked?’ I never really ‘got’ that question – as who says those two traits are mutually exclusive? I want both. And I believe both are possible.

In politics it is clear that likability is a critical success factor. People vote for people they like and for which they have an affinity. Trust, smarts, capability, similar views, experience, proven track record, ability to make the hard calls, visionary capabilities, and leadership are needed and expected, as well; this goes without saying. Yet, the likability factor has been proven time and time again as being a ‘ticket to entry.’

Is it relevant and necessary for other positions, too? In short: of course it is!  Surely, this is not a news flash.

Great communicators and leaders have, or must develop, the “likeability factor.” Their personality and the “chemistry” they create between themselves, their teams, their clients, their partners, and all their constituents can be the secret to their success in being heard, embraced, and being followed with enthusiasm and devotion.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a client and he said: “I am not trying to win a popularity contest. Being liked is not that important to me – I just need to get the job done for my clients.” Again, I ask – are these things mutually exclusive? Why is it so hard for us to embrace this fact?

After all, life is in some ways a series of popularity contests. The choices other people make about us are often direct factors in determining our success, on many, though not all, levels. And decades of research prove that people choose who they like. They vote for them, they buy from them, they marry them, and they spend precious time with them. Consider these studies which I read about in The Likeability Factor: How to Boost Your L-Factor and Achieve Your Life’s Dreams (yes, this is just one of hundreds of books being written on the subject)

  • Doctors give more time to patients they like and less to those they don’t. According to a 1984 University of California study: A physician attribution survey was administered to 93 physicians. They also viewed videotapes demonstrating patients with three combinations of likeability and competence. There were significant differences in treatment, depending on the characteristics of the patient
  • In his book Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman studied the management habits and business operations of several hundred major companies and found that a positively charged work environment produces superior profits via reduced turnover and increased customer satisfaction.
  • A Columbia University study by Melinda Tamkins shows that success in the workplace is guaranteed not by what or whom you know but by your popularity. In her study, Tamkins found that “popular workers were seen as trustworthy, motivated, serious, decisive and hardworking and were recommended for fast-track promotion and generous pay increases. Their less-liked colleagues were perceived as arrogant, conniving and manipulative. Pay rises and promotions were ruled out regardless of their academic background or professional qualifications.”
  • A 2000 study by Yale University and the Center for Socialization and Development-Berlin concluded that “people, unlike animals, gain success not by being aggressive but by being nice. The research found that the most successful leaders, from CEOs to PTA presidents, all treated their subordinates with respect and made genuine attempts to be liked. Their approach garnered support and led to greater success.”
  • In 1977 author Dulin Kelly wrote in the court preparation trade publication Voir Dire: “One item that keeps reappearing in cases tried or settled, is the likeability factor. If your client is a likeable person, this characteristic will in all likelihood affect the outcome of your case in two ways: First, the jury will want to award compensation to your client, because the jurors like him or her. This may overcome a case of close liability. Second, there is no question that if the jury likes your client the amount of compensation is likely to be higher.”
  • In You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard, author Bert Decker points out that George Gallup has conducted a personality factor poll prior to every presidential election since 1960. Only one of three factors of issues, party affiliation, and likeability has been a consistent prognosticator of the final election result: likeability.

Likeability is important. Likeability may well be the deciding factor in every situation you’ll ever enter. So when we are attempting to build rapport, lead teams, build trust, and build overall likability, consider these few simple tips:

  • Be real and authentic. No one likes a phony. Let your vulnerabilities show. People relate to other people.
  • Be friendly. This sounds so simple, yet many have trouble with this for many reasons: insecurities, fears, defense mechanisms, lack of trust, etc. So, just go for it. Treat others openly and see the best in them. Take the plunge and be nice. Smile sincerely and warmly – that is the magic facial expression.
  • Be respectful of others. Be well-intentioned, generous and sincere with your compliments. Be empathetic to other’s feelings, situations, and challenges. Most of the time, a person is thinking about their situation – not ours – so when we show the capacity to think of them first – it is appreciated.
  • Stay centered and quietly confident. It takes such a load off when the person we are with is not needy – it puts us at ease, doesn’t it? Don’t we love being around folks who are comfortable in their own skins? And quiet confidence is just plain attractive.
  • Finally, just be genuinely interested in others. Not at the veneer level – take a deep, thoughtful interest in them, their thoughts, dreams, ideas, and challenges.  This is authentic, real, and frankly, often a rarity in the fast paced world of business.

So, what is possible when we take these simple steps? Well, we certainly will see and bring out the best in others. And I have learned that when that happens, miracles happen. First, the best will come out in us, too! Sales will go up. Teamwork improves. Change is smoother and well-supported by others. The energy is contagious. We will go the extra mile for our leaders and vice-versa. We want him or her to succeed because we like him or her so much, and vice-versa.

So, the next time someone says: “I don’t have to be liked to be successful. I just need to be respected and deliver the goods. That is what I get paid to do. Being liked is just a side-benefit.”  I suggest we ask one simple question: if there is someone else that can do the job AND be well-liked, for whom would we want to work and who would we want to serve?