"How to strike a balance between being respected and liked at work"…and Respected at Work

Being a professional isn’t easy. At the workplace, it’s not only about what you do but how you do it. This is how you build your reputation and you probably realize that it’s a very valuable factor in your career development. If you’d like to get recognized and promoted on the basis of your work, you’ll need to work on how others perceive you.

How to control your reputation at the workplace? You can do that in a most effective way once you decide what kind of relations you’d like to have with your teammates and supervisors. So, the question remains: is it better to be respected or liked? Can you be both (especially if you’re a woman)? Here are some tips to help you navigate workplace dynamics and build a strong professional brand for yourself.

Why being liked isn’t worth the effort

Women most often believe that choosing between being liked and being respected is similar to a Machiavellian attitude, after a philosopher who famously stated: ‘It is better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both’. This sentence has in fact provided a foundation for our perspective on leadership. But acting in a cold and calculating way won’t win you many supporters, and you might lose in the workplace reputation game.

But that doesn’t mean you should just settle on being nice. It’s easy to lose yourself and become way too nice for your own good. First, nice people risk being recognized as potential victims of exploitation – how are others supposed to respect your time if you don’t do it yourself? In the end, nice workers never land sought-after assignments or get promoted. Being liked is not a step to advancing your career.

This is especially true for inexperienced female professionals, who adopt a nice attitude thinking that it will make others more understanding towards them (and what they perceive as their lack of expertise). And no wonder – on the Western hemisphere, women are practically brought up in a (more or less) patriarchal culture which expects them to be nice and friendly. But being a good girl isn’t something that positively affects one’s career.

How to avoid being too nice for your own good at the workplace? Here are some key tips to help you balance your reputation and gain respect from colleagues and supervisors.

·         Don’t share too much personal information – you’re at a workplace, so act like a professional

·         Don’t shy away from company politics – plunge right in

·         Actively search for opportunities, they never just knock on your door

·         Never apologize for mistakes for which you aren’t responsible

·         Quit trying to please everyone – you never will

·         Recognize the fact that confrontations are sometimes a must

·         Be assertive when needed

All the above doesn’t mean that you should turn into a cold and selfish person. Being warm in interpersonal relationships is key if you want to add value to this community, but that doesn’t mean that you should treat your colleagues as friends. Know your goals and take strong, methodical steps to achieve them. You’ll see that being nice is simply distracting.

Is being respected more important then?

Absolutely yes! Being respected means that others feel esteem for you and your expertise. It’s a very positive feeling, a much deeper one than abstract friendliness (which ultimately rarely works out at the workplace the way we want to).

Being nice doesn’t earn you respect. In fact, respect requires lots of hard work and persistence. Still, you should know that the effort is very much worth it. The respect others will feel for you and your work will extend to your reputation and help you land promotions and exciting assignments.

But is it possible to be both liked and respected?

It’s possible, but relatively hard to achieve for women – especially those working in executive positions in male-dominated industries. Kare Anderson once wrote in Forbes that great professional reputation is founded on a balance between strength (the source of respect) and warmth (personal likeability).

Naturally, being perceived as a competent worker is a perspective that comes from different places for men and women. It’s easy to see that while some behaviors earn men respect, they have an opposite effect on women. Take anger for instance – an angry man is considered passionate and dedicated to the cause. An angry woman, on the other hand, emerges as irrational and emotionally unstable (basically not someone you’d want to deal with).

But that’s not all. Many point out that the balance between likeability and respect is more often positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. Successful female professionals usually pay the likeability penalty and become nightmares in the vein of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestley.

All in all, it seems that striking that balance is more of a possibility for men than for women. The truth is that women just need to work harder and sometimes, they simply have to choose one option over the other.

But don’t lose hope! Here are 6 tips to help you strike that balance and be respected at work.

·         Show others how to treat you – treat others with respect, and you’ll see how they return the favor. It’s important to know how to negotiate professional relations and get exactly what you want from them. Own these relationships, don’t just complain. Put a stop to people who are aggressive, controlling or bossy

·         Don’t doubt yourself – it will help you to become more self-assured and emphatic. Develop a professional identity and stick to it. Never accept dubious compromises or sell yourself out – it’s this value that earns you respect.

·         Assume responsibility for your mistakes – taking risks naturally generates mistakes and losses. Show your team that you take them all in stride and learn from them as much as you can. Own them and show them to others as a part of your professional journey. This kind of honesty breeds respect.

·         Don’t think about what others are thinking – you’re there to make decisions and even if others have different opinions, never let them to undermine your voice. Be considerate and emphatic when making hard decisions and you can be sure that nobody will hate you for them.

·         Control your body language – this is how you can gain better undertaking of your interactions with others. Before entering a conference room for a meeting, be sure to check your body language – avoid leaning away, touching your face or crossing your arms. All these gestures make you look less confident and consequently, much less approachable and friendly.

·         Don’t forget the gender differences – know what your company culture allows for men and women. Control your behavior to set a good example or shatter the expectations built by the patriarchal culture about female leadership. Be calm and rational at all cost – this is how female executives earn respect.

Whenever you’re thinking about your career, you should also consider your reputation. What would you like to be known for? What things does the industry expect from professionals like you? What sort of reputation will help you to achieve your goals? Think about it well, and you’ll be on your way to realizing your aims without compromising your position and becoming the kind professional you’ve always wanted to be.

About the author: Carol Williams is part of the team behind Honeybells – a Florida fruit shipping company. She combines her expertise in HR, leaership and employee management with her zeal for writing.