I read many professional resources for managing business, employees, life, balance – I like to gather lots of perspectives on how to simply manage it all and it is curious to me how much information out there contradicts so much other information out there, and how much of all of that good advice would require you to lose almost all sense of self, never mind self-worth if you were to follow it.
Today one of the headlines in one of these aggregated e-publications said “The 15 habits you need to make everyone like you!” And I thought, “dear god is that the goal? Does everyone have to like all of us, all the time in life, in business, in family?” I thought we were all pretty comfortable with “you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” Maybe pleasing people and being likeable are different, but it seems like an awfully dangerous place to go if what you are trying to do is make everyone like you all the time.
Let’s start with the basic premise that you don’t have the same relationship with everyone in your life. The traits that your employer may find likable may not be the traits that your best friend finds likeable or that your spouse finds likable or your running buddy or whomever. In fact some of these traits may conflict with other traits so must you limit yourself to only those things that are likable to the setting in which they are likable? What if you really crave yogurt but your boss doesn’t like yogurt or yogurt eaters? No more yogurt publicly for you. That’s appropriate only for your private life with other yogurt likers. And what happens to a world where we each feel the individual power to dislike things about the people around us and expect them to change themselves to be to our pleasure.
In my professional career I have heard on more than one occasion that I “wasn’t be very nice,” or “I don’t like you when you act like that.” Often this is in the context of the very things that make me good at my job and that are required by my job: being demanding, having strict standards, requiring people to meet their contractual obligations, things in general that can be uncomfortable. I have struggled with this because of course I want people to like me. Many people do like me, and many don’t. What I have learned over the last twenty years of work is that that is okay. If I tried to mold myself to what was likeable by every individual I encountered I would have no personality of my own and I would be terrible at my work – in fact I wouldn’t be able to do it, no one would.
But let’s be clear, not being likable for everyone is not the same as not being likeable by anyone and it does not mean being mean. Liking or not liking is an opinion: I like chocolate better than vanilla, that does not mean vanilla did something wrong it is simply my preference. I have many friends who like me, who love me in fact, I have many acquaintances who like me, I’m likable in a general way by being who I am and that is enough even if it doesn’t work for everyone.
I believe the real tip should not be about likability, it should be about conduct and it doesn’t take fifteen steps it only takes one (with five things to remember): THINK! In my conduct with others, wherever and whoever they are am I being Thoughtful, Honest, Intelligent, Necessary and Kind? The goal is to be able to say yes to all five or stop and not proceed, but practically I suggest that if you can get at least three out of five your interactions are pretty good and you can let go of what the person on the receiving end likes or does not like about the situation.
It’s hard to have people who don’t like you, being liked feels good. But it only feels good if it is genuine and if you are not genuinely yourself no one else gets to genuinely know you for good or bad. If you THINK before you act, within your relationships, and in your choices you’ll certainly have a path to liking yourself, and for sure others will have a great deal more respect for you that if you twist yourself in a pretzel to make everyone like you!