3 Ways We Jeopardize Our Jobs by Trying to Be Likable -- and What We Can Do About It
Many of us spend our lives trying to be likable. Beginning in childhood, we seek the approval of our caretakers; in our teens, we desperately seek the acceptance of our peers; and in adulthood, we look for accolades from our colleagues and supervisors.
Of course, some of us are more likable than others. We all know people who have effortlessly enjoyed popularity, scored enviable careers and landed fast promotions based almost entirely on their likability. Not surprisingly, we are more prone to heed the advice of likable people when they have something to say. For example, according to a 2014 study from the University of Massachusetts, managers are more likely to listen to important information in the workplace when it is delivered by more likable internal auditors, all other factors being equal. It's no wonder, then, that so many of us try a little too hard to be liked at work. Unfortunately, our desperation puts our jobs at risk in the following ways:
1. We put unrealistic expectations on ourselves.
When we try too hard to make our coworkers like us, we go above and beyond what our job calls for -- or even beyond what's reasonable. As a result, our colleagues and managers assume that this is simply how we operate, and we wind up feeling (and often being) taken advantage of. For example, we offer to help others with their work even when we don't have the time, or we take on workplace tasks such as stocking and cleaning up the coffee area. Perhaps we habitually stay late at the office but avoid asking for what we want or need to complete a work assignment. And, we never even fathom of asking for a raise. Once we develop habits like these, they're difficult to break and establish unreasonable expectations.
What can we do in this situation? Set reasonable boundaries. With the establishment of boundaries, which can be initiated with the simple word "no" (even whispered to ourselves), we can begin to disentangle ourselves from unrealistic expectations. Sometimes this begins with the simple -- but not easy -- process of shifting back into our work role (what it was that we were hired to do). One way to do this is to write down the specific tasks that are detailed in our job description and refer to this list whenever we are tempted to take on other tasks in an attempt to gain favor from others.
2. We allow ourselves to be taken advantage of.
Our eagerness to please makes it easy for others to take advantage of us, which leads to our being regarded and spoken of with increasing disrespect. We become easy targets of blame for problems we aren't responsible for, but our need to be liked prevents us from speaking up. And then, when we inevitably become noticeably resentful, our colleagues use us as a convenient scapegoat for problems such as declining productivity or the staff's interpersonal issues.
What can we do in this situation? Ask for help. People respond positively to being needed; and asking others to help with a project or assignment fosters a collaborative work environment. Once we have reestablished boundaries, we can engage in open discussion about our contributions and those of others. This type of communication allows us to check in with our colleagues to assess our performance rather than guess and act-out our insecurity and anxiety. This also allows us to enjoy more respectful working relationships, making it much less likely that we will become candidates for scapegoating.
3. We start dreading going to work.
Being both the do-gooder and the office scapegoat makes us dread work, and we become increasingly uncomfortable around our coworkers. Unable to cope with this dynamic, we end up depressed, avoiding others and losing the ability to focus on our work or anything else. Finally, we quit -- if we aren't fired first.
What can we do in this situation? Once we establish boundaries and a collaborative work space, we begin to create a sense of healthy accountability and ownership in our role. It might not be pure bliss, but we'll have a much better sense of what and who we are dealing with at work.
Collaboration is not about the need -- or compulsion -- to be liked. It is about entering the workforce with an openness to learning, growing and being a worker among workers. With these steps and a willingness and ability to collaborate, we can accept that no one of us can or should be the solution to any work problem. If we always seem to take on the overtime solo, collaboration can help us to work our way back to a more balanced schedule.
Solving work issues collaboratively empowers all members of a workforce to ask for what they need to reach individual and shared goals. This reduces the likelihood that we will set ourselves up to be mistreated or scapegoated while improving our assessment of "good fit" and job satisfaction. The bonus is that, with practice, we learn that we can do this honestly without being either passive or aggressive, and that we're enabled to claim our share without taking from others either interpersonally or materially.
However, while setting appropriate boundaries at work, it is also important to recognize that success requires hard work and dedication, and managers often expect people to go above and beyond. While people who allow themselves to be taken advantage of don't tend to get promoted, those who go the extra yard often get ahead -- and there is always someone else waiting to step in and take an opportunity for desirable positions. Career advancement requires sacrifice. The trick, then, is to strike a balance with work and personal pursuits so we can shine without allowing others to walk all over us.