Talking Tips

Likeable vs. popular in the workplace

Likeability in the workplace is a characteristic I promote. Often people get glary eyed when I ask the importance of likeability and suggest it is an essential part of your professional persona. Comments like, “I don’t go to work to make friends” and “It doesn’t matter if people like me, I just need to get the job done” are common at the beginning of the discussion.

People may mistake likeability for trying to be popular. There is a distinct difference. As a professional, likeability is a part of your professional branding. If someone is very knowledgeable about what they do, but no one wants to work with them because they are irritable, rude, condescending, etc. They do not get branded as being a ‘real professional’.

Likeability is a general disposition that is rooted in self-confidence. People who are confident are at ease with themselves. They know they are not perfect, but they know their strengths, therefore they do not have to fight for external validation. Likeable people are not combative or rude. They realize everyone has a right to their own opinion and a difference in viewpoint does not constitute enmity.

A person becomes likeable because they are emotionally intelligent enough to understand that the way they act can affect other people and the space. They care enough to manage their emotions to avoid negatively affecting others.

Likeability is not self-centered. It is not driven by the need to be liked. It is a characteristic born out of self-assurance, humility and mutual respect for others.

Someone who is likeable is positioned to have greater influence and impact; because they are open to others, others tend to be open to what they have to say.

Every professional should strive to be likeable, because likeability is a product of highly developed emotional intelligence. Think about the characteristics of people you would classify as likeable. They are probably comfortable with themselves and other people feel comfortable around them. They know what to say, when to say it and how to say it. They are easy, open and sincere.

However, striving to be popular is the antithesis of likeability. It is born out of insecurity and is seeking external validation. A person who feels popularity is important will do anything to get it, therefore it is difficult to trust them. Popularity moves wherever the wind blows. Likeability is grounded in values and principles, like treat others the way you want to be treated.

Likeability grows when we take ownership for our actions and errors. It requires a certain amount of confidence to admit you are wrong. People admire and respect that.

If you want to increase your likeability factor, it requires focusing on how you see and treat others. It takes self-reflection and unselfish action.

No leader can afford to strive for popularity, because sometimes the right decision will not be popular, but when they are able to make the right choice for the right reasons, even an unpopular decision can make them more likeable.

• Kim Welcome is the chief executive officer and founder of Influential Voice. She assists businesses and professionals to develop deliberate, skillful, polished communication skills to increase their impact and influence. Her clients range from the country’s largest and most prestigious employers to public figures and individual professionals. Feel free to contact her at

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