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Emilia Kovalcsik
Emilia Kovalcsik

Not a popularity contest

Work is not a popularity contest – with this sentence, my manager tried to convince me to stop being too nice to people around me. It was one of the sentences that I wouldn’t say I liked when I heard it first, and I profoundly disagreed with it. I was terrified by the thought that people will not like me!

I was always very proud of being liked in the workplace; I had no conflicts; I had a good relationship with everyone; people enjoyed my company. This had a measurable cost. I rarely passed on harsh feedback not to hurt others feelings, so I had to face the same behaviours again and again. I was not demanding enough to get things delivered back to me on time, so I often worked late to catch up. I spent countless hours correcting others mistakes cause I did not want to upset them by sending their work back. 

But, hey, everybody liked me.

Until the time came when I had enough, I could not cope with stress. I was finding it unfair that I am the only one who cares about the results (that was my thinking when receiving another report full of errors). I was so often swallowing the comments and opinion I had about others’ work that it brought me a lot of resentment and made me feel deeply unhappy.

Sounds familiar?

Do you like everyone you meet?


The very first thing we need to understand is that we have no real influence if someone will or will not like us. We tend to guess what others like about us and our behaviour, but it is a wild guess. First things first – we don’t have any guarantee people will like us at all, no matter what we do. Let’s be frank; we don’t like everyone we meet no matter how lovely they are. It works both ways. Not everyone needs to like us.

When you want to be liked, what do you really want?


The other thing is that we often do not define what it means to be liked and why we care so much about it. Usually, when I ask this from young managers, they talk about being respected, appreciated, and needed. They want their work to be noticed, and they don’t want to have conflicts; they want their team members to come to them for advice. When we go deeper into the definition of “liking”, especially in the office environment, we quickly notice that what we want is not sympathy. We want others to trust that we can do our job, respect our decisions and deadlines; we want cooperation from our team members and support from our peers and managers. 

What is your definition of being liked?

What is the cost of trying to be liked?

Ask yourself, what is your cost of wanting to be liked. A short list of ideas to help you start your cost/benefit analysis

  • What are the comments you often swallow at the expense of being a “team player” (causing you get back from a meeting angry and disappointed)?
  • How do you feel when your needs are constantly not met because you never ask for anything not to cause trouble?
  • How many extra hours do you work because you are not willing to confront your team member or peer about their work quality?
  • How much stress does it cost you to say Yes to all the extra work coming your way because you are friendly and always help?

How do You pay for being liked?

What is your goal?


Think about that, will you promote a liked and popular person who doesn’t get the things done? Highly doubtful

When you are a manager, your main goal is to develop your team,  grow your people and make them vital contributors to the company’s success. Your goal is to be effective and efficient to deliver on what you and your team are assigned. Can you do it by skipping feedback, moving deadlines and accepting all the tasks that come your way? Probably not. Can you do it and still be kind, respectful and appreciated? Absolutely!

When you need to confront the person about their behaviour, work quality, attitude or skills, do it respectfully, perhaps behind closed doors. Talk about what you see, try not to judge but talk about facts. When you soften your feedback and beat around the bush, your message is not clear and is not allowing the person to improve and grow. You can be very specific and direct, remaining respectful and kind.

When you are overworked or have different priorities, it is ok to say no to an extra request. Be supportive but know when to say no, serve with your expertise where you can, and try to hand the fish-rod rather than the fish itself. The fresh fisherman will thank you.

 ***different perspective?


If you still think that people will think less of you, like you less or appreciate you less when you pass on constructive feedback – think about this challenge from a different perspective. 

Would you rather talk about your development needs and hear hard truth from someone you can’t stand or perhaps from a person you respect and like? And would you appreciate and like them less if they pointed out some of your weak spots and helped you work on them? 

Yeah, me neither.

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