Admittedly, that’s a rough statement. It’s doesn’t feel great to be told you’re unlikeable. What’s worse, being unlikeable can be a huge barrier in the workplace. It keeps you from getting the support, information and input you need to perform at your peak and advance your career. It helps to remember, though, that it’s not you; it’s your behavior that’s unlikeable. And that’s good news. It means it’s something you can change.
The reality is, everyone knows how it feels to have been unlikeable at one point or another. You probably have early memories of incidents like schoolyard interactions on the playground, neighborhood struggles, or not being invited to parties. Those memories are vivid, and they’re painful, even today.
Over time, some of us were able to change our ways. Others of us didn’t. But when we did change, often our parents, siblings, and environment contributed to that pathway to change. By doing things that are disliked or being told we’re not liked by other people, we learned, and so we changed. That’s called socialization. Simple behaviors, like learning to say “please” and “thank you,” are all things we’re taught that help us to be more likeable to others.
As a child or adolescent, those interactions and “corrections” can be raw. Kids can be brutally honest in their reactions. They’ll ignore you while you’re talking, leave you out of the group, get mad at you for things you say or do, or be offensive in the moment.
For adults in the workplace, the interactions tend to be more disguised. People may politely say “hi” to you, but they won’t pursue further conversation. Others may avoid you, keeping their distance both physically and emotionally. You might also find that your requests for help are met with excuses. Even if they’re nice about it, they’ll have lots of reasons why they can’t help you out.
When people have no choice but to interact with you, on a specific work task, for example, they’ll often stay well within the lines of the process they’re supposed to follow. They’re not going to do any more than they have to, whether it’s quality checks or following up with you for further questions or clarification. You’ll get the bare minimum.
When you’re behaving in an unlikeable way at work, it affects both your environment and your performance, in part because you’re left to your own devices. You have no outside resources, and that means what you have is all you have. No one wants to go above and beyond for you, so you’ll only get what’s absolutely required of them. They’re not going out of their way for you.
At the same time, you’ll find yourself out of the loop about whole portions of the organization because you won’t be tapped into the deeper network of what’s really going on. For your work results and your future career prospects, all of this is extremely crippling.
You might be thinking, well, that’s not fair. But this is the way the world works. And if it’s behavior that’s been a problem since your childhood and continues today, then the reaction must be warranted. It’s up to you to make changes if you want different outcomes.
Of course, this is also the extreme example. You may not be completely shut out of what’s going on, and you may be getting enough of what you need to “get by.” But even though you might not experience the negative effects of being disliked to this degree, at any level, your career will suffer if you don’t become more likable.
There are two simple reasons for this:
Let’s say you know someone who’s being unlikeable. How can you help them? First, give them the benefit of the doubt. No one sets out to be unlikeable. Recognize that they most likely want to learn how to be likable, and that means you need to tell them about the behavior — not that they are unlikeable, but that they are being unlikeable. It’s the behavior that’s objectionable.
Don’t just shun the person. You need to give them the opportunity to change, and that means you have to muscle up and tell them. It takes courage, but that’s how you open up the conversation. They can’t get better if you don’t give them feedback. Likewise, don’t just blurt out an emotional or sharp condemnation. Instead, take a softer approach by explaining that they’re being unlikeable. It allows the person to be inquisitive rather than defensive. And finally, don’t do it in a group setting. Tell them in private.
But maybe you’ve read all this and decided that you don’t care about being likable. That’s a choice you’re free to make, but know that people aren’t going to help you or go the extra mile for you. They’re going to keep you out of the loop, and your career is going to suffer as a result. You can go ahead with being unlikeable, but realize that it comes with consequences.