23. The Problem with Being Likable

Women are told that they need to be likable in order to be successful, yet those that display “likable” characteristics are seen as less capable and professional.  This double standard creates an invisible ladder for men in the working world while at the same time dictating behaviors that are counter to women’s success.


In this episode of Crina and Kirsten Get to Work our terrific twosome gets down and dirty with likeability.  Alicia Menendez states in her book, The Likeability Trap- How to Break Free and Succeed as You Are, that likeability is primarily a mask for conscious and unconscious bias established and promoted by the patriarchy.  And with all things patriarchy – our hosts get after crushing that in this episode.

We all want to be liked (well, most of us anyway) so what it the problem with being liked? 

The core of likeability is that we, as women, are expected to meet other’s beliefs about who we should be.  And that is we are kind, soft, warm, nurturing, relationship focused etc. Men, alternatively, are expected to be strong, assertive, decisive, direct, result focused etc.  While the boxes in which we put people do us all a disservice, the boxes women are expected to check are oftentimes not conducive to success. Women who are strong leaders and competent, capable employees are seen as too aggressive, shrill, angry, a battle axe or an ice queen.

As Marianne Cooper wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “What is really going on…is that high-achieving women experience social backlash because their very success—and specifically the behaviors that created that success—violates our expectations about how women are supposed to behave. Women are expected to be nice, warm, friendly, and nurturing.”

The first problem with likeability is that when we focus on being liked, we are judging ourselves against someone else’s values, not our own, and those can change.  Likeability is an ever shifting paradigm and changes with peoples’ opinions. Likeability focuses on the wrong things, it is hard to attain, it keeps women in their place.  We sacrifice our true selves in an attempt to achieve it and we expend unnecessary energy trying to get it.

Kirsten discusses how the issue of likeability and how it can be exacerbated by the color of a person’s skin.  The workplace is often structured in ways that reward behavior considered socially appropriate in white men but socially inappropriate in women and people of color.  Joan C. Williams in her NYT opinion piece describes the phenomenon as providing an invisible escalator for white men.

Crina discusses the particular problem likeability presents when you are a leader.

 But don’t fear – our hosts propose that authenticity, self-awareness, relatability and connection are solutions to the conundrum of likeability.  But if that does not work, do as Alicia Menendez suggests, if you must chose being trying to be liked and being successful, always choose success.


For Women Leaders, Likability and Success Hardly Go Hand-in-Hand

Opinion | How Women Can Escape the Likability Trap

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