A major theme across many of my recent coaching conversations has been the perceived contrast between being liked and being respected. I have many clients who have established a professional brand built on likability. This quality has helped them to build strong relationships and reputations for being a good team player. But as they advance to higher levels, they begin to experience tension.
“I have a difficult time giving negative feedback to my employees because I’m too nice,” confided a senior-level executive.
“My boss’s expectations are unrealistic but it’s hard for me to push back. I’ve always been known as the one who says yes,” shared a mid-level manager.
“I want to be respected by my team but they don’t take me seriously. I have trouble standing up for myself,” said another manager.
The key message that I try to deliver to everyone who frames their challenge in this way is that being liked and being respected is not an either or proposition. If you are well liked, you do not need to lose your likability in order to gain the respect of others. Nor do you become unlikable simply by being respected. When you recognize that you can be your true, likable self and be respected at the same time, you begin to recognize that you have more options than you originally realized.
Here are some strategies to consider as you aim to increase your overall level of respect.
First and foremost, be yourself. If you’ve ever tried to take on a different persona in a conversation or other type of interaction, you understand how challenging this can be. When you feel inauthentic or insincere, your message is undermined by your body language or lack of confidence.
Use your likability to your advantage. By now, you probably have a strong well of support among people who perceive you as a nice person who cares about others. If you need to convey a difficult or unpopular message, most people will understand that you’re coming from a good place.
Many of us feel that in order to be strong, we need to be guarded. If we’re feeling nervous or uncomfortable, letting others in on how we feel will only leave us weak and exposed. The opposite is actually true.
When you’re feeling uncomfortable, share your feelings with others. Your vulnerability will allow others to feel vulnerable as well, which will lead to more powerful connections. For example, if you need to give difficult feedback, say something such as, “Just as I’m sure it’s not easy for you to hear this, it’s not easy for me to say this either.”
Vulnerability personalizes situations that might otherwise be tense and conflict-laden. When coupled with authenticity, vulnerability puts others at ease, maximizing the chances that we will truly hear each other.
Direct communication can be difficult for professionals who are accustomed to softening their language. While it may feel easier or nicer to cushion a message with soft language, indirect messages are more likely to lead to miscommunication and less likely to inspire respect. If you have a tough message to deliver, be direct.
Think for a moment about the people you respect. When communicating with others, are they wishy-washy, unclear, or uncommitted to their message? Probably not. Observe the communication patterns of those you respect and look for opportunities to practice similar styles.
Engaging in behaviors that increase the respect of others takes practice. These strategies may feel outside of your comfort zone but with experience, they’ll come to you more naturally. Begin by practicing in low risk situations before advancing to higher risk situations in order to build your confidence.