I wanted to write a post that ended with this insight, “Be nice – people will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are competent, even if they’ve never worked with you.” Unfortunately it wouldn’t be true.
As described by Jeffrey Pfeffer in his book, Power: Why Some People Have it and Others Don’t, research has shown that likeability is an important component of influence, but most of the studies examined the dynamic amongst individuals of comparable power where not agreeing to assist a peer wouldn’t result in a dire consequence. Aspiring to be liked by everyone regardless of their status in relation to yours comes with a price – you may be perceived as a pushover, likeable but not competent.
Beginning in the 1940s, researchers began to narrow down the two dimensions people typically use to assess one another to warmth and competence. Warmth is not positively associated with competence and may even be perceived as a weakness.
Such findings are not an excuse for incivility, but they are a reminder that, if it is your aim to climb the food chain, work is not the place to nurture a fragile ego. Focusing on being liked above all else will likely compromise your effectiveness and establish the perception that you are not the type of leader who could make difficult decisions. Leaders must make decisions for the benefit of the organization at large, and pleasing everyone results in no decision at all.
Worry about being effective and the network of individuals who know you’re effective – if the result is not being liked, so be it. Don’t bother looking back at the gossip of your once-peers as you move forward.