Needing to Be Liked Getting in Your Way? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

Is it naïve to want people to like me? I have been very successful at sales and developing partnerships in my job, partially because I am so good at knowing how to relate to people and getting them to like me.

But recently I am beginning to wonder if having people like me—and being good at it—is really helping me. I have started to manage people and I am having a rough time giving them feedback and holding them accountable. My boss says it is because I have too great a desire for people to like me and I need to get over it. What do you think?

Need to Be Liked


Dear Need to Be Liked,

First of all, being great at knowing how to relate to people and getting them to like you is a superpower to be thankful for. If it comes naturally, you are lucky—it is a beautiful trait, and the many people who don’t have it work very hard to develop it as a skill.

Is it naïve to think you can make anyone like you? It might be, but as long as it isn’t hurting you, I say enjoy it while you can. As you are experiencing, it may already be hurting you as a manager because giving clear feedback and keeping people accountable is part of your job description. But there are ways to do it that can build relationships instead of eroding them. We’ll get to that in a minute.

I used to think the same thing about myself until a couple of relationships proved me wrong in extremely painful ways. I suspect you will run into some of those. It will have more to do with an imbalance of power combined with conflicting goals than with how the person feels about you. The truth is, when push comes to shove, not everybody is going to like you all the time. And that is okay.

You need to understand something important about needs: Needs will get themselves met. So it is up to you to make sure they get met appropriately. Let me explain.

If your need to be liked is, in fact, a core psychological need instead of just a preference, you need to understand it, notice how it drives your behavior for better and for worse, and learn how to manage that need so it doesn’t get in the way of what you are trying to achieve. There is tons of research about needs, and a lot of theories. Among them is one that psychologists and researchers seem to agree on: Every human being tends to have similar needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Beyond that, individuals differ—but everyone seems to come hardwired with needs that (1) don’t change and (2) will drive behavior to get met. You must find out how to get people to like you in ways that don’t cost you.

How might getting this need met cost you? If it causes you to either choose friends who aren’t good to you or stay in relationships that drag you down, or if it keeps you from being effective in your job. Awareness of your self and your needs is critical so you can make the best choices and thereby protect yourself from your own unconscious behaviors.

You can still be liked as a manager—but the most important thing to remember about being an effective manager is this: Leadership is not about you. It is about the people you are managing. The most important thing you need your people to feel is trust. They must trust that you know what you are doing, that you will give them clear direction and everything else they need to be successful in their jobs, and that you will be fair and consistent. They may or may not like you as a person, but they will definitely trust you.

You can tell your people that it’s your job to give them feedback and you’ll do so whenever it is needed, and that it’s also your job to hold everyone on the team accountable and you’ll be doing that as well. Once you have set the stage for what is expected, it is much easier to follow through on a consistent basis.

Ultimately, the job of a manager is to help their people be as successful as possible in their jobs. You can only do that by giving people feedback—all kinds of feedback—not only, of course, when things go well so they can keep it up, but also when things could be different or better.

Here is an excellent article: Are You a Trustworthy, Self-Aware Leader? by Ken Blanchard with a little bit of detail on our excellent Trust Model and, more to the point, how the need to be liked (which he has in spades) can get in the way of being trustworthy.

The confusing thing about having the need to be liked is that it can be one of the reasons you are successful. It almost certainly is in your case. But there is a moment at which this particular need can become an overused strength and backfire, causing unintended consequences. You are already quite a few steps toward self-awareness, so just keep going. Pay attention, notice, and modulate, taking it one step at a time.

In the meantime, enjoy those relationships—especially your personal ones, where you can be unabashedly yourself with no concern about consequences, with people who love you just the way you are. This way, you can get your need to be liked met with enough people to be satisfied.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

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