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Why you need to be likable at work — but not nice

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jan 15

The workplace, we know, is social, not just business. For all the time we talk about the need for data, facts, and scientific opinions, the truth of the matter is that business gets done through people doing work. People are not simple and their social interactions — in meetings, on breaks, in the hallway or by the water cooler — vary across the board.

As a result, many of us feel the need to be nice at work. The dictionary defines “nice” as it relates to a person as “pleasant in manner; good-natured; kind.”

Those are good attributes to have, but “nice” isn’t where you want to be perceived. There are too many pitfalls:

  • You get dumped on for work tasks because being nice means you don’t say “no.”
  • You don’t get your problems resolved with your manager because being nice means not being confrontational
  • You don’t get your opinion heard because being nice means being quiet and letting others define issues
  • You don’t get as high a performance review rating because you never got out from under all the work you took on because you don’t say “no.”

What you want is to be likable, not nice

Likable sounds like the same as nice, but it is not. The dictionary defines likable as “pleasant, friendly, and easy to like.”

You can say “no” because you push back on the workload and do it in a pleasant way. You can resolve issues because being likable means you are searching for solutions even though it requires confrontation.

Likable, to me, is the ability to work with differing types of people in a way that protects your interests while still getting things done. Being nice, to me, means you subordinate your needs to that of everyone else on your team and pleasantly go about your business even though there is nothing pleasant about your business.

We want to work with likable people

We’ve all worked with nice people — they are always pleasant in how they treat other people, are always kind — but too often never get anything done.

Not that likable people should treat people poorly; far from it. But likable people get their work done, are approachable, and at the same time stand for what they need in the workplace from their manager and team.

So be careful of the label you acquire at the office. It is important to be likable — but not nice.

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations. In 2005, Scot started sharing these hard lessons at CubeRules.com, a site devoted to Career Advice for knowledge workers, whom he calls Cubicle Warriors.

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