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6 Reasons Why Trying Too Hard to Be Liked Can Backfire

Erinn Bucklan  |  August 31, 2018

Worrying too much about what others think about you, from your social media activities to your role in meetings, can be bad for you. Here’s why.

When has the ability to show virtual appreciation ever been easier? Make a statement online and your audience can click a heart to “favorite” it, click a button to “like” it or even just respond with a “+1.” But is this need for constant agreement beneficial in real life?

“If you are well-liked at work, then people want to be around you,” says Stefanie Ziev, life coach and expert on NBC’s “Today” show. “They probably trust you. As a result, you have more collaborators, more influence and more opportunities. You get more done — and you rise in the ranks higher and faster.” So, what’s not to like about being liked?

Well, there’s just as much research that shows worrying too much about what others think about you, from your social media activities to your role in meetings, can be bad for you. Here’s why.

It May Turn Others Off

Make no mistake. It’s perfectly healthy to be curious about what others think of you — as long as it doesn’t turn into a preoccupation of your occupation. According to a London Business School study, those who spent too much time worried about being liked by peers actually experienced more “social rejection,” like being purposely excluded from group activities than those who didn’t care about the opinions of others.

The reason, simply put: Trying too hard creeps out your colleagues. “You will feel insecure and give off energy in a way that people may not want to engage with you,” explains Anna Goldstein, business and life coach in New York City.

“Be more concerned about what you’re thinking than what others think about you,” says Goldstein. “Focus on building your own confidence by recognizing your unique strengths and gifts. Play with being courageous and if you’re not feeling it…’fake it til’ you make it.’”

It Can Make You Too Wishy-Washy

“If you worry too much about being liked, you may act as a chameleon, meaning you change what you say and how you act depending on whom you’re with in the moment,” notes Amber Rosenberg, a Bay Area life and career coach who works with private clients and companies like Adobe, Google and Morgan Stanley. And the problem with this approach, says Rosenberg, is that it is hard to be effective in business — or happy in your personal life when you’re easily swayed.

Warns Rosenberg: “This can come across as disingenuous and, more importantly, it won’t feel good for you! It’s important to find a way to be authentic in who you are.”

Consider the possibility of moving on or finding a new job. “At the end of the day, if your colleagues don’t like you for who you really are, this position may not be a good fit. How others perceive you usually has more to do with them than with you.”

It Can Turn You Into a Braggart

When we talk or post things online, we devote up to 40 percent of speech solely on telling others what we think of things, found a Harvard study of what drives us to self-disclose. And this desire to talk about ourselves, say the study authors, is partly due to a “high” that bragging activates in our brain.

Only this need to boast to an audience tends to happen to people who struggle with self-esteem and confidence issues, psychology research has found.

“When we spend excessive energy worrying about being potentially disliked for our perceived flaws, we are unable to invest that energy into more productive activities that will provide us with greater personal and professional benefit,” adds life and career coach Colleen Georges.

For instant access to your strengths to help boost areas of low self-esteem, Georges recommends trying out tools like the VIA Survey of Character Strengths and the Clifton StrengthsFinder. “Such assessments can provide us with greater insight into what is uniquely strong about who we are so that we can use these strengths to seek out work activities that leverage these talents.”

It’s Emotionally Draining

“If you are worrying about what you don’t want to happen — in this case, people not liking you — then all of that attention will energize that very thing,” says Ziev. “It takes you out of the present. It keeps you separate and unproductive in your work. Simply put by Ziev: “It’s a time suck.”

Certainly there’s some research on the psychological effects of social media’s emphasis on your audience’s approval of your updates that support Ziev. The more a person depends on social media sites for approvals and “likes,” the sadder and more dissatisfied they feel in real life, say University of Michigan study authors.

“When you focus your attention outside of yourself you’re giving your power away,” says Ziev. “When you do that, you’re making others more valuable and more important than you and diminishing your worth.”

Ziev recommends an exercise to combat this pitfall. “Before you go to work or step into a meeting or put yourself in a situation where you know your worries are triggered, take a moment to check in with yourself. Ask: what do you need to be present and focused on the task at hand?”

It Makes it Hard to Say “No” When You Should

When you’re too worried about being liked, you tend to base decisions on what you perceive is wanted from you, instead of what how you really want to proceed. And in a professional setting, this attitude can actually put your career at risk. “In a professional setting, we may potentially compromise our values or beliefs in order to gain acceptance from our team members,” Georges says.

“For those in managerial roles, this can be particularly damaging, as they may become paralyzed in making critical decisions, delivering constructive feedback, or effectively addressing staff conflicts and problems, due to fear of being disliked,” Georges says.

When you slip into old habits of worrying about what others think or fearing they may not like us, Georges recommends asking yourself these questions:

  • Has worrying ever actually led me to control another person’s thoughts or feelings in the past?
  • Is there any way for me to truly read another person’s mind to be certain about how they feel?
  • Does worrying make me a happier, more productive person and professional?
  • Are there more effective ways I can use my mind and energy to be happy and successful instead of worrying?

It Makes You Bland

When you’re preoccupied with being liked and steer clear of making waves, you may actually be sabotaging the very quirks you have that can advance your career, says leadership coach and career development expert Beth Benatti Kennedy.

In fact, a UCal-Berkeley study on the shared characteristics of successful entrepreneurs echoes Kennedy’s view. After combing through data, entrepreneurial success was also linked to those who “beat to their own drum” as far back as high school, even leading to getting in trouble often as a teen, found the study authors.

Realize that “rocking the boat” may be the key to your success, says Kennedy. What makes you individual and sticking to your own style can be beneficial. “Many times when individuals become more confident and focus on their leadership skills they realize that what is going to make them successful in their career is having a clear brand,” she says.


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