How to balance being liked with being respected

by Nicola Middlemiss20 Nov 2015
Most leaders would prefer their employees to like them but it’s not the be-all and end-all for HR professionals, warns one industry veteran, who says earning the workforce’s respect is far more important.

“You gain respect by the quality of your advice and your ability to present a balanced view – much more so in HR now than you many years ago when it was simply about firefighting and placating people,” says Halogen software’s VP of HR, Dominque Jones.

“Now, it’s very much about balancing the needs of the employees and the needs of the business at the same time,” she continues. “It’s about your ability to connect with the business, understand the business and have good conversations about the business.”

Jones also stresses that HR professionals must “talk the walk” if they want to be respected by their workforce.

“Your actions have to support what’s coming out of your mouth,” she told HC. “That’s not just in HR, that’s for anybody – especially anyone in a leadership position.”

Ontario-based Jones added that HR professionals failing to practice what they preach would soon lose the respect of their employees.

“Having a double standard or people thinking there’s a double standard is one of the quickest ways anyone can lose respect,” she stressed. “You can’t respect a leader you don’t trust.”

But being liked and being respected aren’t mutually exclusive, insists Jones.

“Part of what drives whether you’re liked or respected is showing that you’re human and that you’re not so far removed and you’re not so professional that things don’t impact you or affect you in the same way it does other people,” she told HC.

“It’s a way to build connections with people,” she continued.

While Jones admits she would never form close friendships at work or invite colleagues to socialise on the weekend, she says she can still share personal stories and jokes with her team – from managing difficult parents to troublesome teens.

She also stressed that HR professionals should try and dispel the out-dated myth that the industry isn’t up for having any fun.

“There’s no reason why you as an HR professional can’t let your hair down,” she told HC, admitting she’s engaged in an office lip-sync battle or two.

“Don’t be afraid to make a bit of a fool of yourself in the spirit of fun, in the spirit of driving collaboration,” she added. “You actually gain respect that way.”

Of course, there is a limit – and HR professionals who have strayed too far into the “being liked” side of the spectrum might have a difficult time regaining their employees’ respect, warns Jones.

“I think if you’ve had your employees’ respect and you’ve managed to lose it because you pushed the boundaries – that takes longer to earn it back,” she said.

“I would say – and it takes a lot of courage to do this – but being upfront about that and acknowledging you made a mistake might be the best way forward,” she advised.

“I think some form of public acknowledgement that you shouldn’t really have gone or shouldn’t really have participated and that you’re going to remove yourself from it going forward might be best but then you’ve got to follow through behaviour people can see on a sustained basis.”


  • by Jo 20/11/2015 2:26:16 PM

    Although I agree with many of the sentiments expressed above, I cannot support this distinction of 'like' versus 'respected'. It's not about placing boundaries around or specifying how one must act, it is about living up to your personal values and those of the organisation and being consistent. I worry when we enforce protocols when unneeded.

  • by David 20/11/2015 4:51:30 PM

    This actually puzzles me. I don't know of any genuine person who'd like someone they didn't respect. As Jo comments, if you consistently live up to your personal and organisational values, you will command respect from those who matter. People who don't "respect" you if you do something they don't like aren't worth the time of day (personally or professionally).

    Doing things "to be liked" is schoolyard behaviour that any working professional should be well past. And while Ms Middlemiss' is, of course, free to "never form close friendships at work or invite colleagues to socialise on the weekend", that doesn't reflect professional behaviour; simply her preference. I have many close friends who are also colleagues (as does everyone in my family). We've had professional disagreements (and, for that matter, personal), but have never had a problem staying liked and respected.

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