When you want to please everyone: 7 tips to be a respected manager and let go of needing to be liked

One of the hardest parts about being a manager is that sometimes you have to make an unpopular decision, communicate bad news or take action that benefits one of your team members but not another. These can be difficult tasks to undertake but may be necessary to benefit the greater good or make financial sense.

The end result of these actions is that some or all of your team may not “like you” in the moment or may not like you period. This can be a blow to our self-esteem or confidence when we find out that someone is not a fan of our work. We can start to wonder…did they not like the decision or do they not like me? For some, it is hard to separate the decision from the person.

Many of us have the people-pleaser gene. It can feel daunting to gain the trust of people if you aren’t liked by them. I find there is a direct parallel between parenting and managing. If you are parent, of course you want your children to like you but, honestly, who likes someone who makes them eat broccoli or clean their room? No one. But, do you insist they do these things? Yes. Because it creates good habits and self-sufficiency and that matters more than being “liked”.

As a manager, I am sure you don’t care if your team member eats broccoli or cleans their room, but you do care if they meet deadlines, manage their budgets, and deliver on objectives. Sometimes, questions need to be asked, feedback needs to be delivered and directions need to be changed.

We should look at this the same way as running a household. But, I have known managers who cave and don’t deliver critical feedback because it is too hard or let things go without correction because they are afraid they won’t be liked anymore or they will hurt the employee’s feelings. This does no one any good….including your team member. Allowing them to go down a path you know will not result in the best outcome to spare their feelings is irresponsible.

Managers need to make hard decisions and share critical feedback. They need to staff projects a certain way and cut budgets when necessary. None of these actions may be popular but they sometimes need to be done. There are 7 actions you can take as a manager to execute the difficult things and not be seen as a bully, heartless or unlikeable.

  1. Show empathy. I hear people confuse “sympathy” with “empathy” often. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their point of view. It is to display understanding. Sympathy is to show pity and sorrow for the other person. Sometimes, that may be warranted, but, most of the time, in business, start with empathy.
  2. Communicate the why. If a decision is unpopular and may not be received well, you owe it to everyone, including you, to share why the decision was made. Reasonable people will understand. When you don’t have a reason is when people will start to question your motives. Be sure to have a reason and, definitely, don’t keep it a secret.
  3. Listen. Tied to empathy, if someone is unhappy with you, make time to listen. Now, there is a difference between listening to reason and listening to griping. However, as a manager, you may need to listen to some complaining. People need to vent. There can be a point where it becomes too much or too often, but allowing people to get their feelings or objections off of their chests can also help to build trust. If it becomes a habit, then you may need to ask them to change their behavior.
  4. Apply the rules consistently. Two traits you can display to your team to gain their trust and respect include integrity and fairness. Integrity means following through and doing what you say you will do. Fairness is to apply rules and frameworks consistently. Do not favor one person over the other. Do not favor one project over the other. If you are fair and even, people will then even be able to predict what you might do or say in a situation, which means they can be prepared. People don’t like surprises (except on their birthdays). Do your best to be above board.
  5. Don’t apologize. My personal favorite. DO NOT (yes…I put this in caps) apologize. I had a manager in my early years on the job who apologized every time someone challenged them. I then found myself doing the same thing. I am really sorry but I think we should go the other direction. I am sorry you disagree so let’s do what you said. Ugh! Then, I had a mentor tell me that apologizing all the time takes away from your confidence and expertise. He told me that I am on the payroll for my opinion. Be polite and professional but don’t apologize for having a different opinion.
  6. Stay the course. Stay true to the decision. A short walk from apologizing is to actually change your opinion or direction. Don’t fold to pressure by your team unless you truly feel they are right and you are not. Integrity also means having the confidence to say you’re wrong and try a new way. Assess each situation to see what you should do.
  7. Debrief. One way to build team and trust is to debrief a situation or project

One of the hardest parts about being a manager is that sometimes you have to make an unpopular decision, communicate bad news or take action that benefits one of your team members but not another. These can be difficult tasks to undertake but may be necessary to benefit the greater good or make financial sense.

The end result of these actions is that some or all of your team may not “like you” in the moment or may not like you period. This can be a blow to our self-esteem or confidence when we find out that someone is not a fan of our work. We can start to wonder…did they not like the decision or do they not like me? For some, it is hard to separate the decision from the person.

Many of us have the people-pleaser gene. It can feel daunting to gain the trust of people if you aren’t liked by them. I find there is a direct parallel between parenting and managing. If you are parent, of course you want your children to like you but, honestly, who likes someone who makes them eat broccoli or clean their room? No one. But, do you insist they do these things? Yes. Because it creates good habits and self-sufficiency and that matters more than being “liked”.

As a manager, I am sure you don’t care if your team member eats broccoli or cleans their room, but you do care if they meet deadlines, manage their budgets, and deliver on objectives. Sometimes, questions need to be asked, feedback needs to be delivered and directions need to be changed.

We should look at this the same way as running a household. But, I have known managers who cave and don’t deliver critical feedback because it is too hard or let things go without correction because they are afraid they won’t be liked anymore or they will hurt the employee’s feelings. This does no one any good….including your team member. Allowing them to go down a path you know will not result in the best outcome to spare their feelings is irresponsible.

Managers need to make hard decisions and share critical feedback. They need to staff projects a certain way and cut budgets when necessary. None of these actions may be popular but they sometimes need to be done. There are 7 actions you can take as a manager to execute the difficult things and not be seen as a bully, heartless or unlikeable.

  1. Show empathy. I hear people confuse “sympathy” with “empathy” often. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their point of view. It is to display understanding. Sympathy is to show pity and sorrow for the other person. Sometimes, that may be warranted, but, most of the time, in business, start with empathy.
  2. Communicate the why. If a decision is unpopular and may not be received well, you owe it to everyone, including you, to share why the decision was made. Reasonable people will understand. When you don’t have a reason is when people will start to question your motives. Be sure to have a reason and, definitely, don’t keep it a secret.
  3. Listen. Tied to empathy, if someone is unhappy with you, make time to listen. Now, there is a difference between listening to reason and listening to griping. However, as a manager, you may need to listen to some complaining. People need to vent. There can be a point where it becomes too much or too often, but allowing people to get their feelings or objections off of their chests can also help to build trust. If it becomes a habit, then you may need to ask them to change their behavior.
  4. Apply the rules consistently. Two traits you can display to your team to gain their trust and respect include integrity and fairness. Integrity means following through and doing what you say you will do. Fairness is to apply rules and frameworks consistently. Do not favor one person over the other. Do not favor one project over the other. If you are fair and even, people will then even be able to predict what you might do or say in a situation, which means they can be prepared. People don’t like surprises (except on their birthdays). Do your best to be above board.
  5. Don’t apologize. My personal favorite. DO NOT (yes…I put this in caps) apologize. I had a manager in my early years on the job who apologized every time someone challenged them. I then found myself doing the same thing. I am really sorry but I think we should go the other direction. I am sorry you disagree so let’s do what you said. Ugh! Then, I had a mentor tell me that apologizing all the time takes away from your confidence and expertise. He told me that I am on the payroll for my opinion. Be polite and professional but don’t apologize for having a different opinion.
  6. Stay the course. Stay true to the decision. A short walk from apologizing is to actually change your opinion or direction. Don’t fold to pressure by your team unless you truly feel they are right and you are not. Integrity also means having the confidence to say you’re wrong and try a new way. Assess each situation to see what you should do.
  7. Debrief. One way to build team and trust is to debrief a situation or project especially if people don’t agree with you. They may not have had a chance to influence the decision or feedback but invite them to tell you how it went. Again, show emptily and listen. Engaging them in a post-situation debrief can help demonstrate that.

For some of us, not being people pleasers can seem impossible. I suffered from this for a long time but I believe in integrity and inspiring trust and respect over “being liked”. The real secret is…(drum roll please….) the more you are strong, open and consistent, the more you will be liked and respected as a leader. Professionals actually respect managers that can make tough decisions, communicate effectively and be fair even if it doesn’t go their way. That boss I had that always apologized made me question her values. I never knew what she stood for as she was always flip-flopping to please the person in front of her. She wanted me to like her but I had a hard time respecting her, which ultimately led to my departure from the organization. Don’t let this happen to you!

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