The pursuit of being respected or liked is an interesting phenomenon that occasionally creeps into my mind while I conduct therapy and training sessions, discipline my children, and interact with friends and colleagues. Which value is more important for me, and which value is more attractive for people to obtain?
Think about what life is like as a student in middle and high school and, for some, college. It is a socially stressful time, one filled with wishes of establishing friendships and being accepted by others. How does a person get accepted during these developmental periods filled with identity crises? Most typically, by going along with the group norm and not voicing your own, diverse opinion. Ultimately, at this young age, being liked and accepted is a desirable outcome; being alone is viewed as a scary consequence of challenging the "groupthink" process.
So, what happens when we get jobs, get married, and have children? What value becomes more important during these developmental years as we mature? I explored this issue with my close friend Rena Holland, who is the director of human resources for a large company. She explained that she has training sessions for employees who are promoted to managerial roles. She suggests to them they may not be able to go out with the "gang" for a drink after work since they are now in a leadership and responsible role; they need to be respected as an authority figure. These employees inevitably experience loss of friendships as well as some conflict and tension from other employees who are threatened by success. The cost of being promoted may be being liked by peers.
Taking this question a little further, can we be both respected and liked at the same time? Perhaps this answer depends on the environment and the context of the group dynamic. I can only speak from my own experiences, but I tend to group this answer into three categories: 1) I have respected fellow employees and then eventually enjoyed spending time with them; 2) I have respected fellow employees for their intellect and knowledge, but then later disliked them due to personality differences; and 3) I do not like individuals who I do not respect. Being respectful of others and demonstrating a strong value system of beliefs—based on a foundation of kindness—are essential ingredients for me to like someone. What is more important to you, being respected or being liked? Do you feel that these values have to be mutually exclusive or can they be interdependent of one another?
Perhaps the answer lies in moderation coupled with discipline, just like any other concept in life. Let"s take, for example, the employee who is promoted, as mentioned previously. To be both respected and liked, one might choose to attend a work event if invited (but avoid gossip), have only one drink rather than several, and stay for just an hour. By choosing this approach, you are still connecting with your staff but at a respectful level. Thomas Jefferson eloquently expressed the art of balancing social desirability versus respect in his famous quote: "In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock."