The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

August 21, 2016

Are You Hard to Like?

How important is it to be liked at work? What makes your colleagues — and you — difficult to appreciate?  And if some people  at work don’t like you, what can you do about it?  Jim & Steve explore these questions … plus, the intriguing evidence that empathy and fairness are biologically programmed into us.

View Transcript

Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. Now, a show for anyone who is or has a boss, this is The Boss Show with Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Steve Motenko: Hey there. Welcome to The Boss Show. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy. I’m a personal development coach, AKA. life coach, although I hate that term.


Jim Hessler: I do too. You’re more than that, my friend.


Steve Motenko: Thank you. I appreciate that. I also do executive coaching, in fact more executive coaching these days here in the Seattle area, and I also lead leadership development experiences in the Seattle area, again with our clients, with my friend across the table.


Jim Hessler: That’s me. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy. I’m the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development and the author, along with Steve, of the book Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face. What are we going to talk about today, big guy?


Steve Motenko: The topic of today is, Are you hard to like?


Jim Hessler: How would I know?


Steve Motenko: See, I don’t want to be passive aggressive about it, Jim, but this show is for you.


Jim Hessler: Was there a reason you chose this topic?


Steve Motenko: Exactly, but before we get there I was listening to … are you a podcast listener at all Jim? I don’t think you do very much.


Jim Hessler: A few. I have a few.


Steve Motenko: Okay. One of my favorites is TED Radio Hour and something came across a few weeks ago that just really intrigued me, really ignited my “psychology guy” geekness. They did a study with some chimpanzees.


Jim Hessler: Very likable creatures generally.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, generally. Not always. Are they hard to like?


Jim Hessler: At least the ones in the circuses, on the television shows are usually very likable.


Steve Motenko: Let’s just change the topic of the show to is your chimp hard to like?


Jim Hessler: Hard to like, yeah. Useful information.


Steve Motenko: We digress. They will give chimps tasks to do and they’ll give them slices of cucumber as rewards, and these chimps will do these tasks forever, happily munching on their cucumber slices … until they introduce grapes as a potential reward. Now, chimps like grapes better than they like cucumbers.


Jim Hessler: Who doesn’t?


Steve Motenko: Exactly. Are you a chimp?


Jim Hessler: More than I’d like to be sometimes.


Steve Motenko: Maybe you descended from one. Anyway, what they started to do was to give some chimps grapes for performing that task, and others cucumbers, and the chimps can see each other. Suddenly what starts to happen is that the chimps who were given the cucumbers get upset about the fact that they’re not getting grapes so they start rattling the bars of the cages, why am I not getting the grapes, and in some cases they even throw the reward cucumber outside of the cage. Now, logically it makes no sense for that particular chimp because a cucumber is better than no cucumber, no reward at all, but what it implies-


Jim Hessler: The offense that they’re taking at the situation is so great that they actually threw out their substance, their food.


Steve Motenko: Exactly. Yeah. It implies that there is an instinct in chimps for what? What value would you-


Jim Hessler: Fairness.


Steve Motenko: Exactly.


Jim Hessler: Yeah. Absolutely.


Steve Motenko: I found that really intriguing but then the next step of the experiment even more so. It wasn’t really part of the designed experiment but what they started to observe was that some of the chimps who were given grapes refused to eat the grapes because they saw the other chimps only being given cucumbers.


Jim Hessler: No kidding. That’s a surprise.


Steve Motenko: What is the instinct that that implies?


Jim Hessler: Empathy.


Steve Motenko: Exactly. For those of us who believe that we are biologically programmed, the standard interpretation-


Jim Hessler: Uniquely programmed.


Steve Motenko: Well, but no. The standard interpretation of Darwinian thought is survival of the fittest and whoever is the strongest wins. Even Darwin turned the tables on that thought towards the end of his life and talked about the built-in instinct for empathy and altruism in humans, which now clearly, as we’re seeing from this research, it originates before us in the evolutionary chain.


Jim Hessler: And is a survival technique you could argue in itself. If we treat others well they will treat us well. We’ll all get along, and we’ll all be safe, and our lives will be better in so many ways.


Steve Motenko: Right. Stop thinking that empathy and altruism is not something that’s biologically programmed into us. It truly is.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, and they found this even with very, very, very young children, that they already have this sense of fairness built in as well.


Steve Motenko: Right. Toddlers even. Coming up on The Boss Show — are you hard to like and how important is it to be liked? You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Steve Motenko: Hi. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy. Welcome back to The Boss Show.


Jim Hessler: Thanks for being here. We enjoy having you. I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy. You can call us at our listener line at 206-973-7377 and we get some great calls and some really interesting stuff for us to work with. Also we have a good old-fashioned email box. Remember those Steve, email?


Steve Motenko: Emails. What does the E stand for?


Jim Hessler: Electronic I think. Something like that.


Steve Motenko: I’ve heard of it.


Jim Hessler: It’s We’d love to hear from you. We’d love to interact with you on Facebook or Twitter.


Steve Motenko: Topic of today’s Boss Show is,  are you hard to like, and the first question is how important is it to be liked? Jim I just want to serve that up to you and ask you what you think. How important is it to be liked at work?


Jim Hessler: Boy, I wish I had a crystal clear answer for that. I’m just trying to put it in my own perspective. I have worked for bosses and coworkers in my life that I didn’t like but I found very compelling, and interesting, and engaging to work with, and we did great things together. In that sense I’d say I don’t have to really truly like everybody I work with. I do have to respect them. I’ve always made that distinction and I think that was an important turning point in my career at one point when I decided, when I was in a management position early in my career, more than thirty years ago.


I was driving to work one day. I remember this happened like an a-ha moment like, boy, it’d be great if everybody liked me but I have to start with respect, and I think liking can follow respect if you really think the persons coming from a good place. You may not feel a strong personal warm fuzzy towards them but there is a friendship that can be formed out of that idea of doing great work together. I think about sports teams this way. I don’t think these guys on the Seahawks all like each other but I think they like what they do together.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, so that strong personal connection, it begs the question for me what does it mean to be liked? I think the best definition that I can offer is that strong personal connection and that’s a product of a lot of things. It can be a product of synchronicity or simpaticoness of personality styles. By definition, if I have a personality style and your personality style is very different, I might be able to respect you but it might be really hard for me to like you.


Jim Hessler: I think we’re also predisposed to like people with whom that we have things in common, and if we share political views, or religious views, or interesst in music or art or food. I think there’s a liking that comes from that shared interest as well and that’s hard to replicate in the workplace sometimes.


Steve Motenko: Right. Introverts and extroverts are less likely to like each other than introverts and introverts. Right brain people versus left brain people. It’s because we’re so different it’s I may respect you because if I’m left brained, very analytical and logical, rational, and step-by-step, I may respect you, your artistic creativity, but we might not choose to socialize together.


Jim Hessler: You asked me is it important to be liked. I would say it’s important not to be disliked. I don’t know if that makes any sense.


Steve Motenko: Yeah. I think that’s well said. I agree with that, yeah. To me, being liked is one dimension among many of what can make effective workplace relationships. In a way it’s all about relationships but as you pointed out, there are other qualities of relationship other than that strong personal connection.


Jim Hessler: I also think liking is an attitudinal thing and I think a lot of people are passive about that. They’re waiting for somebody to do something that makes them like them. My predisposition, we’ve talked about this before, my predisposition is to like them.


Steve Motenko: Right. You often say that.


Jim Hessler: I approach people, almost universally, every time I meet a new person my predisposition is to like them.


Steve Motenko: To a certain extent whether you like others and whether you’re liked, they’re both within your control, within your influence.


Jim Hessler: It’s a choice. They are. Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more.


Steve Motenko: One other thing I want to add to this is that what you’re liked for is important to look at.


Jim Hessler: I want to hear more about that.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, so if you’re disliked by people who are psychologically healthy, or if you’re liked by people who are psychologically unhealthy, then maybe you’re liked or disliked for the wrong reasons.


Jim Hessler: Boy, that’s really well said. You could be a very likable person but if it’s the wrong people liking you for the wrong reasons that’s not good either.


Steve Motenko: Coming up on The Boss Show, what makes your coworker or you difficult to like? We’ll explore that in conversation when we come back. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy. The question of the day on The Boss Show, and by the way thanks for staying with us, or if you just joined us thanks for joining us. Question of the day is are you hard to like, and we started out the topic by asking-


Jim Hessler: Why do you keep looking at me when you ask that question?


Steve Motenko: Are you paranoid? See, that’s one thing that makes you hard to like is paranoia. We started out in the last segment by asking how important is it to be liked at work and kind of came to the conclusion that, well as Jim said well, it’s important not to be disliked, and being liked is one of many qualities that make for, and certainly it’s not absolutely necessary to having good workplace relationships.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, and I also try to separate being a person who is maybe admirable or respected as opposed to somebody who’s just simply liked because I think there’s people I like who I don’t particularly respect.


Steve Motenko: Right, and I think respect and trust both are more important foundational qualities for workplace relationships than being liked. Let’s talk about in this segment Jim, what makes a colleague hard to like. How would you answer that question.


Jim Hessler: Number one for me is if somebody doesn’t listen to me. That’s the cardinal sin.


Steve Motenko: I’m sorry, what were you saying? I was checking email.


Jim Hessler: If someone does not listen to me that’s the cardinal sin you can commit with me. That’s a very personal thing but just feeling disrespected, I guess, by another person. Not listening to me is a way of disrespecting me.


Steve Motenko: Absolutely. Right. Number one on my list is lack of self-awareness.


Jim Hessler: Oh, interesting.


Steve Motenko: If the person is unaware of their, I’ll just use a name out of the blue, Jim. For example, if Jim is unaware of his impact on other people in the workplace, if he’s unaware, Jim, of the limitations of his own perspective, he thinks my way or the highway, or I’m always right, or I always have the best course of action, there’s a total lack of self-awareness there. Also a lack of self-awareness for me about what is driving my behavior, so what my underlying motivations are. If I’m not aware or if Jim isn’t aware of the fact that his ego is driving his behavior, that makes him really difficult to like.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, and I think there’s a word that comes to mind as you’re saying that and it’s related to that. I would find a narcissistic person or a very self-centered person to be unlikable. It’s always about them.


Steve Motenko: Yeah. If you don’t know if that describes you then you have a problem.


Jim Hessler: I’m not sure this show is doing you much good.


Steve Motenko: Exactly. If you’re asking yourself the question, “How self-aware am I? Well, I must be really self-aware,” and you’ve never gotten feedback on that, I’d strongly encourage you to get it, to get people who will tell you the truth to tell you the truth about how they perceive your blind spots.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, and some people don’t like to do that because they simply don’t believe, one of the things we talked about earlier which is is it important to be liked. Some people don’t think it’s important. They just, I don’t care if people like me. Again, this is what you hear from star athletes, I don’t care what you think about me. I am who I am and that’s who I’m going to be, and you can you know what up a rope if you don’t like it.


Steve Motenko: I think that is a stance that bad leaders hide behind. I do great work here. I have the right answers. My team would die for me, which often is not the case but they’ve deluded themselves into believing that it is the case. Although, as we’ve said, being liked is not the be-all and end-all. It’s still important, and to deny that you can make progress on that in ways that still serve the organization, is not in anybody’s best interest.


When we come back we’ll talk about what makes colleagues difficult to appreciate. It’s The Boss Show.


Voiceover: KOMO News. The Boss Show is back on a Northwest lifestyle weekend. Here’s Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko.


Steve Motenko: The Boss Show is back and we’re glad you’re back with us. I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy. Today we’re talking about are you hard to like and the importance of likability in the workforce. I want to just tail onto something that you just said Steve. There’s this concept in business called a leading indicator versus a trailing indicator.


Steve Motenko: And in economics.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, so a leading indicator is a statistic that predicts something that’s going to happen in the future. A trailing indicator is a statistic that tells you what’s already happened. I’m thinking about likability in this respect, so if you like your boss, is that a leading indicator that you’re going to have a good relationship with your boss, or is that a trailing indicator that you’ve done the work you need to do in that relationship that you like each other? I think that there’s a good argument for it being a trailing indicator rather than a leading indicator.


Steve Motenko: Yeah. I agree.


Jim Hessler: In other words you can really like your boss and not have it be predictive of you having a really good relationship with your boss, but if you work together well, and you go through a few valleys together, and a few peaks together, and maybe some conflicts, and maybe you’ve accomplished something, then your likability for each other is a trailing indicator that there’s something really good happening in that relationship. Does that make sense?


Steve Motenko: Yeah. It makes total sense. If you think of it as a leading indicator you may be disappointed.


Jim Hessler: Exactly.


Steve Motenko: Here’s the thing. You can be really well-liked and be totally ineffective.


Jim Hessler: Absolutely. Amen. Yeah.


Steve Motenko: A couple weeks ago we did a show on being tough as a boss and this plays right into that. I think that maybe the best way to say that while being liked at work is important, it’s nowhere near the be-all and end-all.


Jim Hessler: Or it’s a trailing indicator. It’s something that is a result of your work together.


Steve Motenko: Yeah. You can like somebody a lot more after you and your team, including that person, produce great results than you did beforehand when you weren’t sure about the synchronicity of your personality style.


Jim Hessler: Right. We see this when things happen in our society that are terrible. 9/11 would be an example of people liking each other just simply because they had that sense of common shared vision in something that was important, that they focused on what they shared rather than what they didn’t share. That makes you like a person when you focus on what you share with that person rather than what the difference is.


Steve Motenko: Exactly. You couldn’t have focused on that ahead of time because you didn’t have that shared experience so you had just the different personality styles and you didn’t like each other all that much, and now you got that shared experience, yeah.


Jim Hessler: It strips away some of the nuances and gets you to the core of really important in your relationship.


Steve Motenko: Right. A few months ago an organization called Appreciation At Work, which is all about helping people to appreciate each other in the workplace, sent out a survey of over four hundred people titled What Makes A Colleague Difficult to Appreciate?


Jim Hessler: Difficult to appreciate.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, we’re talking about liking and appreciation, and there’s overlap, and they’re not exactly the same because you can appreciate someone that you don’t like.


Jim Hessler: I guess. Yeah, that’s true.


Steve Motenko: I think there’s a lot of overlap. This was actually what gave the impetus to me to do this show on our are you hard to like. Let’s review a few of these findings. What they found the top three themes of the responses they got about what makes a colleague difficult to appreciate, the first one is chronically negative. As you listen to this I bet, if you’re unlucky like most of us, you can think of a face in front of you, that person who’s chronically negative. This is the single personality style that most people find most difficult to appreciate.


Jim Hessler: Yeah, that makes perfect sense.


Steve Motenko: For example, a couple of quotes on this, one person said, “I find it a challenge to appreciate the person who always looks at the negative side of life. For then there’s always something to complain about and nothing is positive.” What this taps into is the victim mentality, which we talk a lot about in our leadership workshop, how every time you complain about something, every time you blame someone else about something that’s not inside of your circle of influence, you’re wasting energy and you’re eroding relationships.


Jim Hessler: You have a certain amount of energy to bring to work every day and this person just sucks it out of your tank. This person just takes all that positive energy away.


Steve Motenko: Yeah, so our coaching advice is don’t be that person.


Jim Hessler: Don’t be that person. Don’t hang out with that person.


Steve Motenko: There are two other top themes of the responses coming up. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: It’s a Northwest lifestyle weekend on KOMO News. The Boss Show continues.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy and we’re talking about whether you, yes you, are hard to like on The Boss Showed today. Started out with a question, how important is it to be liked, and we’re ending up today with some research, a survey basically on what makes a colleague difficult to appreciate. We’re hoping you don’t recognize yourself in these descriptions. Just before the break we talked about being chronically negative, the single number one response to people who said my colleague is difficult to appreciate and here’s why. Don’t be chronically negative. Don’t be a victim, and if you are, I know you are listening to this and saying why are those guys telling me what to do?


Jim Hessler: I’m not negative.


Steve Motenko: I’m always persecuted here. What’s the second number two response about what makes a colleague difficult to appreciate? Arrogant and self absorbed.


Jim Hessler: Oh yeah. We talked about that earlier, that narcissism. It’s all about me.


Steve Motenko: Right. How many of us have been challenged by dealing with somebody like this, somebody who knows it all or pretends to know it all, somebody who thinks they’re better than everybody else?


Jim Hessler: Yeah, which you and I have talked so many times how often that’s a mask for insecurity, so I have compassion for those people. While I am frustrated by them I’m also wondering what’s going on behind the scenes that makes them so darned insecure.


Steve Motenko: That’s really an enlightened response as far as I’m concerned, and such an enlightened response that it’s really difficult for most of us to engage in, but I’d say pretty much a hundred percent of the time somebody who’s arrogant and self absorbed is not doing it from true security, or true authentic personal power, but from insecurity and a feeling of lack.


Jim Hessler: It’s a story they have to tell about themselves to make themselves feel good about themselves.


Steve Motenko: Right, and so then as you said, you got to wonder, geez. What happened in this poor persons childhood? It’s hard to have sympathy for somebody who’s arrogant but if you can muster that kind of compassion and wonder what happened in their childhood that made them turn out this way, at least maybe you can tolerate being in the room with them a little better.


Jim Hessler: Yes. Exactly.


Steve Motenko: I feel like there’s some music we need.


Jim Hessler: Yeah right. It’s like a multiple-choice test or something.


Steve Motenko: Number three, what makes a colleague difficult to appreciate, inflexible and not collaborative.


Jim Hessler: Certainly, and that maybe ties into number two which is my way or the highway, or let’s do it my way, I don’t want to listen to any other perspectives. I hear so many complaints about I went into my bosses office with a concern or an idea and I got turned around and shoved right out the door, basically they didn’t want to hear it. They didn’t want to hear any contradictory evidence or any concerns, or any complaints.


Number one was being negative, so this wraps back to that because some bosses perceive anybody who has anything negative to say as a negative person. They’re a complainer. Some companies really punish people for coming with honest, legitimate concerns.


Steve Motenko: They need to hire us to fix them because that is not a sustainable situation right there.


Jim Hessler: No. It’s awful. It’s awful because everybody just clams up and stops talking, and feels a great deal of frustration and distrust towards the person that won’t listen to their concern.


Steve Motenko: I do want to say that sometimes a lack of collaborativeness is not necessarily about arrogance but more about introversion, and just leave me alone to do my work by myself. Unfortunately in the modern workplace, that’s less and less a tenable situation.


Jim Hessler: Yes. It really is and it’s tough for us introverts sometimes to measure up to that level of collaboration that’s needed these days.


Steve Motenko: When we come back, given everything we’ve talked about, how do you become easier to like? You don’t want to miss this. You’re listening to The Boss Show.


Voiceover: Now back to Jim Hessler and Steve Motenko. This is The Boss Show on KOMO News.


Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler. I’m The Business Guy.


Steve Motenko: I’m Steve Motenko. I’m The Psychology Guy. We’re talking today about whether you are difficult to like, and yes we are talking to you.


Jim Hessler: You know who you are.


Steve Motenko: You know who you are. The question now is how do you become easier to like? Well, I hate to do this. It’s kind of cheating, but do exactly the opposite of everything we’ve been talking about on the show so far. Cultivate your own self-awareness. Stop playing the victim. Stop being negative about things that are not within your control.


Jim Hessler: You’ll like yourself better if you do that too.


Steve Motenko: Others will like you. Focus on possibilities. Listen, actively listen to your coworkers as Jim mentioned earlier in the show, and push your own edges to be more collaborative because your coworkers will like you better if you are.


Jim Hessler: The Boss Show is produced by Boss media productions and our sound engineer is Kevin Doddrell.


Steve Motenko: If you missed any of the show you can get it in its entirety online at That’s also where you can go to subscribe to our podcast. We’re also, by the way, on iTunes and Stitcher, and SoundCloud, and to contact us, maybe to bring us into your workplace.


Jim Hessler: We really do thank you for listening.


Steve Motenko: Don’t forget rule number six.



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