That question pops into most people’s heads from time to time. After all, you aren’t going to like everyone, all the time. Nor do you have to. People don’t have to like each other to work together successfully and productively. While liking is preferable, it shouldn’t be a goal. Rather the goal for both you and your employees is to not to force yourself to like people, but rather, to create effective working relationships.
But what does that mean?
Make sure you are focusing on the right goal
Let’s start with the word “like.” We often “like” people who we have things in common with, that we agree with in some ways, or that we are connected to in other ways. There is nothing wrong with that. It is the human condition, but is that even what matters in the workplace? In fact, it would be easy to say that we want diversity to generate the best ideas, multiple perspectives and more (i.e., people who might not “like” each other).
As I said, “like” is the wrong goal.
The other, also misguided (and closely related) goal is being friends with coworkers. It’s clear that not everyone has the same definition of that word either. You know people who feel they have one or two close friends and others who call all their 812 connections on Facebook their friends. Neither of th0se people are wrong, but to have a leadership goal (stated or otherwise) to create friendships isn’t wise or necessary either.
Let’s go back to my premise. The goal should be “effective working relationships.” The roots of effective working relationships are trust and respect. Can you think of people that you trust and respect but you wouldn’t call friends?
I surely can, and I could (and do) work very successfully with them. Couldn’t you?
Respect and trust are what matter most
So now, let me directly answer the question. No, you don’t have to like the people you work with, but you shouldn’t use “not liking them” as an excuse for a lack of productivity or success in your work. You have a job to do, and it will involve your connection to, interactions with and ultimately your relationships with other people. If you care about your work output, and if the “liking” barrier is in your way, it is your responsibility to get past that barrier to create a working relationship. If you can’t (or won’t) do that, it may be time to find a new place to work.
As leaders, when we hear the “I don’t like them” or related comments, we must help people change the goal. It isn’t about liking or friendship. It is about finding a working level of respect and trust as it relates to the work at hand. When we are clear on the goal and expectations, we can help others move in the right direction, with less frustration and angst, and toward greater results.
A final thought on moving forward
History is in the past. Because you can’t change the past, continuing to define relationships on history alone is fruitless (especially when the history is negative).
As leaders, we must help people focus less on the past, and more on the behaviors that will help them work successfully together in the present. The hurt, disappointment, frustration, anger (name your emotion here) of the past is real, but it is over. Instead of allowing your employees to continually rehash past conflicts and grievances, focus them on solutions for working together more effectively in the future.
Facing a tough leadership challenge? Don’t go it alone.
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