Everybody wants to be liked, to some extent. Being disliked by others feels like a deficiency, a shortcoming in oneself that must be fixed. It feels like a failure that you’ve let someone down, or even worse, it can make you feel like you’re somehow broken or deficient.
I would argue the opposite: It’s only a dysfunction if nobody dislikes you.
Take a minute and think of someone you know whom, by all appearances, everybody likes. This person is most likely polite and personable, and appears to have no conflict with anyone. However, appearances deceive. Someone (probably several someones) dislikes this person. Perhaps there’s even a full-blown feud or two. At some point in the past, this person has done things and made decisions that alienated him or her from at least a few associates, in spite of the apparent lack of adversaries. That’s part of the reason most everybody likes this person; when they do have a conflict with someone, they don’t wear it on their sleeve. They recognize that having someone dislike you isn’t the end of the world, and isn’t worth broadcasting to everyone else. In spite of this person’s likability and apparent lack of enemies, there are others who, for their own reasons, don’t like this person.
Having a few people who dislike you can be a sign of success. Here’s why: The only people who don’t have any adversaries are those who don’t make decisions. They don’t take a stand on things that matter, out of fear of upsetting someone. They are fence-sitters, anchored into ambivalence in an attempt to avoid conflict. Their personal relationships and professional contributions will have limited value, because fear, not the desire to make progress, motivates them. Attempting to achieve a state in which no one dislikes this person means that they are sacrificing everything else in the interest of being liked. And, in spite of that, it’s a strategy that is likely doomed anyway, because people will find something to dislike in even the least objectionable among us.
Perhaps the person who doesn’t like you is a coworker, with whom you fundamentally disagree on technical architecture. It might be a family member who strongly disapproves of your parenting style. It could be a professional contact who dislikes your use of the Oxford comma. Simply having someone dislike you doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong, or that you need to change to make that person happy. Rather, it’s evidence that you’ve made a stand, you’ve shared what you feel is right, or you’ve pointed out a way to do something better.
Don’t try to be the person everyone likes. Be the person who boldly does your best, knowing that you’ll create a few adversaries along the way.
A funny distinction is: people are good and bad. I am bad. I can’t expect to be liked by the good people 😀
Peter, we’re all broken in one way or another. But good or bad, people can still find a reason to dislike us, and it’s more likely if we’re bold in what we think.
Tim, this was a good read. Thanks for putting it together.
The number of people you interact with is inversely proportional to the number of people who will like you. The ratio is dependent entirely on two more factors: your desire to please others and your ability to do good or harm with the decisions that you make. I used to be very critical of politicians until I ran for office and won. Now I understand that there are some whom I will harm with my decisions despite my intent to help as many people as possible. Another great post, Tim.
Thanks Kevin. Like you, I used to harshly judge those in elected roles until I took one on myself. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and helped cement with me the fact that you’re going to piss some people off no matter what you do.
Thank you! This is fantastic and helps me tons.
Fantastic Post !
Thank you Tim. I used to behave like an inflated ball in a filled up swimming pool on windy day. After reading your article and reviewing my past life experiences, I have decided I am ready for a drastic change…to do the right thing whether people like it or not.
Good read, Tim!
It has been a while since we last met at the SQL meetings.
I had this amazing article opened on my browser for a week, finally i got a chance to read it, and what a pleasant surprise to find out that you are the author.
Hope we can me again soon.
You still remember me, Right ?
Hi Emad, of course I remember you 🙂 Good to hear from you. Thanks for the kind words!