How Much Does Your Boss Like You? New Research on Why it Matters

Last Updated Apr 19, 2011 9:01 PM EDT

A new study from Youngstown University, Niagara University, and University of Buffalo finds that women who are seen as likeable are considered better candidates for a promotion than those who are not.

At first glance, this doesn't seem terribly surprising. A 2006 study from Arizona State University found that, all other things being equal, likeable men get higher performance reviews and bigger bonuses than those who are seen to be equally competent but also boastful, gossipy, self-centered, or superficial. So why would it be different for women?

Part of the distinction lies in the particular attributes that the researchers used to define "likeability" for women. Whereas the 2006 study used the words "cheerful, loyal, tactful and wholesome" to describe their hypothetical likeable man, the researchers in this case looked at likeability in terms of ingratiation and assertiveness.

The researchers surveyed 136 employees and their supervisors at a national retail to chain. The employees filled out a questionnaire that was supposed to gauge their levels of ingratiation, assertiveness, and political skills. Then their bosses were asked how likeable those employees were, and how likely they were to be promoted.

  • Women who used more so-called ingratiatory behaviors were more likely to be liked a lot and to be thought of as highly-promotable.
  • Being assertive had no impact on a woman's likeability or promotability.
Didn't we once call this "being nice"?
"Ingratiatory behaviors" has a bad ring to it, I admit. To me, it implies that these women were engaging in empty flattery and brownnosing to get their bosses to like them. But that's not at all how the researchers looked at it. To them, ingratiatory behavior was defined as complimenting others, doing favors for other people, and showing interest in other people.

It makes perfect sense to me that women who display these characteristics are seen as more likeable. It also makes sense that they're the ones who are seen as more promotable. But I can't help thinking the researchers are missing something here. Aren't those the behaviors that make anyone more likeable-not just women?


Image courtesy flickr user M I T C H ÆŽ L L
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. Follow her on twitter at
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.