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Alicia Menendez: The Likeability Trap


Alicia Menendez

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Award-winning journalist and anchor for MSNBC, Alicia Menendez, talks with Kelly about her new book, "The Likeability Trap."

As I was reading your excellent new book, I was reminded of an Audre Lorde quote, she said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare. The fight is personal, it's cultural and it's political.” I think that's overall what this book is saying, right?

“Absolutely. I mean there's so much out there about likability, so many books about how to be a more likable version of yourself. This is not that book. This is about taking a really critical look at likability. Why we like people, the many biases that shape why we like people, why we don't like other people or personal preferences. And for women in particular asking why it is that it is so challenging to be a likable lady leader.”

You write about how we sometimes incorrectly conflate popularity and likability. 

“So popularity is about status. If you've made your way through high school, then you know what popularity is. But likability is different, right? You could be liked by very few people, but they could like you very much. And the factors that shape who we like and who we don't are also really hard to identify sometimes even for ourselves. Right? There are people who I like or whose company I enjoy and I couldn't totally tell you why that is. There are people at work who we really got along with and other people who we have more friction with. And sometimes it's hard to step back and assess why we find some people likable and why we don't find other people likable.”

There are many double-binds for women at work and one of those is strength and warmth.

“The ideal for almost anyone is to hit this perfect balance of strength and warmth, right? Strength to have people believe that you have the ability to follow through on your plans, warmth that people like you, they trust you. And yet getting to that sweet spot is really challenging for most leaders. And what becomes particularly challenging for women is that what tends to happen is as one of those factors goes up, the other goes down. So if you are in an environment where strength is really what is valued and strength tends to be what's valued at work, if you're a woman and you perform with strength, all of a sudden your warmth starts going down. And so even as you're gaining the benefit of being perceived as strong, you're often being penalized for the fact that you're not as warm as your coworkers and colleagues might want a woman to be.”

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