Op-Ed: It’s Time To Admit That Being Liked Is More Important Than Being Good At Your Job

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 12: Amanda Seales (HBO Insecure) during her game show at The Apollo Theater on November 12, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Shahar Azran/Getty Images)

I really like Amanda Seales.

Her whip smart eloquence and crisp comedic timing is undeniable every time I see her on my phone screen or silver screen. I find mostly everything she produces to be thoughtful, effortful, and impactful. She’s gifted us with her vulnerability time and time again, making it clear that she aims to leave the world better than she found it. She’s someone who I sit up for when I hear her speaking. That’s why it pains me to say this: I can understand why some people really don’t like her.

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Let’s unpack this.

The official denotation of the term “likable” is having qualities that bring about a favorable regard: pleasant, agreeable. Women, particularly Black women, have historically had a toxic relationship with the likability prospect. Racist tropes like the Sapphire, Mammy and Jezebel archetypes have laid a rocky path that leaves many Black women battling preconceived notions about the way we present, as opposed to who we really are. It’s exhausting and deleterious to societal progress. But in some cases, the uneven plight Black women face isn’t always applicable. To put it plain, sometimes it’s just us.

There are lots of traits Amanda Seales’s name conjures up when I hear it—the aforementioned adjectives that define likability don’t make the cut. Using her sizable digital platforms, Seales consistently provokes uncomfortable yet necessary discourse about everything from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, misogynoir, racism, colorism, gender identity, and foreign policy to more personal topics like dating f—boys and navigating tricky industry social circles.

She’s a self-admitted linguist that has shaped herself into an enviable orator. But in her captivating storytelling, she has almost become a professional polarizer. For instance, during an engaging interview in 2019 with The Breakfast Club, Seales re-shared an experience she had with an unnamed man she initially spoke about on her podcast (Small Doses); she later implied the man was found to display predatory behavior toward her and other women who also encountered him in dating situations. The internet was quickly able to surmise who the man was—a fairly esteemed and public figure—and Seales was slammed by social media users who said she falsely accusing him of sexual assault on a large platform. The onslaught seemed to open the floodgates for a larger critique of her delivery—while well-articulated, can be razor sharp and unpalatable.

That’s why, when it came to her recent Instagram post on being snubbed by esteemed Black award ceremonies, it gave me pause. This isn’t the first time she’s called out feeling overlooked by Hollywood insiders. In 2019, Seales shared with her Instagram followers that she was kicked out of a Black Hollywood party during Emmys weekend. She later pointed to Issa Rae’s publicist as being a part of the reason she was barred from attending the event. Seales has also shared her displeasure with her work experience at recently cancelled daytime talk show The Real where she briefly sat as a co-host. This is just one of many other work-related grievances Seales has spoken publicly about, in which she found fault in another party’s handling of an incident.

Seales is clearly influential, but she herself has said she isn’t liked by certain industry gatekeepers and clearly, she’s noticed its affect on certain professional milestones.

All of this begs the question, how important is it to be liked over being perceived as competent in your career?

According to a 2019 report from the Harvard Business School, 90% of what sets high performers apart is attributed to emotional intelligence, which correlates strongly with likability.

Researchers have even found that hiring managers are more likely to select candidates they like over those who are more qualified for an open role. So essentially, rubbing people the wrong way can affect your career trajectory regardless of work ethic and competence.

Personally, while I enjoy thought provocation in theory, I’m not sure I’d be able to work alongside someone who seems committed to exhaustingly agitating the establishment, even when they have really good points and even better intentions.

While I feel for Seales and know that she is beloved by those who follow her work, I can’t help but wonder if there’s an opportunity for reflection on her part as opposed to yet another moment of mere finger-pointing. She seems to be confused about she isn’t embraced by the Hollywood machine she has consistently bucked against and admonished for years. She seems to have offended the same people she’s wants to be lauded by. I’m not sure it’s wise to want it both ways.

Throughout my own career, I have had to take a step away from just quality controlling my work, but to also take inventory on my disposition. Am I agreeable? Is my attitude favorably regarded? Is my presence pleasant? Do people feel like they can trust me with their feelings? And most importantly, if the shoe were on the other foot would I want to work with me? It may be time for Seales and others who have similar feelings about feeling stonewalled in the career to ask the same questions of themselves. While no one can take your talent from you, being liked by your peers can carry you to places your competence never will.

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