Ambitious women often talk about how to balance likability and aggression, but I like to point out that they’re not mutually exclusive. You can be far more aggressive if it’s clothed in likability, and the more likable you are, the more aggressive you can get away with being.
I first became aware of how key the likability card is when I started recruiting talent for the Corcoran Group. I was running a small firm trying to lure talent away from big, reputable companies. I remember meeting with one woman who was a powerhouse in the industry. She shouldn’t even have wanted to talk with me, but she did, and I remember a click going off in my head when I thought really consciously, “Hmm…she really likes me!” and that was license to kill. That gave me the green light to pour on the charm and really convince her why working with me was the best opportunity of her life. It took two more meetings, but she did end up coming to work for me and making me a fortune.
At the same time, you can’t be afraid to get mad. I remember when I got offered the job at Shark Tank. I quickly signed the contract and later got a call saying that, actually, they had hired another woman instead. I was furious. And they considered me a fallback? No way. I wrote a quick and powerful email stating why I was the best choice and persuaded an executive’s secretary to walk the email to her boss. We had talked by phone a few times and she already liked me, so in my moment of need, she was sympathetic and happy to help me. That anger—and the email that came out of it—got me the job. I’m still there seven years later.
Watch some of the world’s most powerful women share their personal mottos:
The underlying theme through all of this is that you have to stop caring what people think about you because if you’re worried about what people think, that’s just a version of insecurity. That’s different from likability. What you’re really thinking is, “What will this person think of me if I fail?” It’s a boogeyman! People do it to themselves every day, and it stops them from doing great things. I had to teach myself early on to ignore those voices in my head that were saying, “Oh, you shouldn’t have come here, you don’t have the right to be here.” I took out that tape and turned on another mental tape that said, “No! I have just as much right to be here as you!” You have to figure out how to change that tape.
Barbara Corcoran is the founder of the Corcoran Group and is a Shark on ABC’s Shark Tank.