Feeling Significant, Competent, and Likable: Keys to Success

By Lindsay Hayes

The Fundamental Interpersonal Needs Orientation theory, developed by Will Schutz, considers what we need from our interactions with others to feel good about ourselves and our relationships. In short, we create a safe environment and stronger relationships by learning how to help others feel significant, competent, and likable.

We are motivated by these needs and for most of us, one need is stronger than the others. Some people can easily disregard it when someone deems them unlikable, while others have a more difficult time with being disliked. Schutz argues that these needs are developed throughout our lifetime and may change or evolve based on our current life circumstances.

Recognizing and understanding interpersonal needs allows us to better understand why people seek out or avoid certain environments or situations. It’s also helpful in coaching individuals and getting the most out of interactions with others. People seek to meet these needs so it’s vital to strive to meet the interpersonal needs of our clients.

“By creating environments that invite people to feel significant, competent and likable, you reduce the level of fear and create environments that are more conducive to honesty, collaboration, accountability and fun” (Blackman, n.d., p. 3). Honesty, collaboration, accountability are essential to any advising or coaching relationship. So how can we define feeling significant, competent, and likable? More importantly, how can we help our clients to feel this?

Feeling Significant

We can think of significance, sometimes referred to as inclusion, as the feeling of being worthy of attention or feeling important. It is easy to begin to feel insignificant when the cover letters and resumes you have sent out do not receive a response. Being ignored is a trigger for defensiveness in many of us.

Reminding our clients that the hiring manager may have received hundreds of applications, many of them from excellent, well-qualified candidates, may control the negative feelings. It is also useful to help our clients remember that the hiring manager simply feels our clients may not be a good fit. If the job is not a good fit then getting that job won’t be a benefit to anyone.

Feeling Competent

Competence can be defined as the feeling of having the skill, knowledge, qualifications, or capacity to accomplish tasks and goals. How “in control” of these things do our clients feel? Many clients seek the help of a career development professional because they do not feel competent in choosing or pursuing a career direction.

Some clients may be more susceptible to feeling incompetent than others. Those who were laid off may feel as if others think they are incompetent. Like the other interpersonal needs in this theory, this will sound like defensiveness. Blaming others, feeling like he or she can’t do anything right, especially where employment is concerned may be common.

It is important to let the client know that he or she has many excellent skills. Skills assessments may be an especially useful tool in helping the client to recognize his or her talents again.

Feeling Likable

It’s no secret that we like the people who like us. Likeability is vital to making meaningful connections. We see those we like, and want to be connected with, as more trustworthy and easier to talk to. We are more likely to open up to them. Getting the most out of career development advising or coaching requires a mutual feeling of trust. This is often built on a foundation of likability.

Many helping and coaching skills are useful for creating a relationship where our clients feel liked. Sincerity is also a key since our clients can sense how well they are liked. It is helpful to borrow from the International Coaching Federation’s belief that “every client is creative, resourceful, and whole.” We may not like every client, but we can find something likable about every client.

Long Term Needs

At the core of every interaction with a client, we can keep in mind the question, “How do I want my client to feel?” We want each session, training, or other interaction to end with clients feeling significant, competent, and likable. Finding the right career can lead to these important needs being met in the long term.



Blackman, C. (n.d.) A brief summary of FIRO theory. Retrieved from http://studylib.net/doc/8420998/a-brief-summary-of-firo-theory



Lindsay HayesLindsay Hayes holds a Masters of Arts in Communication, is a Global Career Development Facilitator and a certified Career and Education Advisor by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and Indiana University. She is inspired by working with lifelong learners who are looking to fulfill their potential. Lindsay is a Career Development Resources Manager for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. She can be reached at LindsayLHayes@gmail.com.

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