“You’re nice,” is a compliment. Many of us would like to be seen as nice. Truth is… Nice isn’t necessarily good. Nice at work — and in so many other areas of our lives — can be destructive.
And now you’re probably as tired of the word “nice” as I am. Good. Maybe you’ll stop being so nice all the time. (I’m winking at you.)
There’s a critical distinction to make here between “nice” and “kind.” The dictionary defines “nice” as, “pleasant, agreeable.” And I’ll define kind here as, “generously aligning with another’s intentions.” A quick illustration of the difference… Ignoring the fact that you’ve got spinach in your teeth can be “nice.” Allowing you to go into an important meeting without saying anything so you and I don’t feel awkward about the interaction isn’t kind. Telling you, though it may feel awkward, is kind.
Perhaps it’s starting to come clear how nice at work can (maybe slowly) destroy your company.
The ways nice can be insidiously corrosive at work are many. Many. Here are five.
- Corrodes integrity and cohesiveness of the team: When people are nice at work, they may send one message in one setting and a completely different message in another. One form that takes is gossip. Another very common example… People hold their real thoughts until the “meeting after the meeting:” They say, “ok, you got it,” when asked to do something in a meeting, and then in the hallway afterward, they may turn to a colleague and say, “that’s a terrible idea. I’m not doing that.”
- Withholds information that’s germane to a project’s success. Someone may see a colleague going down the garden path. They’re working hard, doing their best. The observer doesn’t want to embarrass them, make them feel bad, come off as a know it all. So they keep their mouth shut and watch as their colleague walks right off a cliff. “I could have told you that was going to happen.” Then why the hell didn’t you? To avoid a difficult conversation.
- Managers abdicating responsibility: This is, candidly, a subset of #2. Nicey-nice management is worthy of it’s own bullet point because leaders have a redoubled responsibility to point out (kindly) misguided action, poor plans, or potential hazards in the waters ahead. Managers being nice at work instead of kind and assertive is a dereliction of duty. And a common one at that.
- Lost sales: Don’t take this as a ________________ of pushy sales tactics. Yuck. That said, nearly everyone in the world has an automatic, knee-jerk resistance to sales and sales people. Without a willingness to move into the discomfort, be a bit assertive in their intention to serve the prospect, sales people will succumb to the ubiquitous brush-off, and your company won’t earn. Revenue. Lifeblood.
- Hobbled initiatives: Without assertively driving change, the status quo wins. Change isn’t comfortable. Nice doesn’t require that anyone else change. With nice, not kind, no one will break out of the status quo. And the status quo can’t last long. It will break you and your ambitions for your company.
Choose kind over nice at work. (Heck, choose kind over nice everywhere.) People (not everyone, but most) will appreciate it. You’ll build trust everywhere you go.
In her book, Radical Candor, Kim Scott says, “Care personally. Challenge directly.” Care so much personally and demonstrate that caring so frequently that your caring is believed without a doubt.
This is hard stuff. The good news is that it gets easier the more you do it. The better news is that when you establish this standard of care and challenge as, “how we do around here,” people will beinn to do it. Slowly. Timidly.
And, behavior is contagious. The contagion will grow. Kindness is a healthy contagion.
If you’d like to talk about establishing effective kindness deep in the fabric of your culture, reach out.