Monday, August 17, 2015

Why Being 'Too' Nice can Kill your Career

We grow up being taught to play nice with others.  We're told to be nice or others won't like us. These messages serve to teach us, at an early age, that being nice can gain us social recognition and acceptance. In the name of full disclosure, research does show that being nice can have positive benefits such as...

  • boosting your health
  • increasing your happiness level
  • slowing the aging process
  • appearing more attractive to others
  • feeling good about ourselves
Given the above, wouldn't we want to be as nice as possible?  As it turns out... no.  As with many other things in life, there is a balance and too much of anything is not always better. It seems that being 'nice' in business is okay. It can help us to be seen as collaborative and supportive of others; to be seen as a positive, caring leader.  However, if we somehow err and skew a little too far on the 'niceness' scale, tipping over into being seen as being 'too' nice... we, and our careers, are likely toast.

If you're 'Nice' you are deemed to be friendly, kind and pleasant.
If you're seen as 'Too Nice' though, you are viewed as being overly accommodating and focused solely on pleasing others. This deferential attitude can, and has, cost many people promotions, without them ever understanding why.

Research into the perils of being seen as being 'too nice' have found that the potential negatives are quite numerous...
  • often taken for granted
  • viewed as being too 'soft' 
  • seen as indecisive
  • easily manipulated
  • politeness can cost them visibility
  • feel exhausted trying to please everyone
  • ignore own self interests on behalf of others
  • lack a 'position' of their own on issues
  • can appear needy and insecure
The implication is that if you are 'too' nice, then you lack the confidence and strength of will to make tough, unpopular decisions.  As a result, careers get stalled.  Leaders are required to give voice to their opinions, to take a stand on issues, to make tough decisions, to push actions forward.  They need to hold others accountable to standards and to provide direction and even discipline when needed. 

The assumption of others though is that if you are 'too nice' you will be unable to fulfill some of the more difficult aspects of a leadership role.  In particular, that you will compromise some of your decisions in favour of maintaining the goodwill of others, that you will shy away from confrontation, that you will be more susceptible to the influence and persuasion of others. 

If you find that you get caught up in wanting others to like you, that you are a little too concerned about what others think, if you are constantly putting your own interests on the back burner, if you describe yourself as the 'peace keeper', or if you are consistently taking actions that don't 'rock the boat', you are likely skewing into the 'too nice' zone.  Many a career has floundered and even been sunk in this zone, in which case it should be avoided at all costs. Try using any of the following to help keep your career on the right track...

  • Work on saying 'no' more often
  • Actively put some of your needs before others
  • Develop your thoughts, strategies and position before seeking the input of others to help you stand firm in the face of conflicting needs
  • Learn to interject your thoughts in meetings to gain visibility 
  • Stop holding back to be polite
  • Adopt more confident body language cues
  • Establish your absolutes, lines you absolutely won't let others cross
  • Stop agreeing with everyone and everything
  • Respect yourself more and expect the same from others
And if you find it too difficult to let go of the need to please others...  maybe the best solution for you is to simply continue to please 'em... just put your name at the top of the list and please yourself first!

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