What’s wrong with being nice


To put it bluntly, there’s two things wrong with being nice. First of all there’s a universal prejudice that niceness and the ability to make “tough” decisions are incompatible. Second, it’s like being nice person is an invitation for other people (the not nice ones) to crush your spirit and walk all over you.

But why should it be this way? Pretty much every research project going has identified that women prefer a “nice” partner over a nasty one. I’m sure we’d rather work for a “nice” boss and with “nice” colleagues. But the theory just doesn’t seem to play out in practice.

The incongruous relationship between business and niceness has been played out perfectly by this season of The Apprentice. Last week, self confessed nice guy Felipe was ousted, basically for making a clever decision that irritated the boss. As soon as his neck was on the line his back stabbing fellow participants abandoned him and lived to scheme another day. It wasn’t quite a case of the nice guy finishing last, but near enough.

I’m uncertain as to how close a pastiche to the real World the tv show is. I’m guessing that niceness isn’t key enough to distinguish you in that dog eat dog environment, but what about in HR?

A while ago I read a post from an unfortunate woman who had been accused by her boss of being “too nice to work in HR”. Yes, HR is in the unusual and sometimes precarious position of having to engage employees on the one hand and discipline them on the other. This can make it controversial to develop close relationships with other members of staff, particularly in a small organisation. But does this really prevent us from being nice?

The difficulty is that nice actually has a bad name. It’s seen as weak. It’s like the woman who wants a nice boyfriend actually being attracted to the “bad boy” because nice was too safe. Too boring. Unexciting.

Of course it’s impossible to be nice all the time anyway, but a stress induced break in one’s character is completely different to someone who’s rude 24/7, and totally forgivable in my book. Recently a colleague told me he’d been so horrified about snapping at a co-worker, he had apologised. We’re always saying we want our leaders to be genuine and authentic, and isn’t this the perfect example? Niceness means we admit our mistakes, and get things done in a different (better) way.

At the end of the day it’s about principles. I’d suggest that if your employer accuses you of being too nice, you’re in the wrong job. So make like Felipe and promise yourself, not to stop being a nice man (or woman). There’s nothing wrong with being nice.

See the partner post to this one, “Bruised” here.

3 thoughts on “What’s wrong with being nice

  1. Excellent article Helen. Have you seen the article in New York magazine which suggests that our brains are wired for “kindness” nym.ag/1wHhSSU? And of course Adam Smith, who’s sometimes seen as the father of the capitalist free for all approach which values self-interest above all else, saw the key human quality as an understanding of, and empathy with,others.

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