“Just by being a strong and kind, ambitious and likeable, empathetic and decisive, confident and flexible woman, you can help turn around the double standards we all face and permanently change the way women at work are perceived.” —Fran Hauser, author of The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate
Authenticity is crucial for success, but for some reason, those of us who embody a propensity to be nice (both women and yes, men too) have often been made to believe that nice won’t help us reach the success in our careers that could be possible. Especially with the double standards often placed upon women who do dare to step out of the nice box, society would like us to think that being nice won’t work, but actually, being gruff (if that is not our natural nature) won’t either.
So what is the best approach for building a career you love? Be yourself. Be that nice individual you have always been, but let go of the fickleness, let go of the passive-aggressiveness and become more confident in what you know to be true about your strengths, set clear boundaries, all the while building positive relationships with others, and remembering the research done by FastCompany in 2015, that a positive work environment leads to greater productivity, lower turnover, and even better health outcomes for workers. A win-win.
After reading Fran Hauser’s new book, I wanted to share 13 takeaways that spoke to me and caught my eye due to emails and comments I have received from readers. While I have boiled them down to their nuts and bolts, if this topic is speaking to you, be sure to take at the book as she offers a multitude of specific examples from her own career and others as well as step by step, specific pointers and tips for navigating remaining nice as well as strong.
1.Understand the difference between Nice and being a People Pleaser
“Nice is: Positive, yet honest and straightforward; People Pleaser is: Sweeping things under the rug to avoid making waves.”
2. Remember to be strong as well as nice
Hauser argues that indeed we can be both, even though the myth is perpetuated that we cannot. How? Hauser suggests speak up, and be humble, be a team player, but still look out for your best interests, and accommodate, but communicate clearly and be assertive.
3. Understand there are enough opportunities for everyone and refrain from competing with others, especially other women.
A necessary shift from generations past is moving beyond women competing with other women as though there was only one that could make it to the top. Historically, due to gender biases and stereotypes, this was sadly accepted and perpetuated, but times have and are continuing to change. Women can be collaborative, generous and in so doing, lift everyone who is contributing great work.
When we realize opportunities are in abundance when we shift the work culture and mentality, productivity rises, as does the peace of mind in the work place. How? By having confidence that we have something of value to offer and we can benefit from the talents of others.
4. Claim your niceness and use it intentionally
As an authentically nice person, to go against your nature will not only gradually deplete you, but it will also feel unnatural. When we choose to use our niceness intentionally, it can appear in how we build relationships with those we work with, and as a result, clients and colleagues show more loyalty as they appreciate the sincere connection and recognition of them individually.
5. You may have to clarify that your niceness is not to misunderstood for ignornace, lack or knowledge, in other words as a weakness
Hauser shares some helpful statements to respond to those who may doubt that being nice is indeed a preferred way to work, but once you make your stance clear, you will have to explain this truth far less often.
6. Be humble, but don’t put yourself down
Returning to the topic of being nice versus being a people pleaser, when we are humble and don’t take ourselves too seriously, we come across as more relatable. This doesn’t mean we should diminish our successes or strengths. In other words, never talk about yourself in a way that degrades your competence or paints a negative picture. When you begin to do this, you create potential doubt in clients, colleagues and higher ups who oversee your job.
7. Speak with confidence
Refrain from prefaces what you are about to share by casting doubt on what hasn’t even been spoken. Instead choose your words carefully. Hauser gives the example of stating we need to speak declaratively rather than interrogatively. In other words, observe how you end your sentences in which you are stating a fact. Do you still end it with a questioning tone? This projects lack of confidence. Instead, state it with confidence what you have found to work, to be true or an idea you would like to share. Give credit to those who deserve it if you came to the idea with the help of others, and if necessary, state your reasons for why you feel your idea would be helpful to more than just yourself. When you frame what you say constructively, speak with confidence and refrain from prefacing with doubtful statements such as “I believe” or “I could be wrong”, you are already on your way to gaining the trust from your peers and supervisors.
8. Apply critical thinking skills to tactful disagreement
If you disagree with someone’s initial statement, instead of stating this opinion forthwith, ask questions, seek outside perspectives and dive deeper into the subject at hand before jumping to conclusions. When we do all of these things, we step away from any initial emotional reaction and give ourselves time to thoughtfully respond and perhaps gain some more understanding and respect due to our process along the way.
9. Set emotional boundaries to weed out the bullies and build stronger relationships
“Often, we ‘nice girls’ carry around a tiny seed of doubt that a conflict is somehow our fault. When a bully spots that doubt, he or she will be very likely to prey on it.”
When I read this section of the book, I took a big sigh. For some reason, even after many years as an adult, and even in my youth, this was a tremendous aha for me.
This particular section is helpful for navigating situations in which a colleague bullies intentionally or unintentionally, but isn’t clear about the boundaries, and how to effectively deal with either situation. From the get-go it begins with setting clear emotional boundaries. Begin by seeking out allies you trust, then remember to not be sucked into the drama created by the bully. As well, confront the behavior head on after you have taken a deep breath, but don’t wait too long. Sometimes this is an opportunity to strengthen a relationship based on a misunderstanding, and in other scenarios, it clearly states to the bully, you may be nice, but you are not weak and will not tolerate such behavior. Lastly, document the facts of each incident should you need to talk to a supervisor.
10. Negotiate Effectively, by Playing to Your Strengths
When you marry reason and emotion, studies have shown that you are more likely to be successful, as a woman, receiving the wage, the contract, the [fill in the blank item you are seeking].
When it comes to reason, understand your value. In other words, what skills, expertise, etc. do you bring to the table, and how valuable is your time. Also, do your homework, and have the data ready to demonstrate what you want those you are speaking to to recognize. As well understand all of the options for improving your success (not only salary, but stock options, bonuses, schedule, vacation time, other bonuses such as memberships to gyms, etc. and maybe even four day weeks during the slow time of the year).
On the emotional side, being nice has its benefits, and this is one. Most likely you are observant of others and what makes them happy, what makes them upset, the best times during the day to talk to them, etc. I can remember a principal I used to work for, and early on in my career, the vice principal always advised to speak with him in the afternoon as he was not a morning person. This was helpful and it made me realize, that we are all human, and if we want the best outcome, it would be best to talk with the individual or individuals at the time of day they are more inclined to be awake and open-minded.
At the core is to have confidence in ourselves, to know we are worthy of asking for fair and equal pay, and to not feel bad for asking for what we know we are worth.
11. Create filters at work
Protect your time. Once you know what your priorities are at work, where you are most needed and valued, and where you can contribute the most, delegate the rest or filter it out completely.
12. Devise a schedule that elevates your productivity
Part of being both nice and productive is setting clear boundaries around when you will do certain tasks and communicating this effectively to others. Perhaps it is when you will check your email during the day (this is you communicating to yourself as much as it is others), or maybe it is when you will be scheduling meetings and for how long. Be clear about what is necessary to be productive and then communicate your availablity.
13. Become comfortable with saying no to respect your productivity and schedule
Hauser calls it the skill of the “kind No”. And again, this is playing to the strengths of someone who is nice, but it is also exhibiting the strength that is necessary to be clear about what you can and cannot do. People will inevitably ask, and that is okay. But what needs to become okay with you is saying no. So long as you do so thoughtfully, and honestly (this doesn’t mean you have to share in detail why you cannot say yes), you have been respectful and they can now seek out someone else to help them.
~Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – Netflix
~Cook and food writer, Samin Nosrat (check out her website)
~Inspired by her book of the same name Salt Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking (2017)
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8 thoughts on “231: How Being Nice at Work Can Be the Road to Success & Career Achievement”
Shannon , thank you , this is such a strong subject, and I’ll gladly share this with many capable young women. Very insightful podcast!
Have a beautiful week ahead☀️?☀️
You as well! I appreciated this book immensely.
Love these suggestions. I am too nice to my own detriment but great role models show me I can be strong and kind!
Thank you Sheryl for sharing your experience. The good news is we can still be nice; it is now a matter of setting clear boundaries and communicating clearly.
Shakespeare had it right !
‘ To thine own self be true, for thence it follows, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man ‘
Integrity , such a great gift.
Have a lovely week, Shannon.
Ah, quoting Shakespeare! Thank you Anne! Yes!
Shannon thank you for recommending SALT FAT ACID HEAT, this is a wonderful series and I learned so much, plus, Samin is delightful! I’m looking forward to receiving your new book. Congrats!
Thank you and so glad you enjoyed the series! She did an amazing job! So delightful, beautiful and informative.