The Nice Person’s Guide to Succeeding at Work

Being nice is a beautiful quality. However, for many people who don’t have it in their hearts to confront others or to occasionally unleash some not-so-nice but well-deserved zings, succeeding in the workplace can be challenging. Growing up, we’re taught to be kind and respectful. The work environment throws that notion somewhat off-kilter—cut-throat individuals, innuendos about another’s work performance (or even personal life) and not-so-nice behaviors can easily throw kind people for a loop.

So, what’s a truly lovely person to do? Read on to learn more about maintaining your nice ways without losing traction on the work front.

Let your personality show.

Some say that colleagues can perceive synonyms for a nice person as boring. All those smiles, homemade cookies and showing a genuine interest in someone’s weekend may convey that niceness is all there is to you. Sure, you know you went skydiving last weekend or had a blast at a music festival, but if you’re so caught up in showing niceness by asking about others, no one will ever know what makes you tick.

So go ahead and demonstrate your personality by telling people some “that time when” stories of your own. Weave discussion of your hobbies into a presentation as an exciting way to illustrate a relevant point, tell another employee about a great new restaurant you tried, or talk about something you noticed about a town during your out-of-state business trip.

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Be careful, though—don’t feel you need to act drastically unlike yourself to prove you have an edgier, fun side. For example, it’s not only inappropriate to sprinkle offensive language into what you say, but it will also quickly leave co-workers questioning your stability (let alone the true extent of your niceness).

Stand up for yourself.

Russ Edelman (co-author of the book “Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office”) explains that being nice to the point of not making waves can backfire in the workplace. He’s not advocating spreading rumors and becoming a ruthless soul. Instead, he emphasizes the importance of standing up for yourself.

If something needs to be addressed, discuss it with the right person. There’s a difference between confronting someone and being confrontational. It’s important to raise whatever may be a source of tension for you and to do it in a manner that isn’t threatening or defensive. You can do so by simply outlining the facts of a particular event and mentioning why you think it wasn’t correct or appropriate. Voicing your concern politely is better than being so nice that you don’t say anything.

Be Aggressive

It’s also explained that since employers aim for their businesses to thrive, they want to be surrounded by employees who are aggressive in their approaches. Showing initiative, outlining ways to beat the competition and speaking out in meetings are all ways in which nice person can assert themselves at work. Toss the notion that being aggressive means being a cold, backstabbing person or letting your competitive side show will make others think you’re mean. Your kind words and questions about someone’s weekend still matter to a degree, but your ability to help your company excel is just as important as your ability.

Don’t take everything personally.

Many people who are a too nice struggle when they witness a co-worker engage in behaviors that seem contrary to their kind ways. It may even seem offensive as if it directly insults their niceness. Before you know it, most everything appears to be downright rude and taken as an attack against their penchant for politeness.

But Sam DiPiazza Jr., the CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers, says that business is competitive and that it’s as straightforward as that. While to a nice person, the notion of competition may seem tough, aggressive and relentless—not quite on par with warm and fuzzy feelings—they must realize that it’s strictly about business. It has nothing to attack their sweet, caring tendencies.


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