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Can You Be Too Nice At Work?

Can You Be Too Nice At Work?

Linda Griffin | Excelle

I just read a review of the management book Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office: Eight Strategies for Winning in Business Without Being a Jerk. The premise is that our desire to be nice and please others hinders our ability to achieve success in the business world. Their research showed that 61% of people surveyed said that they struggle with being too nice at work, and that they feel it has a negative impact on their success.

The authors don’t limit this “nice-guy syndrome” to men. They say that women suffer from it as well and the reaction to men and women is different. If a man tends to be overly nice and behaves in ways that are considered too agreeable, passive, and highly compassionate, he may be considered “soft”.

For women, that nurturing behavior likely wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Their answer to overcome the syndrome was to develop eight strategies which they term the Nice Guy Bill of Rights. Three of the strategies in the Bill of Rights admonish us to Speak up, Confront and Be Bold.

A study by the University of Sheffield in England researched personality and career success and found that white-collar workers who were the most agreeable, conscientious and sensitive to the needs of others were less likely to be promoted.

I have a different view point on this issue. When I hear that I should stop being nice, it raises the hair on the back of my neck. I equate being nice with being courteous and pleasant to deal with. I believe we need to see more of that and not less in the workplace.

But there are times when ‘niceness’ is really a camouflage for our fears. When we accept a low-profile task no one else wants, do an activity that doesn’t enhance our careers or compromise our own interests to make others happy we are giving in to hidden fears.

It may be fear of being judged by others and found lacking. It may be fear of failing if you take a risk. While the Nice-Guy Bill of Rights tells us to confront others, I say we should look inside ourselves and confront our fears. When we do that we will be able to speak up and be bold.

If a woman is too agreeable, passive, and highly compassionate it may not raise eyebrows as the authors suggest, but it won’t her get her promoted either. There is no room in the workplace for rude or unprofessional behavior but we should be careful that our overly-nice behavior isn’t holding us back.

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