Is Being Too Nice A Liability?


Most people consider me to be a nice guy.  For the most part being a jerk doesn’t suit me. But I have worked with some jerks – some really big jerks. And I have witnessed how they often get what they demand because they create fear in others. People placate jerks to help turn down the volume on their jerkiness. Sad, yet often extremely effective.

This has led to the idea that nice guys finish last. The reverse of that is that jerks finish first.

So, do you have to be a jerk to get what you want? I don’t think so. Actually I think it is the wrong question. It isn’t either/or – jerk or nice. Being nice and effective are not mutually exclusive. Nice doesn’t mean doormat. However being too nice – especially for men – can hold you back. So, let’s tackle that first.

Since World War II, the number of self-described nice guys has continued to rise. Perhaps as many as one in three men today consider themselves nice guys – and many of those men consider it a problem. According to Dr. Robert Glover, author of the book No More Mr. Nice Guy nice guys are people-pleasers who have been raised and influenced primarily by women. As the number of boys raised by single mothers has risen, so has the number of nice guys.

“When I talk with recovering nice guys about developing what I call a “mature self-interest,” says Dr. Glover, “The first response is, ‘Well, what are you saying, that I should become a jerk?’ because they only see that as the other alternative.”

Dr. Glover assures nice guys that, “It’s okay to be male. It’s okay t put yourself first sometimes. Most nice guys have grown up with a certain amount of shame or embarrassment for just being male. So one of the things I work with nice guys on is learning to embrace their maleness. That’s one reason why I encourage recovering nice guys to join some kind of group of men. If you’re a nice guy and you’re wanting to begin to get a sense that it’s okay to be male, you’re going to have to spend more time hanging out with men than you do with women.”

Plenty of women are too nice as well. A classic symptom of being too nice for either gender is when someone accidentally steps on your foot – then YOU apologize for it. Why? You were the one who was stepped on! Daylle Deanna Schwartz, author of Nice Girls Can Finish First believes this is a good place to start if you believe people perceive you as too nice. Stop apologizing for things you didn’t do.

Another trick is to lower the tone of your voice. People will pay more attention to you and give you more respect if you speak lower, according to Ms Schwartz.

Personally, if I come face-to-face with a jerk, I have found it effective to be a bit of a jerk right back at them. Or at least don’t try to appease them. Rather I act distant and unaffected by their jerkiness. I’m not certain why it works. Maybe jerks respect the jerkiness in others or they quickly realize their jerky attitude isn’t working – I have no idea, it just seems to work. And it’s easier for me to be a jerk to someone I have already lost respect for.

So far we’ve been talking about “nice” as the opposite of “jerk.” But there is much good in being nice- if not too nice.

“Nice has gotten a bad rap,” says Linda Kaplan Thaler author of  The Power of Nice “Nice is defined by many people as someone who’s milquetoast – you can step all over them. The fact of the matter is – it’s probably the toughest four letter word you’ll ever learn.”

When asked about the saying “Nice guys finish last.” Linda says, “That’s a short term strategy. But the long term goal – which is to really become successful – you have to make sure every imprint you make on somebody is going to be a positive one. You never know, that messenger you insulted – they may one day be your client.”

George Washington was a nice guy, according to Linda. She explains that in the Revolutionary War, when Washington’s men captured British soldiers, he made sure the prisoners were treated like kings. And his soldiers thought he was crazy and he said, “No, you don’t understand – these are the future citizens of the United States.” And that’s exactly what happened, they were treated really well and they ended up coming over to our side and staying here.

You can even use your niceness to convert enemies to friends. According to Linda Thaler, “You say to me, ‘You know what Linda, I hate that dress you’re wearing.’ I can do two things: I can echo right back and say, ‘Well, your tie looks really ugly also’ or maybe I respond with, ‘I’m glad you even notice what I’m wearing.” Now that probably said it – because they were trying to be nasty, but you deflected the whole thing. This is one way to turn enemies at work into your best allies.”

Is being too nice a liability? Being nice has its benefits – just as being a jerk seems to have its benefits at times. But then there is karma. And I know who wins on that score.

What do you think? Please enter into the conversation by filling in your comments in the box below.

photo credit: Lulu Hoeller via photopin cc

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