Today I’m arguing the case for being nice. Already, I hear the minds blowing and sense the distaste swillin’. “Am I on Fistful of Talent?” Yeah, you are. So, suspend all snarkiness, and let’s proceed.
During our last conversation, a female client who’s also a friend remarked, “I know that being nice is important to you.” It was as if I’d lost credibility and my bad-ass stripes. Instinctively, I rushed to verify my worthiness. “I’m not always nice.”
WTF? Why did I feel a pressing need to say I wasn’t nice, as if nice were the 21st century equivalent of Hester Prynne’s scarlet “A“?
Historically, being nice has been a tightrope that women, in particular, had to walk.
Be nice, moms told us. But not too nice, warned female bosses.
You’re not nice. You’re a pushy bitch,from male and female colleagues.
I’m 45 and my friend’s in her 30s. Was this a case of generational difference? Is being nice something the younger women don’t think about? Or do they think about it in different terms, no less disdainfully, labeling it accommodating and lacking in boldness and ambition? While I may have considered whether being nice at work is something I could afford, my friend may not have even considered being nice.
Or was this a case of “word baggage”? Initially, the word nice meant “wanton” (fancy that) and “dissolute.” But over time, it’s come to imply you’re milquetoast, ready to roll over and expose your nether regions for the office-equivalent
of a stomach rub or scamper under the desk, tail between one’s legs, at the slightest sign of disagreement or resistance. Was I reacting negatively to this insinuation?
Frankly, I don’t know the answer to my questions, but I do know I was left with a residual anger about nice being kicked out of bed for eating crackers. And a sense that it’s time to restore nice’s reputation. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think being nice gets in the way of doing well. I think being nice makes doing well possible. Even if we stick to the most basic definition of nice—being pleasant—I’d still argue that it’s what we want and need in companies and the world at large. Nice involves no assholes. Nice saves money. Nice connects with employees, customers, and peers. And nice
is good for the economy. When we toss in what “nice” currently means, we have the underpinnings of great products, customer service, leadership, and company culture:
- Exacting in requirements or standards
- Possessing, marked by, or demanding great or
excessive precision and delicacy
- Respectable, polite, kind
I’m a woman on a mission. And I’m going to be nice about it. Step aside or join in.