How to not be nice.

nice /nīs/ adjective

  1. pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory.

a·gree·a·ble /əˈɡrēəbəl/ adjective

2. willing to agree to something.

“Nice leaders want to be liked so much that they don’t hold healthy boundaries. They avoid conflict and give in when they ought to take a stand.”

Coming back to this exercise because work stress definitely affects my sleep, and some of that stress I could mitigate if I were setting better boundaries. First, the article asks:

  • How does your desire to be liked affect your leadership style?
  • Does being nice sometimes compromise your effectiveness? 
  • Are you in balance?

I’m giving more to people than I’m receiving. I’ve over-indexed in appealing to their interests and rescuing them from their weaknesses or inability to do something. I’ve accepted things short of what I was hoping before under the shadow of a doubt of my own good taste and judgment, or not wanting to embarrass them, or not believing it was reasonable to ask for better. This unfortunately has all resulted in my department’s output falling short of the business’s expectations.

If “nice” means in one sense “to agree”, then it makes perfect sense to NOT consider simply being nice a good quality for a leader. As a leader, you have to essentially disagree with everything that is net negative for the business.

The article goes on to ask, identify your beliefs about being nice’ with the following fill-in-the-blank.

  • I learned that being nice is: for survival, it’s how to get people to accept me
  • When I am nice: I feel secure
  • Nice people: should be the prerequisite, though. I’m never impressed if someone is simply just nice. It doesn’t mean I’ll like them. If I meet someone and I don’t like them, even if they’re also really nice, I still won’t like them.

Holy shit. Those answers flew out of me, but I had never questioned these beliefs before. I didn’t realize what has been living inside of me, guiding so much of my life. The stark difference between why I hold myself to the standard of being nice to everyone all the time versus what I believe about nice people. My reasons for being nice at all costs stem from self-centered insecurity. Even though I would agree that someone being nice because they want to be liked, without giving much reason else to like them, is the type of nice person I have no interest in.

“Now ask yourself if these beliefs still serve your organization and highest self.” Not serving me at all as it’s redundant to worry if I’m accepted here—I was given the job. It’s moot to worry if I’m secure here—it’s a startup, which is inherently a gamble, and even if I were to get fired, I have outright owned equity. It’s a case of cognitive dissonance if I believe one thing about nice people and another about myself being nice.

“Watch your nice patterns. Notice the situations in which you tend to be inauthentically nice. Write down: (a) what triggers you, (b) what story you made up about it, and (c) what might happen if you were authentic instead.”  One example is I don’t feel like I should negatively critique the work of my team if I’m not able to tell them exactly how to fix it— it makes me feel like I’m a fraud without having the answer. It reminds me of how frustrated I felt when previous bosses did the same to me, forgetting the fact that those situations were the trial-by-fire that pushed me to grow to what I am today. If I were instead authentic, then either they are challenged and grow, or I realize sooner that I need to resource the situation differently, saving time, money, and effort down the road.

“Find your right labels. Consider how you want your positive soft side to be described (other than “nice”). Now consider how you want your harder side described. Start to use these preferred labels to think about and describe yourself to others.” 

  • I want my positive soft side to be labeled as: supportive
  • I want my harder side to be labeled as: direct

“Assess your organizational culture for how being nice is treated. Notice if it is conditional or expected at all times, rewarded or punished, and equitable at all levels. Notice other related behaviors, like dealing with conflict, too.” Being “nice” is not rewarded, recognized, or exemplified top down from leadership. At times, it feels punished or spited, for example, nice comments being deliberately ignored and unanswered in public. A nice person who overworks to be nice will definitely be taken advantage of to get things done, but it won’t protect them from harsh criticism in future or put them in better favor. Conflict is either completely avoided and dealt with passive-aggressively, or done explosively.

OK, let’s ignore the fact that this paints a picture of a very toxic workplace that will need to be dealt with, one way or another…::nervously laughs then cries:: But in the context of this post, it definitely doesn’t sound like being nice is worth it at all in my workplace!

Here’s to making positive changes for myself and others by being supportive yet direct.

— CK

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