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When NOT Being Nice is the Kindest Thing You Could Do

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I was attending a sales workshop this week and the presenter was lamenting about the uncomfortable (not to mention time wasting) loop we as consumers perpetuate when we don’t simply tell a sales person, “No, I’m not interested at this time.” Instead we tap dance around it using phrases like, “I’ll get back to you” when what we really want to say is that we do not want what they are offering. Why do we do that?

The simple answer is: Because we want to be “nice”. However, we are actually NOT being nice when we do this. Instead, we are creating a follow-up obligation for the sales person that wastes their time. We create a response obligation for ourselves that wastes our time. And we introduce awkwardness and avoidance into the relationship which contributes to stress for both of us. It would be far nicer to simply say, “no”.

This “niceness as an avoidance tactic” also plays out in leadership. With all of the information out there lately about leadership compassion and EQ, it’s easy to confuse this with being nice. However, being nice and being kind are not the same thing.

As a leader, being kind and compassionate is key to great employee relationships, engagement and well performing teams; but being “nice” can hurt you.

For example, have you ever struggled to fire an employee? If you are the business owner, this can be especially emotionally difficult. So you put it off, you ignore the behavior in hopes it will get better, you drop little hints for how to improve, or sometimes you even pick up after the slack-employee yourself--all because you can’t bring yourself to be “mean” and let that employee go.

But letting them go is exactly the nicest thing you could do as a leader; for them, for yourself, and for your team. Why?

  • Letting them go allows them to find a situation that is a better fit for them and could lead to greater job satisfaction and success. That’s a pretty nice thing to give someone, right?

  • Letting them go ensures that you retain the respect of your team and are not encouraging others to imitate the bad behavior that employee seems to get away with, thus increasing your ability to get results as a leader. That’s a pretty nice gift to yourself.

  • And letting them go shows the rest of your team that you care about them, their job satisfaction, and the environment in which you are asking them to work. That’s a great gift to your team.

Other areas where niceness gets in the way of good leadership are in holding employees accountable for results, being decisive and acting quickly when problem performance arises, being too concerned with treating everyone the same rather than merit-based rewards, and being able to provide feedback that actually says what needs to be heard.

We all know these things tie directly into morale and performance, right? So if we want to get better at being a compassionate leader, and stop emphasizing being a nice and well-liked leader over results, what can we do?

You’re going to have to grow a backbone!

What do I mean by that? The most important thing for a leader is to be respected, not liked. I don’t mean the kind of forced respect that demands that you respect the position even if you hate the person. I mean the kind of respect that comes from consistently doing what’s right, even when it’s hard, even when some people won’t like it. It’s the respect that comes from not shying away from issues and dealing with them quickly in a direct manner (even if the problem is something you yourself are doing). If you do this, you will have a team that gives you their best and wants to see you win.

So, if what you really do want is happy hour buddies and a large network of friends you get to hang out at the office with every day, then by all means, keep on striving to be nice. But if you want meaningful results, a team that is engaged and experiences high levels of job satisfaction, and a culture where people want to work with you, then for this week, try trading in the goal of “nice” for the goal of “respected” and see what happens!

Trish Cody is an Executive Awareness Coach and Speaker who focuses on optimizing results for business leaders. With over 20 years of experience as a strategic consultant for some of the world’s top Fortune 500 companies, Trish has coached and consulted with senior level teams in planning, designing, launching, and measuring the return for major initiatives. As a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner, Trish works with senior level leaders and business owners to raise their levels of self-awareness, and create more trust, loyalty and success in their businesses and teams. Contact Trish at

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