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Can an employee be too nice?

Although being nice should be an attribute everyone strives for, it can sometimes backfire for you in the workplace. Here's why.

Although being nice should be an attribute everyone strives for, it can sometimes backfire for you in the workplace. Here's why.

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A couple of things came to mind when I typed the title of this blog. First was that when my co-workers see that title along with my byline they're going to rupture some internal organs by laughing so hard. Don't get me wrong, I'm a pretty friendly, outgoing person, but "too nice" will never enter the list of descriptive terms for me.

Second, I thought about what a bad rap the word "nice" has gotten over the years. If someone describes your blind date to you as "nice," it usually sets off some internal alarms.

The fact is, being nice is a good thing ,and we can only wish that more people were nice. But as Clea Badion, writing on behalf of Robert Half International, says, being too nice can be a detriment on the job. She says, "The trouble with being too nice is that it often goes hand in hand with other traits, such as being too accommodating, unwilling to speak up for yourself, or hesitant to offer constructive criticism to your colleagues."

I have to agree. Although you want to be flexible and accommodating at work, you're asking for trouble if you're too much so. Even normally empathetic people will be drawn into the temptation of shifting work over to a colleague who is always willing to take on extra duties. It's like workplace catnip.

And if you're too nice to want to risk hurting anyone's feelings, then you're less likely to speak your mind. But you have to eventually learn that disagreeing with someone's idea or assessment of a situation is not like calling their mother a name. If done constructively, criticism of another person's idea just highlights your understanding of the situation. Don't confuse being direct with being rude. It's not always the same thing.

Note to readers: We will be featuring a new Friday twist to the Career Management blog. Every Friday, we will present a true-life member-provided career or workplace scenario that needs a resolution. All scenarios will be anonymous and we welcome all feedback. If you have a career or workplace issue you'd like help with, e-mail it by clicking on the Contact button at the top of this page.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

49 comments
Tink!
Tink!

I know my co-workers think I'm the sunny one. Although one guy mentioned that when I [b][i]am[/b][/i] in a bad mood (very rarely) they can tell because I reply in snappy mono-syllables, but nothing further than that. I should point out that this is more of a family type workplace, everyone is chummy and most people have been year for years. In fact, I'm the one with lowest seniority. I don't tend to say no to projects, but I'm not overwhelmed. The bosses here do a good job of distributing the projects between us girls in the office. Plus if we need help we call upon each other. If someone needs to be corrected, they'd rather have me tell them - because the other girl here tends to be a bit more cranky. :D So I think it's very possible to be nice AND be productive and beneficial to the company/workplace all at once. You can give criticism with a smile. :) (Of course, most of you know I'm also the office prankster. But I do NICE pranks) :D Oops..wait, I forgot, I do try to scare my co-worker - is that nice?.

markdbrown
markdbrown

Certainly I can relate to the "office pushover" syndrome - however, I have also experienced HOW to be assertive when it's called for. I agree with the article that not only can a nice person be assertive, but done properly, the act of saying "no" can be couched in such a way that the recipient of your "no" will feel empowered at the same time. This kind of behavior and general "nice" attitude can be a delicate balancing act to accomplish - however, like most other skills that look easy when OTHERS are doing it - we too can become skilled with, let's all say it together? "PRACTICE!"

catpro-54
catpro-54

between us girls?" What is that? The "guys" are all in charge and the "girls" get to do the work with no credit? Actually, I've worked in a place like that--small, privately owned company, wanting to be part of the world but unwilling to give up on their 1940's attitudes. Sucks for any women to try to make a living there.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

You are an IT Department Manager but say: "I'm the one with lowest seniority" Just wondering??

dtecmeister
dtecmeister

Being nice involves letting your guard down enough to get hit, but not knocked out. You find out very quickly who takes advantage and who you can trust. Works nice most of the time, but has an inherent level of risk as well.

mike.parks
mike.parks

A consistent, authentic base of niceness is a requirement for high-end operations in any business/corporate environment. By high-end operations, I mean, being taken seriously, being able to deny a request or make a recommendation with a good reason and having the decision "stick" all the way up the flagpole... high-end operations also mean encountering difficult staff and being able to come out on top because you're a known "good guy" + "team player" + "sh*t hot at what you do type". Nice, done right, is a pre-req for success. It is sophistication of character without the baggage of inflated ego. The kind of nice warned about in this article is the kind found in rather new, inexperienced, undeveloped people. Sort of like the native from northern Ohio moving to New York City. They often can be manipulated like an Atari joystick. That said, that same native from the north of Nice has at their roots the ingredients for a true powerbase. The secret is to learn to wield that niceness in conjunction with your technical expertise, slightly uncommon confidence and a hefty portion of common sense. Note I said "slighly uncommon confidence"... do not confuse that with the all too frequent state of "over confidence" that, without the glue of niceness, burbles into Hostility. In today's "PC" world, hostility is often your Achille's Heel, the stain that management must make marks against. The old days of putting up with a grumpy, opinionated, high-horsed IT manager are fast fading as companies must work with the IT component more and more in core planning and operations. So it's time for some interpersonal finesse, IT gurus. It's time to apply as much craft to your dealings with humans as you do to your automation efforts. It's not that hard to do, you just have to create the proper buffers and cache enough Niceness to achieve the desired results.

Jedtruckin
Jedtruckin

If you reason with people rather than bark at them your results can be beneficial to everyone involved. This is true when dealing with employees, co-workers, bosses or even some stranger on the street. Speak to everyone as an equal. If you give respect and accept nothing less than respect you can refuse a request (or demand) and everyone still feel good at the end of the day. Be nice because you can be; not because you must be. If you assume that someone is nice because they are weak you run a very real risk of suddenly finding that while you were getting in touch with your inner child; they were letting loose their inner psycho. Just choose to be nice. The person your trying to walk all over may have only been choosing to be nice as well.

mphkz7666374
mphkz7666374

i hate to spit venom BUT..after almost a 1 year venture with two of the most needy worthless bastards i"ll ever know..REPEAT EVER KNOW..from hands on to rides to finance"s..you name it these two needed it and more...now i have my marching orders....3 days notice and a shitty memo at that ...AND NEVER MORE PLEASED HAVE I BEEN...just remember your back side all of you....funnny this came out today..

APitchford
APitchford

One thing I enjoy doing is making up new phrases, and I came up with this one to refer to someone who is so nice that they make your teeth ache: anti-b*tch. This is someone who is so much the opposite of mean that they start to approach it from the other side. I've known a few people like this, and I'm dedicated to not being one myself! Cheers, Amanda

luis0214
luis0214

I always try to help my co-workers when any off then have some trouble or need help if i can do it just do it well if i really busy maybe i delay the anwser but generaly i give my help, but when ever i need her help they help me too, been nice is like a social activity that all the organizacion people most have, we need to learn that if we are nice the other will be nice with us it's like Karma

drl.techrepub
drl.techrepub

And that was me being not nice. What do you prefer? Nice? Yes, me too. Being rude and bossy is just so naff but it's amazing how many think that it makes them good managers. "Cr*p!" in a word. Why this blog is polarising into man/women is beyond me and completely daft. It implies that you lot think one sex is nicer than the other. What rubbish! Some of the nastiest people I've encountered have been one sex or the other! Women are not the gentler or nicer sex and neither are men. We are "people" and there are nice and horrible "people" in possibly equal proportions regardless of sex (or lack thereof!). "Nice" is a natural side effect of "Gentle" and "Gentle" is a natural side effect of "Strong". If you think a psychophantic person is what is meant by nice you really do need to get out more. One has to be strong to be genuinely nice and don't forget it! I'm nice by choice because to me life has proven to be sooooo much better as a result, and I love nearly all the people who gravitate towards me because of it. I even make them tea and give them biscuits! A summary of the rules: Unpleasant == Stupid Unpleasant == Unproductive Unpleasant == Destructive to everyone and everything! Nice == Mature Nice == Happy Workforce Nice == Desireable Colleagues I walk away from nasty and don't look back because nasty people do not deserve, or get time and attention. I'm nice, but you only have my word for that. I could be an imposter!

Tink!
Tink!

Company Organization: President: Male Vice President: Male Human Resources/Accounting: Female (The above 3 are all family.) Customer Service/Order Processing: Female Admin Asst/Network Admin: Female (ME!) (The above 2 are the ones that do all the miscellaneous office projects) Workers in the plant: about a dozen or so males. Remember...[b]SMALL[/b] company. :D

Tink!
Tink!

one in IT. As I've mentioned many times before, I started as the Administrative Assistant and took over the Network Admin/IT responsibilities since I was the only one who knew anything about all that.

Fablanta
Fablanta

-What rubbish! Some of the nastiest people I've encountered have been one sex or the other!- Sorry I just had to point out this quote

bamgboyeayo
bamgboyeayo

I think there is nothing bad in been nice. I have always been this way and I would remain so. I dont back stab people and I dont report people. I do my work, if I could help others fine, If I could not, I apologised. If we all take our career too seriously, behaving like Hyenas I dont think much could be achieved. However, welcome to the competitive world. See when you get there, if you ever get there.

elamont1
elamont1

Irrational,illogical and with more than a hint of Angostura.

snideley59
snideley59

arrogance=insecurity condescension=insecurity nasty=Which one of the seven dwarves are you today? Everyone deserves a break on the occasional nasty remark, tis when it becomes habitual that someone should take notice. However, arrogance and condescension are by definition habitual and have no place in the work force. As the lead sys admin, I should help and instruct the tech that calls in from the field. That way he/she (or she/he) learns something and adds something to their troubleshooting repertoire. If I denigrate them for their lack of knowledge, sigh, mumble "never mind I'll take care of it" , I wind up with a disgruntled tech and the same problem the next time it crops up. We senior people are there to solve the huge problems and teach those with less experience how we did it, not play almighty server dude. I think that's nice. That said, when I get some arrogant self aggrandizing diatribe from anyone on a situation, I am "not so nice". Dan

asherida
asherida

I agree that nice is better, but nice carried to the extreme that you "hurt" yourself by taking on everyone else's work is called Toxic Niceness. And I think that's what the article is about. Everyone should be pleasant, courteous and professional in the workplace, and remembering someone's birthday or bringing a treat in for the office to share just makes it a nicer place to work. But when "niceness" goes too far and sets an unrealistic standard for behavior, it's a problem. It's possible to assert oneself in a positive manner, and even to disagree without being a jerk, but not speaking up about something you see as a problem in the interest of being "nice" just shouldn't happen at work.

Sirgwain
Sirgwain

HA, HA,HA! I needed a good laugh today and YOU just gave me one. In this world you have to adjust your attitude to the situation. I see "nice" people like you getting stepped on all the time because they will not do as the author of this article states. Rubbish topic, my derriere!And oh yeah, if you don't like my "mean" post you can kiss me between the pockets!

tjm57
tjm57

totally agree "rubbish". can't be nice and cooperate/get along. Then get gone. Had a bad life? Well get over it and get on.

psmith
psmith

All things being equal, of course I'd prefer 'nice' to not. But the fact is competence takes a front seat to comfort. Some of the most productive, 'best' folks I've ever worked with (or for) have been 'flaming you-know whats. If I had to choose between working with someone who's very sweet and accommodating but not terribly competent, and someone who's a royal pain in the keister, but superbly competent, I'll take the jerk, every time. Naturally we'd all prefer 'nice' polite thoughtful folks, but the point of 'work' is to get work done, not especially to enjoy doing so.

vivien.backus
vivien.backus

winner, winner chicken dinner. exactly, "too nice" is just that. a way to cop out of something. either you are incompentant, or lazy, or just scared of your own shadow. "too" is the operative word.

Tink!
Tink!

Exactly, mudpuppy. I did not intend to insult anyone. The term "girls" being USED by a "girl" is NOT in any way degrading or discriminatory. It's a term of familiarity and more friendly than "women". Women is more formal and is used in discussions with a more serious connotation. My co-worker and I often refer to each other or ourselves as "girls". Tink :)

bamyclouse
bamyclouse

Don't you know this is the early 21st century and we are not allowed to use expressions like that? It's, oh, NOT NICE? And the PC Police are not nice about people who are not acting nice by doing everything they say or imply - or else they will make sure you are socially ostracized... Never mind they likely do the same thing!

bamyclouse
bamyclouse

Learn the difference, please, between actually BEING nice and ACTING as if you are nice. Poeple who lie to avoid work are NOT NICE as they are messing everyone over by forcing their work on someone else.

john.aboud
john.aboud

Doesn't sound like this guy is nice at all.

rowdydave
rowdydave

As a society, we really need to lighten up. Yes, I know words can have meanings, but they are also just words. I think we'd all live a few minutes longer if we'd just lighten up and not take ourselves so darned seriously. How about we agree to presume innocence unless the context of a statement makes it obvious the writer or speaker is being malicious. Can we do that? Toni, great article. You stated many universal truths about "niceness." Sorry this has turned into a diatribe on political correctness.

patriotsbruinschick
patriotsbruinschick

I use the term girls all the time. Not to disempower or disrespect anyone. I classify myself and my female co-workers as 'girls' in a relaxed way - as in girl's night out... not women's night out. It's more of a youthful outlook - we're not old women, we have a youthful spirit and we want to enjoy life. I also refer to the men as "guys". Is that offensive? I haven't had anyone complain about either phrase. I've had a girl's night with my sister, mother and grandmother. If you called someone a little girl, then yes, it's quite derogatory, but to say "the girls and I are going out for drinks after work" is perfectly acceptable if you're not out looking for a fight. And I am the last one who would be telling females what they 'can' and 'can't' do as I'm the oddball breaking traditional "gender roles". I know my way around basic tools, basic construction principals and don't mind yard work. I love football and don't think of trying to change the channel when I'm watching the Patriots - even if they're losing, even if it's pre-season. But I'm just one of the girls and that doesn't offend me. Just DON'T call me Princess. I won't be nice.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

I don't think she meant it that way (at least that is the way I interpreted it). For example, I may call my wife and say "I'm going to be home late. The boys and I are going out for an after work get-together." Something like that. Totally innocent and free of any negative connotations.

vivien.backus
vivien.backus

being "too nice" is not only a cop out. it is also a way to put controls in place so as to not take on responsibility. after all, you were only kidding, or else, how could somebody be upset with the person who is just so nice? i work with a goof like this and he is useless. he simply refuses to think past the first thin layer of any issue. you have to tell him EVERYTHING. i am the system administrator for a fairly large company and he was supposed to be taking on some of my work. well, it's not going to happen. he will literally lie to users in order that he doesn't have to tell the truth and maybe, (goodness!) somebody might not like him. The truth is he mostly annoys people or gives them the creeps. It doesn't take the average person long to recognize they are dealing with somebody who would rather be liked than be effective.

whollyfool
whollyfool

This isn't really the place for this discussion, but I think the point needs to be clarified. Especially in a place with 1940's thinking and a clear male majority in power, the point should be made that the females in the business are women. Women. Over 18. Able to make decisions and to be accorded the respect that comes with being able to take care of yourself. Calling a woman working to support herself a "girl" is disempowering, like calling a black man "boy"; actually, "girl" was used to black women in that way for a long time. To bring this back to the topic: being too nice is usually a cop out for not wanting to take the heat for speaking out or making someone uncomfortable. Women have been taking disrespect for years because it's subtle and there is a huge penalty for speaking out, at work and at home, and it was just too great a price. It's time to take responsibility for ourselves and become women.

PaulK66
PaulK66

I was on site with a customer when I was in tech support and his title was "Software Janitor", I always loved that one. -PaulK

Ceespace
Ceespace

by the sound of it your title should be "THE IT Department" Always stressing the importance :D I have a similar thing when companies phone asking for "the person in charge of..." Sales/Purchasing/accounts/IT etc, well that is always me. But what is my job title??? probably "Dog's body"

Tink!
Tink!

my profile. As technically I call myself Admin. Asst./Network Admin for this company. I was [b]M[/b]anager of [b]I[/b]nformation [b]S[/b]ystems at my old place. Hence the IT Manager title here on TR. :)

RayJeff
RayJeff

I've come to that point of view to. There's either one sex or the other that's the nastiest. And from my own experiences and experience of others I know...it rains true.

elamont1
elamont1

Irrational,illogical and with more than a hint of Angostura.

RayJeff
RayJeff

I worked with that exact person some years ago and I HATED IT! But, I didn't have a choice because we were working on a major project and it was showing solidarity for the project. SO, I had to hold it all in. The person as a complete jerk..of course I could be much, much nicer. With that being said, I strongly disagree with the comment that was made that the jerk gets it done...no, they don't. They make it look like they get it done; it's the person or persons they are being a jerk to that actually get the work done.

SkySharkDude
SkySharkDude

I call your definition 'brown nosing'. Usually, when a person has the 'I can't say no' addiction, I have noticed that a caring, more well balanced, colleague will step in and help them start a 12 step program .

wmlucferris
wmlucferris

I dig it! I've always been a nice guy, it used to get me walked all over - I'd always pick myself up though. Despite that, I'm very much still a nice guy, the only difference is that I'm also confident. Not cocky! I didn't say cocky. Cocky will get nobody wanting to be around you. If that's your thing, then cool, but for the rest of us; us social animals who think it's swell to have people smile when they see us, we'll stay away from being cocky. It's OK and pretty easy to be confident and nice at the same time. I may not always know the answer (of course, I'm speaking from a technical support point of view) but I'm sure I can find it with the right tools. Knowledge comes from having a basic idea of where to find answers to questions. What makes the tech world so great is that if one is willing to keep searching, then one can usually find the answer to even the most picklish question. The true 'geeks' are the ones who exude a sense of superiority just because they know an answer. This is quite silly. Just because you were belittled in high school doesn't give you the right to turn the tables. Why would you wanna stoop to that level anyway? Where's the honor in that? That ain't confidence. That's just being cocky. Besides, it's written in the human DNA that the opposite sex rarely digs cockiness, but ALWAYS dig confidence!

drl.techrepub
drl.techrepub

rofl ;-) Nice isn't weak. That was my subtle subliminal message that I wrote in invisible ink and hid in an old hollow tree :-D Strong people can always afford to be gentle and "nice" (not that they always are). It's like the confidence that one has when one really does knows a subject inside out. Confidence through knowledge is like nice through strength. Both have real substance and aren't blown around by the winds of personality disorders. I personally am not trodden on because of my attitude. Well, not much anyway! I've learnt to dodge and to hide under large rocks until it's safe. :-) Ain't humans funny?!

ICT World
ICT World

I do totally agree with you Carl. Being nice and minding your own business most of the time is a treat to yourself at 'work'. I can share my experience in this area throught the years - whereby when you are too nice, minding your own business, and being polite you still find people who try to 'abuse' your kindness. Anyhow as human beings, there are people who will like you and others who will not.People say look at this person he is weak/nice/soft or else ignore him as he is rude/unpolite etc etc.Either way..Even public persons face this problem - being a superstar or a celeb, millionnaires or poor... Having said so, why should one change his/her character to suite the surroundings - in my opinion to 'worse' just to accomodate. I believe that being nice and behave in an educated manner in a positive attitude. It is sad to say that in some workplaces you have to learn the hard way and shift to the 'non-nice' area otherwise you won't survive.

SkySharkDude
SkySharkDude

Being technically savvy doesn't trump being nice & ignorant. It is easier to educate a nice person than it is to correct the bad attitude of an a-hole. I respect your opinion, but I have to take the road that is 180 degrees from yours.

PrinceGaz
PrinceGaz

On UK Big Brother TV show at the mo, there are two dominant guys, Rex and Stu. They are totally different in how they wield their power though. Rex is the kind of guy who only looks at results and doesn't care how other people feel so long as the task is done. Stu is caring and considerate and inspires genuine motivation rather than forced compliance. In the short-term, "nasty" Rex would likely get greater productivity from his employees, but "nice" Stu would almost certainly win out in the long-term because everyone working for him would be much happier and really want to do their best when they know he needs them to do it. Slavery was a very effective form of manual-labour in ancient times when a continual supply of new slaves was available, but bringing workers on your side is much more productive these days where there isn't a continual supply of new workers.

carl.kohler
carl.kohler

I used to be a nice guy, help everyone out, figure out what they needed to do to get the job done, ect until one day when I realized that there are a lot of people who will take advantage of your abilities and kindness and try to get you to do their jobs. Thats when I woke up and stopped being nice. Well people stopped asking me to do their work and they started being nice to me! So go figure.