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Being ‘nice’ can actually hurt your career. Do these three things instead

Learn the difference between being nice and being kind. Then focus on these tactics that will not only help you but benefit everyone around you.

Being ‘nice’ can actually hurt your career. Do these three things instead
[Source photo: liveslow/iStock]
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A client told me recently that they wanted to be promoted, but felt their “niceness” was getting in the way. As they wondered aloud whether they needed to have a harder edge to get ahead, I couldn’t say no fast enough.

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I do not recommend you bully, steamroll or coerce anyone to advance your career. In fact, some of the kindest and most genuine people I have met happen to be global leaders of large companies. Being mean did not pave their path to the top. Rather, their upward climb was a result of being great at their jobs and having the ability to earn respect.

You may be thinking, “But I am a good person and I like being nice to people.” That’s fine, but I’d like to shift the focus from winning approval through niceness and instead focus on the fact that they were respected.

Here are three ways to stop being “nice” and focus on tactics that will help not only you but benefit everyone around you.

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Stop trying to get everyone to like you

It’s important to point out the difference between kindness and niceness. Kindness grows from self-esteem and earns respect in return. Niceness comes from a desire for approval, which can result in mistreatment or being taken advantage of.

If you spend your workday wondering whether your coworkers like you or how to get them to like you, you are wasting precious time. It really doesn’t matter whether your coworkers like you. It matters that they respect you and that you have a good working relationship with them.

All too often I have seen people fixate on winning someone’s approval as opposed to focusing on their actual work. If you focus your attention on keeping your work top-notch, you will be respected by your peers whether they actually like you or not.

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It is important to be respectful of your coworkers, strive to be kind, and always be helpful. If you’re focusing too much on being nice and well-liked, you will notice the opposite effect. It becomes about you, not the work you are doing or how you are treating others.

Speak up if you disagree or think differently

Actors find, more often than not, that if the rehearsal process focuses too much on everyone being in agreement, trying to be “nice,” and not wanting to step on other people’s toes, the final production is sure to be an absolute disaster.

If the rehearsal process is difficult, in that they’re all challenging each other’s ideas and having engaging conversations about how they envision the final product, they are likely to have a hit.

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The same applies to any collaboration or project you are working on. “Rockstar employees are willing to challenge and push their managers when the time comes and they know they’re right,” Cory Martin wrote.

If you are trying too hard to be liked, you will likely be too afraid to share your ideas even when you know they can be useful. For the sake of your team, speak up.

Keep in mind upper-level management cannot know everything. It is their job to collect information and guide those they lead to a common goal or outcome. If you know something needs to be addressed, voice your opinion. New ideas are born and change happens when constructive arguments are had.

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Stop taking everything personally

Everyone can have a bad day and sometimes that translates into bad behavior, such as a blast of anger that is commonly misdirected.

For example, I had a client whose fuming boss made a very angry call to him regarding a decision that he had not actually made or even participated in. For years, that client was unable to shake the rotten feeling the phone call had caused him. All this time he was thinking his boss hated him when in reality, the boss just needed a punching bag for their own emotions.

This one instance caused misery at work for years while he attempted to get his boss to like him again. When this client finally got up the nerve to bring it up to him, the boss didn’t even remember the call.

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You cannot control the emotions of other people, but you can control your reaction to them. If someone exhibits bad behavior and you know they are in the wrong—let it go. Don’t take it personally. And if you just can’t shake it, address the issue with the person as soon as you can after the storm of emotion has blown over.

The biggest takeaway is that even if someone lashes out at you, it does not necessarily mean they don’t like you. And it’s definitely not worth your time evaluating their (perceived) feelings about you.

What is important is that they respect you for the work that you do and you respect others for the work that they do. If you feel you are not being consistently respected, that is a conversation worth having.

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Being nice means you are watching yourself and constantly trying to please others. If you are kind, do great work, and respect others, you will not only be valued, you will be respected.


Vanessa Wasche is the owner and founder of On Point Speaking.