When pursuing a competitive career path, it seems to be the way that we’ve been encouraged to be assertive, ruthless…even aggressive! We’ve all heard the sayings – nice guys finish last and it’s a dog eat dog world. Often, being nice within the workplace has been seriously undervalued. Fortunately, there seems to be a shift towards appreciating virtuous workers, and this could prove to be extremely beneficial for ambitious women. Women are usually conditioned to be caring and nurturing, something which has sometimes led to them being overlooked in favour of fiercely competitive “alpha males” who are willing be quite cutthroat in order to get that pay raise or promotion. Frequently, kindness can be seen as some kind of weakness. Meanwhile, women who have adopted this “go getter” attitude are seen as duplicitous, dismissive bitches – people who are not only emotionally unavailable, but unlikeable too. Think of how the media portrays Anna Wintour, for example. In popular culture we see TV and film characters such as Wilhelmina Slater (Ugly Betty), Cruella De Vil (Disney) and Lynette Scavo – who also undermines and emasculates her husband in Desperate Housewives.
The rise and fall of Rebekah Brooks is a brilliant case in point. Previously, she had been ruthless, charming, and smart; a move that paid off as her career skyrocketed and she rose to become one of the most respected and powerful women within the British media. Her downfall? She behaved in an immoral way – something which has now made her a hate figure since the phone hacking revelations were made public. By contrast, “nice guy” Tom Pellereau winning The Apprentice proves that you don’t have to be a hard nosed businessman or a boardroom ice queen to come out on top. It sounds obvious, but you really can get by on talent and kindness as long as you don’t let your colleagues walk all over you. Being nice doesn’t mean being a doormat – you can still criticise or fire someone in a courteous, decent way. Here are a few tips on how to inject a little niceness into your working life, without jeopardising your quest for success.
1) Give yourself credit where it’s due. Make sure your co-workers know they are appreciated, but don’t let your praise for them upstage the hard work you have also put in.
2) Be confrontational, but do it in a tactful way. If you feel like a colleague has wronged you, don’t let them get away with it! Speak up, because they might not even be aware of it. Be polite and straightforward, and try to be impersonal about it.
3) Be constructively critical. If you don’t point out the mistakes of others, then how will they correct them? Being too nice is inefficient and can set up a co-worker or a subordinate for a pitfall. If something’s wrong, be sure to point it out, but do it in private and sugar coat it a little if necessary.
4) Make it worth their while. When you give an honest and fair appraisal of other people’s work, it ensures they feel more valued. Yes, we know that it’s their job, and they are being paid to be good at what they do, but commending people when they excel at something makes them feel proud and eager to please. A few appreciative gestures increases workplace morale and efficiency, with minimal effort.
5) Fake it! If you secretly cannot stand the people in your workplace, try and focus on their good points. If you let them irritate you, this will only make your working life harder. Remember – you do not have to actually make friends with these people, you just have to be charming enough to ensure that they’re on your side. Saying “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, and giving someone the occasional smile can really work wonders for your 9-5 life.
Don’t forget – you may need to watch your back when climbing the corporate ladder, but having other people to watch your back for you can make it a little easier!