Is there such a thing as being “too nice”? Yep, and it's not just because Wikipedia says so. Nearly every one of us wants to be liked, appreciated, and understood. We want people to enjoy working with us, not reject and avoid us. We long to be respected by others, not for our assertive dominance, but for our empathetic kindness.
But could the desire to be nice backfire on us? How do we even know we’re being too nice?
What are the signs? What are the consequences? And how in the world is being not nice any better?
If you're being too nice, you're probably thinking of yourself.
Let’s clear the air of a common misconception.
There is nothing wrong at all with being nice. If your definition of “nice” includes the following, don’t quit being nice:
- Paying attention to others
- Respecting others
- Listening to others
- Giving consideration to the opinions and ideas of others
- Recognizing the accomplishment of others
- Giving a birthday gift
As it turns out, being “too nice” isn’t about our appreciation of others. Instead, being too nice is being consumed with ourselves.
When we exhibit smarmy “nice guy” behavior, we’re not truly concerned about others at a deep level. Instead, we are concerned with how people perceive us, like us, enjoy us, and respond to us.
That’s not being nice to others. That’s being narcissistic. Being nice can actually be an attempt at manipulation that inevitably crumbles. So how do we know if we’re being too nice? Here are some telltale signs.
Sign #1: Your employees take advantage of you.
A common peril of too-nice managers is that they are perceived as being weak.
It is easy for people to exploit this weakness. This may happen overtly or it may be concealed. Either way, your employees may try to exert their authority over you and get you to fulfill their desires.
Sign #2: You don’t confront violations of office policy.
The point of office policy is to maintain a harmonious and professional work environment.
There are times when it’s fine to set policy aside for specific reasons. If, however, you are “letting things slide” in an effort to be “nice,” you’ve probably gone too far.
True kindness will be reciprocated with excellent work output. But ingratiating permissiveness will be reciprocated with lack of respect.
Sign #3: You don’t enforce deadlines.
Deadlines keep projects on the rails. If you overlook deadlines, then you’ll lose contracts, clients, and revenue. That’s too big of a risk to take.
It may seem “harsh” or “demanding” to insist that your team members meet their deadlines, but the truth is that it's a prerequisite for good business.
Moreover, there’s no need to be unreasonable about it. You should never disregard personal life circumstances in the hardheaded pursuit of meeting a deadline. However, if you’re constantly violating deadlines, because you want to “be nice,” you’ve probably gone too far.
Sign #4: You overlook poor work.
Work standards ensure that your team consistently produces good work. When you insist on high-quality work, you will gain respect from your team.
By setting work standards and maintaining them, you’re teaching your team that great work is a non-negotiable; you are depending on them to put forth their best effort; you are trusting that their work is high-quality; and you are believing in their potential to accomplish it. I would say that this approach is much “nicer” than letting sloppy work slide.
Sign #5: You allow meetings to degenerate into mindless chitchat.
Be ruthless — in a kind way — when it comes to meetings. Coworkers love to chat, but endless talking in a meeting can actually be a mind blowing waste of time. Think about it. When four, five or six people are together for a meeting, every single minute wasted is actually a collective four, five, or six minutes wasted. You are exhibiting respect for your team’s time by sticking to a schedule and eliminating time-wasting chatter.
Sign #6: You provide compliments, but never constructive feedback.
We all love a good compliment. Complimenting your team members is a critical part of being a great leader. The reverse is true. Constructive feedback (a much better term for “criticism”) is an equally important part of leadership. Feeding your employees compliments without constructive feedback is the equivalent of giving them marshmallows but no vegetables. Instructions for improving one’s work is just as nice (or nicer) than doling out compliments.
Be nice—at the right times.
The middle way — not too nice and not too mean — is the ideal path to team success.
This means honing in on your team's individual and collective personalities, while keeping in mind the work culture you are promoting. But in the midst of the stress and pressure, keep to the habit of showing appreciation and gratitude to your employees.
Just don’t go overboard.