Being Nice Pays

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As a Newly Qualified Teacher I can clearly recall being taken to one side by a grizzled deputy headteacher. Looking me straight in the eyes and gripping my forearm he said, One piece of advice. Don't smile until Christmas. Then he nodded sagely and walked away. That memory returned forcefully when, after 25 years in teaching, we established Fulcrum Learning. A highly experienced and successful company director told me that being a business owner was highly rewarding but that I would learn some harsh lessons about what other people are really like. The recommendation was not to be nice because it will be seen as a sign of weakness and people will always take advantage. That conversation was wrapped up with the admonition that It's better to be respected than liked.

The philosophy expressed in both of those experiences is that being nice doesn't pay because it is the exception and not the rule. This is an outlook reinforced in the news media, drama and reality TV shows. The winner is the ruthless one. The loser is always too nice for their own good. Look out for number one.

How refreshing then to read a compact counterblast in The Power of Nice by Linda Kaplan and Robin Koval. Their argument is that being nice is better for you, better for your business and better for those around you. They don't pretend that this is easy or that it will be welcomed by all, but they do make a convincing case for it being worthwhile. The book dismisses some of the erroneous assumptions about being nice; asserting that it requires clarity and courage to be nice, and that being nice does not mean being a walkover. They note, for example, that a person who puts niceness at the centre of their lives will, invariably, put honesty alongside it, a quality that their more ruthless, and less pleasant colleagues consider less important.

Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of being nice is the one described in the final chapter of the book, Create a Nicer Universe. The authors write: But as we put down some of our thoughts and insights about the power of nice on paper, we began to act differently ourselves. We were more thoughtful in our day to day actions. We took a fresh look at the million and one little moral dilemmas we all encounter each day. How much should I tip the waiter? Do I give a dollar to the homeless person I pass on the street? Do I cut through traffic on the road or the sidewalk, or let others have the right of way? In each conflict we faced, we asked ourselves, "Is there a nicer way? And it worked!

Ironically the 2011 edition of The Power of Nice that I purchased has an endorsement from no less a luminary than Donald Trump. It may be fitting then to end with The Donald's own words: If you want to discover the surprising power of Nice, read this book. Memorize it. Use it. You'll be glad you did.

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