Kind people certainly walk among us. You may even be one of them. But the fact is, most of us are conditioned to look upon niceness as a form of weakness — no matter what our mothers told us. Does the saying "nice guys finish last" ring a bell? How about movies that portray nice guys as the butt of every joke?
It turns out our mothers were right. In their book, "The Power of Nice," Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval take the counterintuitive approach and show how being a decent human being can actually lead to greater success in the workplace.
"Being nice doesn't mean that you're naïve; it doesn't mean you're a doormat," says Koval. "In fact, 'nice' is the toughest four-letter word you'll ever encounter. When we talk about the power of nice, we are speaking about a clear-eyed confidence that lets you get what you want, while making positive impressions along the way."
So put your perma-scowl away, because here are five reasons why it pays to be nice on the job.
Greed is bad
Gordon Gekko types often appear to run things in the corporate world. But, while a ruthless attitude may get some to the top, it won't necessarily keep them there for good.
"Let's face it, there will still be those people out there that succeed by being aggressive and rude, but we believe that is only a short term tactic to getting ahead," Koval says.
Instead, research shows a positive work culture grounded in mutual respect and kindness often breeds the most successful bottom line.
"In our experience, we've consistently found that being nice has helped us propel our business forward, landing us important new accounts, strengthening our professional relationships and helping our agency maintain one of the highest employee retention rates in the industry," she adds.
After all, everyone knows where Gekko landed at the end of "Wall Street". And for those who haven't seen it, let's just say it wasn't the corner office.
Matters of the heart rate
Conflict is known to cause a litany of health problems. Everything from a weakened immune system to heart problems can be traced to the effects of workplace stress. While you can't realistically get along with everyone, learning how to handle difficult co-workers will not only alleviate your anxiety, but may also transform a tense climate into something more productive.
"It takes courage to be nice," says Koval. "You have to be brave to help your enemy or give kudos to your competitor. It takes great inner strength to show compassion for someone who isn't treating you particularly well; it takes creativity to manage a difficult employee with kindness. But when all is said and done, when you can harness the power behind this all-important skill, the rewards are infinite."
Genuine niceness doesn't mean doing something kind to simply get something in return. Kaplan Thaler warns against people who use niceness only for selfish reasons.
"If you're a slick glad-hander, people will see right through you," she warns. "And we want to be clear: the fundamental basis of the power of nice is honesty."
While many believe management should be remote and intimidating, the best bosses are always those who treat employees with honesty, dignity and respect … without being a pushover.
"Sincerity, honesty and integrity might not be characteristics CEOs put on their resume, but you bet they are adjectives typically used by others when describing many of today's most influential business leaders," she adds.
Wouldn't you rather work hard for someone like that?
Sowing the seeds
You can train yourself to be a nicer person through small gestures, such as giving up a bus seat, smiling more or just asking someone about their day.
"Every time you hold the door for a stranger, or offer to drive your neighbor to the train, you give off positive energy. Good will is contagious, and the people you are kind to will then in turn be kind to others. Ultimately, those favorable impressions find their way back to you."
Try this at work and see how your simple acts of kindness can create a larger ripple effect. Plus, you never know if that person you offered to help may turn around and help you in your time of need.
The little things
Handwritten thank you cards may seem like a dinosaur from the prehistoric days before email. That's precisely why taking the time to add a personal touch will set you apart from the rest.
"We're firm believers in paying attention to details, and sweating the small stuff, like writing 'thank you' notes. We also make a point to always give out sweets — in the form of chocolates and compliments. Both go a long way," says Kaplan Thaler.
Try adding a dose of (genuine) sweetness to your workday and see where it leads. Even if you don't have a bottom line, nice is the better way to go — both in the office and beyond.
(Photo credit: AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Barry Wetcher)