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In a Tough and Unfair World Being Kind Is Cool

In a really tough and unfair world, being kind is cool—and you can win in life and business by being nice.  Most of us will think we agree with this, but when push comes to shove, we tend to think that power wins over being the nice guy.

I was visiting with a business colleague of mine this week and we were talking about a mutual friend who is extremely intelligent, good-looking, charismatic, and very capable.  Yet this friend has always struggled professionally to keep his head above water.  In the particular industry where he works, it’s a “dog eat dog” world. (with apologies to our many kind, gentle canine friends) 

My business colleague/friend observed, “You know that in that industry you just have to be a savage to get ahead.  I think our friend is just too nice to succeed.” 

Although my business colleague/friend has been a great mentor/advisor to me over the years, I believe he is wrong on this point.  Being nice is not a disadvantage in life and business.   So many people today believe that a kind person is just another kind of loser.

The world is attracted to tough people.   In fact, we love them.  The popularity of books and movies like The Godfather strike a chord in many of us to prevail at any cost—even in our fantasies.  No book would sell without including a few clever, interesting crooks.

Being nice has never been more in danger than ever before.  The evil geniuses of our age have one thing in common—they all claim to be nice.  They are working for your good.  If they do something evil and cruel, it’s because they’re doing it to protect you.

In the real world, being called a “nice guy” can be a real putdown.  It can place you on the backbench. He’s/she’s “so nice” can relegate you to the status of being ineffective, useless, and in many cases way too boring.  You’re just not cool.

Being nice is cool and here are some reasons why:

  1. Nice People are Good Competitors.  Nice people are really good at competition.  They understand the needs of people, and are always looking for ways to serve their real needs in effective and creative ways.  Because of this, they win out in business and in life. 
  2. Nice People Know How to Handle Their Competition.  Several years ago, we worked with a client that adopted a popular sales strategy of the time to “disadvantage the competition.”  They would attack their competition at any level by alleging the competition wouldn’t deliver or that their product would be defective.  Dirty tricks became part of their sales tactics.  This company is now a shadow of who it used to be.

    Nice people don’t bury their competition, but they do compete effectively.  They look at a world of abundance, where there is room for everybody who is truly good at what they do.  They realize that having good competitors makes us better at what we do.  Competition drives our competence and creativity.  Nice people actually look for ways to cooperate with their competition when it benefits everyone.  They ally with their competitors to raise industry standards and advocate for their industry.
  3. Nice People Do, in Fact, Say “No.”  The caricature of the nice guy is the person who smiles all the time and never says “no.”  Being nice is handling people in an accommodating style, exhibiting friendliness and good will.   It is the strategy “to do no harm” and to help when possible. 

    At the same time, nice people realize that the actions they take may not benefit everyone.  You may make a sale that someone else really needed to make, but your loyalty is to the organization you serve.  Internally, some people you manage won’t be competent and you may have to fire them.  You will promote some people, and not others.

    What I learned a long time ago is that you can be extra nice to the person you have to effect negatively.  I knew a person once who did the counterintuitive thing of smiling from ear to ear when he fired someone.  It wasn’t that he enjoyed firing them, he wanted to show them that he didn’t bear them any ill will at all.  He let them know that even though he was firing them, he would help them in any way he could to find a new path.

    In your life and career as a nice person, you will impact some people negatively.  Your ability to interface with that person in a polite and kind way instead of an attack mode will make you the unusual person who is truly nice and truly tough in the situation.
  4. Nice People Endure Over Time.  We find people who have clawed their way to the top, stepping on and over people on their way to the top and accruing enemies along the way, create the situations that come back to haunt them.  Who you really are will determine who you will be.  Nice people endure over time.  
  5. If You Have Any Interest in Saving the World for Your Children, Be Nice.  In the world of today we face a global crisis of cordiality.  Attack is the popular mode—being nice and cordial has never been more in danger.   Groups identify the best in their opponents so that they can savagely attack what’s good about them.  Lack of cordiality and cooperation and has become a badge of courage. 

    Divisions grow a huge gap in our society and civilization.  We cannot endure the lack of civility as a world.   If you want a world that will be safe for your children and grandchildren, be nice.

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