Is There Room For Nice In Business?

You’ve heard the cliché. ‘Be nice to people on your way up as you’ll meet them on the way down’, but is there more of a case for being nice in business than worrying about an angry mob of business associates waiting for you to fail?

In board rooms full of business people with razor sharp teeth behind careful smiles, waiting to eat each other at the first sign of weakness, is there really room for genuinely nice actions and selfless reasons in today’s business arena?

business is hard

Are you hearing Eye of the Tiger in your head? The business world is portrayed as a dog eat dog world, but does business really have to be a tough environment, where everyone is out for themselves?

Julie Meyer believes being nice isn’t a sign of weakness, “It’s about treating people the way you want to be treated. If you’re new to a team and the chief executive takes you out for dinner in the first couple of months, it’s going to make you feel good.”

Although she has found that even if nice gets results those old business stereotypes are hard to shift.

“I think I come across as a nice person, and some people interpret nice as weak. It’s not that I’m not nice, but I’m definitely not weak.”

She continues, “I don’t think stick works. I could go around like a titan and keep them under my thumb and say, “I’m the boss, so you do what I want.” Half of them would leave immediately.”

Like idealism, niceness to a degree must have a place in today’s arena with business generated from kind deeds. There are important questions about your work persona you should be asking yourself: what impression are you giving to your staff and customers, what relationships are you developing with the community, what do people say about you when you leave the room?

It’s not a massive leap to realise that offering your time and advice to foster better working relationships across your business, from staff to supplier, will leave you with a reputation of someone’s who good to do business with, rather than leaving a sour taste in people’s mouths.

the power of nice

Perhaps there really are people out there who strive on pressure, relish the stress that comes from a competitive cut-throat environment; those that are aching for that heart attack at 40, but if my hope for the human race isn’t going to be snuffed out I choose to believe the opposite.

People want to work somewhere they feel encouraged and supported, rather than entering a battleground where you will fight to the death for the amusement of the board. Allowing nice into the workplace can produce an environment that succeeds because everyone feels valued; one which nurtures your talent base, encourages staff to be involved and interested in the company’s business strategy, one that promotes commitment and even trust.

it’s all about relationships

Business is built on relationships, which are most effectively fostered by being nice. Unless you’re about to leave for a ship bound for anywhere, but that’s a different story

“The best way to build relationships is to be kind and to show interest in and compassion for the people you work and interact with. Ultimately, that’s how you build trust, which is the single most important factor in business and in life,” comments Paul Spiegelman.

But, surely there’s such a thing as being too nice? The answer is undoubtedly yes. All this talk of niceness isn’t meant to convince you to present your competitors with your customer file at Christmas or find you working long hours in an empty office while your entire staff enjoys another duvet day.

It’s about finding the middle ground, where being nice while considering your own self-interests and that of the company are perfect bed-fellows.

the rise of give and take

So what’s the message I hear you scream as you give and take away that candy from a baby*?

*(get away from that baby)

Professor Adam Grant is an advocate, suggesting there is a business case for being nice. As Bryant Urstadt discovered, “instead of monetizing contacts, time, information, or access, Grant suggests that if one just gives it all away, it will be returned in heart-warming multiples.”

With his division between givers and takers, it makes sense that his ‘self-interested givers’ are those that are the most likely to succeed. Without the power-hungry failings of takers or the problems of givers being walked all over like the proverbial doormat, they are the happy medium that makes the business world a better place to be.

there’s time for tough

So, should your business strategy include a ‘How to be nice section’? Will business schools start lecturing on the power of nice? Nothing would surprise me but I sincerely hope not. I’d rather each business, from its board to its employees, developed their own brand of nice that works for them.

As Art Markman highlights, going for a promotion means necessarily putting yourself first, and driving your business forward. He also points out, quite rightly, that being nice shouldn’t mean you can’t voice your opinions or being critical when it’s needed.

Whatever your place in a company it’s important to be surrounded by people who strive for excellence and will point out the flaws that they see.

ethics are alive and well

Jeffrey Pfeffer remarks that ‘a world in which it is all about the ends—and the only outcome that matters is money—is a spiritually and morally impoverished place.’

It’s not just about treating your staff to a monthly social but also the wider issues of ethical business that should be considered in any discussion about the concept of ‘nice business’.

“It would be nice in 2013 to have human values and well-being play more of a role in decisions about business practices, including the choice of suppliers and how far companies will go in their decisions and management practices to save or make money.”

nice is money

You might have got this far and still be thinking that this is all well and good but if I take a pair of scissors to the Achilles heels of the guy next to me it’s less people to get in the way of my meteoric rise to glory.

Put the stationary down for just a second. Research has shown that those who, particularly men, are more agreeable earn up to $10,000 more per year. Are you interested now? The fact that being nice and fostering business relationships that are based on trust and mutual respect  results in increased return doesn’t mean you should be the first up in the morning to be aggressively nice, but rather spend time considering how it can be genuinely incorporated into your business and work for you and your customers.

build your community

The buzzword at the moment is community, even Richard Branson’s talking about it. With social media becoming increasingly important for the image of your brand, you and your business have to become just that, social. Engaging with your customers and forming a community of people who believe in your brand and want to support it is essential. However it’s important that you have your nice hat firmly on, pulled down to your ears, as this is not the place to sell. Shame on you.

Gone are the days of cold-calling, spamming inboxes and cluttering up the internet with your hawker calls for business. Now is the era of nice.

Internet marketing, prodded with Google’s incentivising cattleprod, has turned full-face and got itself a new identity.

Building informative useful content, which is of real benefit to your community, will help build real relationships that garner loyalty, in the same way that taking the time to offer free advice over a leisurely business lunch will make you the person they remember when they, a friend, or a friend of a friend, wants to buy whatever you’re selling.

So make some amazing free content and share it will everyone you meet, give your employees the afternoon off when the sun shines for the first time in three years and sit back, with the glorious feeling of nice filling your belly and wait for the business returns to roll in. It’s time to let the nice in.

Featured image by eirikso