Why a ‘culture of nice’ may be a bad thing for business
Wednesday, July 03, 2019
We can all agree that being nice is a desirable human trait. In the workplace in particular, companies want employees to be pleasant, agreeable, and polite — not just to customers and clients, but also to each other.
But when is niceness more of a hindrance than an asset?
New research by Fierce Conversations reveals that 63% of employees aren’t sharing honest opinions and concerns because they want to continue being viewed in a positive light. These responses cut across gender and seniority level: 78% of men and 82% of women thought it was important to be seen as nice.
Also, 80% of entry-level employees, 70% of senior leaders, and 75% of C-suite leaders agreed. In fact, only 5% of respondents rated being nice as not important at all.
Why employees feel they cannot share ideas, opinions or concerns at work
"We believe this comes down to a few factors, but a key one is what we see again and again with our clients and that is: employees want to be seen as nice," explains Stacey Engle, president of Fierce Conversations.
When asked why they haven’t shared a concern or negative feedback, these were the top three reasons:
- I didn’t want to seem combative.
- I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t a team player.
- I was afraid that others would view me negatively.
However, whether positive or negative, companies need to know what’s happening in their organizations. Often, it’s the employees in the trenches — the boots on the ground — who have the best perspectives, see market shifts, and have other information that’s vital to an organization’s success.
Engle says this obsession with being perceived as nice is causing problems in the workplace.
In terms of when they felt least comfortable providing negative feedback, survey respondents chose one-on-one meetings — with their boss, company leadership, or colleagues. "That’s the exact place these types of conversations should be happening — so this should concern every company leader," Engle warns.
The importance of being considered “nice”
So, why do employees at every level place such a high priority on being perceived as a nice person? "I think everyone wants to enjoy their job, and to do so, getting along with co-workers is paramount," Engle says.
These are the top three reasons employees said they felt this way:
- Work is more enjoyable when they get along with their colleagues.
- Being nice makes it easier to get things done.
- Employees will get more interesting work/more opportunities if people like working with them.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be seen as nice, but when this is more important than anything else, Engle says it becomes a problem.
"We need to flip the script on what being ‘nice’ really means at the end of the day: are you being ‘nice’ when you don’t raise issues that you have with another person, or that you see them having with the company as a whole?"
"Or is the ‘nice’ thing to address that person directly — respectfully — and from a place of good intentions so that issue gets resolved?" Engle says the latter is the right approach.
Dangers of a culture of nice
If you have a "go along to get along" workplace, issues in your organization can range from minor to severe. When niceness is widespread, the impact is more likely to be severe.
Engle says specific issues can include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
"When a manager is too nice to an employee who isn’t performing, or a peer refuses to give feedback to another peer that isn’t pulling their weight, the bar for what is ‘acceptable’ drops and your talent pool follows," Engle says. If underperformers are never held accountable, their behavior never changes, and the rest of the team begins to suffer.
"Employees who are never told what they are doing wrong, or what they could do better, understandably believe they are doing great, and so they continue with the same behavior." Engle says this leads to a plummet in productivity.
"Without the right skills/talent to do the work, it is harder to get the work done and done well." Managers who refuse to confront behavior end up settling for mediocrity — and Engle says a mediocre talent pool leads to mediocre results, at best.
The bottom line
"Clearly, low productivity and mediocre talent lead to a whole host of problems that affect the bottom line," Engle says. There’s no way to reach your highest potential without the talent needed to get you there.
Creating an environment that fosters feedback, confrontation and collaboration
So, how can you get your employees to open up and have the hard conversations? Engle provides three suggestions:
Invest in programs that teach how to give and ask for feedback. Don’t sit around waiting for employees to bring up issues or concerns. "Instead, make regular requests for feedback and provide feedback directly yourself — including to upper management," Engle says.
Teach teams and leaders how to confront behavior. If you’re aware of issues, don’t ignore them. "Address these issues directly, clearly and concisely; work toward solutions."
Promote a collaborative environment and turn meetings into think tanks. Actively invite multiple perspectives during team meetings. "This will help to ensure that all voices are heard, and new ideas are generated," Engle says.
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