Review by Franke James, MFA
The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness
Authors: Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval
The Power of Nice has been described as ‘a wonder drug’, ‘the antidote to our increasingly mean-spirited culture’, the way to ‘improve just about everything in your life’, and proof that ‘women should run most corporations in America’. Those are over-the-top reviews, for any book, let alone a skinny, little, yellow book, with a happy grin on it. Even master negotiator, William Ury, affirms, ‘In negotiation, the cheapest concession you can make is to be nice.’
Whoa! Is it all just marketing hype? After all, co-authors Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval are masters of marketing. The Power of Nice is the capsulization of their 10-year old business philosophy. They run one of the fastest growing ad agencies in North America with billings of over a billion dollars, and much of their success is attributed to being nicer than their competitors. It’s fair to conclude that these women can sell anything.
But who is buying? Well, clearly they’ve struck a chord. The book is already in its 8th printing since its publication, in September 2006. However, it’s obvious that on a global scale, not enough people are buying into the power of nice. In fact, our site poll asking “Does being ‘nice’ help people to conquer office politics?” resulted in 63% answering ‘No.’ What? When did ‘nice’ become a bad four-letter word? What is wrong here?
Linda and I agreed, “Nice has a serious image problem.” For many people ‘being nice’ is misinterpreted as ‘being a doormat’, which is very far from the truth. You can be nice without being a pushover. Who would you rather do business with: The person who shafts you, or the person who treats you with respect? Who would you rather promote? Someone who is ‘mean-spirited and bitter’, or someone who always helps out other people? As Linda and Robin know, being nice isn’t just great public relations, it feels good and it can benefit the bottom line in all sorts of ways – from employee attraction and retention, to winning new accounts, to producing a better product.
In conversation, Linda quickly painted an image in my mind that is one of the best and simplest explanations I’ve heard for resolving disputes. She talked about the ‘Echo effect’. She asked, “If you always respond in kind, as an echo, how can you ever resolve your dispute? You are just feeding back and amplifying the problem. To solve the dispute, try to put your head on that person’s shoulders.” Linda is not the first ‘self-help’ guru to espouse that wisdom. ‘Walk a mile in the other man’s shoes’ is sage advice that goes back centuries. But the reason we need people like Linda reminding us, is that not enough people do it. Your sense of compassion will grow by leaps and bounds if you can truly put yourself in the other person’s place. And you will discover better solutions to disagreements.
Nice is the Antidote to Office Politics
OP: Some people identify being good at office politics as being mean-spirited. Do you believe you can be ‘nice’ and still be skilled at office politics? Can you conquer office politics by being ‘nice’?
Linda Kaplan Thaler: It may seem somewhat counterintuitive, but being nice can be the most effective tool for success when dealing with office politics. Fundamentally, office politics are typically used with the objective of trying to gain an advantage in the work environment. While we all share this goal of striving to get ahead, instead of expending lots of negative energy rushing to grab a slice of the pie for yourself, think about how you can broaden your horizons and bake a bigger pie so everyone gets a piece. When you bake a bigger pie, it’s the ultimate win-win situation. You get more of what you want and feel better about what you’re doing and you create a new recipe for success.
There are some simple actions you can implement into your work behavior to preempt these politics. One of our six principles of nice is the first step to conquering these games – planting positive seeds. Every time you do something nice for someone, that positive impressive is like a seed. It will grow over time and eventually, it will bloom and the rewards you will reap will be sweet smelling. So if you play a little bit of positive politics and perform a few acts of kindness every day, these seeds will begin to grow exponentially and help prevent most of the negative strategies against you.
Negative office politics that are directed at you are often the result of someone’s insecurities. He or she could be threatened by your proficiency, your ability to please the boss, etc. The obvious tactic would be to challenge their comments or bounce back with an equally negative retort. But the more productive strategy could be to assume goodwill, and try to understand his or her issues, fears, etc. You can begin to break down their armor by offering a simple compliment (“Great job on that last report”), provided that it is an honest and true assessment.
While we would like to believe that by being nice you might never have to encounter any office politics, we know that is not always the case. So if you do come into contact with these negative tactics, our recommendation is to confidently and calmly confront the politician in question. Sometimes, it can be as simple as having that person clearly articulate their goals to you and the issue dissolves on its own. Or perhaps it’s something the two of you could work together on. But chances are, when you confront the problem head on, the solutions come much more quickly than if you let the issue linger.
OP: For many Managers, the easiest thing to say is, ‘No’. How can employees use the Power of Nice to encourage Managers to say ‘Yes’? OR — How can you ‘YES’ your way to the top?
Linda Kaplan Thaler: In the business world, we are asked about this problem consistently from workers in every kind of industry. The solution is more manageable than you think. No matter what the response needs to be in a given situation, you can always find a way to put a positive spin on things. “No” shuts down possibilities, while “yes” opens them up. “Yes-ing your way to the top” does not mean doing everyone else’s bidding. It simply means finding something to say yes to. For example, if your boss asks you to come in to work over the weekend after you have just worked three consecutive weekends in a row, instead of just saying “no,” you might want to respond with “I appreciate that my work is so integral to this project right now but unfortunately I won’t be able to come in this weekend. I would be more than happy to stay late this week or come in early next week to put in the hours to get the job done.” In the latter scenario, everyone wins since you found the alternative yes. Getting into the habit of at least considering other ways to say “yes” will help you end what we call the “chain of nos.”
OP: William Ury, author of ‘Getting to Yes’, is a master negotiator. He has written a glowing recommendation for your book saying the cheapest concession you can make in negotiation is to be nice. My question for you then is: How can using the Power of Nice help people to get what they want in negotiations?
Linda Kaplan Thaler: One of the most fundamental skills to learn when practicing nice behavior is to simply put your head on the other person’s shoulders. Empathy is a critically important skill for anyone who wants to harness the power of nice. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes gives you an added insight into getting a better grasp on other people’s perspective and goals. So you can make decisions better, you can solve problems quicker and you can negotiate in a more efficient manner.
OP: People with ‘tough as nail’ bosses or coworkers fear that being nice is equivalent to being a doormat. How do you counter that attitude?
Linda Kaplan Thaler: Let’s face it – nice has an image problem. Somewhere along the way, using the word nice became something you said when you had nothing else to say. But we think it’s the most underestimated tool in business today to get ahead. If you look at it historically, the workforce developed out of a male culture where you were taught to be aggressive and tough. But when women came into the picture, a lot of them felt they had to emulate that. No one stopped to think there might be a different way to get ahead. So while some people might think we are crazy, we know there is another way to get to the top other than that old-school mentality might suggest. Being mean is just so last millennium! It’s time for the tide to change. Examples of corrupt CEOS and fallen idols all over the front page of the newspaper are enough to kick this cultural shift into high gear.
OP: One of the most common problems we hear about at www.officepolitics.com is about coworkers ‘stealing’ credit. Can you talk about the wisdom of sharing credit and how it will benefit the individual and the company?
Linda Kaplan Thaler: Harry S. Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” At The Kaplan Thaler Group, we try not to worry about whom gets the credit-we just want to keep building our business, expanding the pie. Not surprisingly, this attitude has helped us to work better. Even though we all might want to be recognized for our achievements, we would argue that kind of thinking is counterproductive. When you let others share the ownership of an idea, you create a community of people who will help to nurture and grow those ideas into something far greater than you ever imagined. Who cares if ten people think the idea is “theirs”? The end result will likely be ten times more exciting than if you take all the credit.
That said, there will always be those who will try and steal the limelight, taking sole credit for your work. In those cases, you do need to stand up for yourself, but first try and understand why he or she feels the need to be center stage. Perhaps the co-worker feels insecure or threatened or simply doesn’t believe in his or her abilities. By backing that person into a corner with threatening accusations, you accomplish nothing. But by simply being “nice” (offering to buy him a cup of coffee) you can ease him into a more relaxed and non-threatening atmosphere, one in which you might simply uncover the real root of his need to steal credit. Perhaps he needs or wants some help with his work. Maybe he’s afraid of getting fired. You might even make a pact that going forward everything will be co-authored by all the members of your work group.
Sound crazy? When I was a creative director years ago, I insisted that every member of my creative team have his or her name on every award we won. I did that because I truly believe the creative process is an organic one, and that the end product is the result of many contributing and collaborative voices.
The Power of Nice has a dynamite message, especially for those individuals troubled by office politics. It packs a lot of wisdom and inspiration into just 127 pages.
To those doubters out there – and you know who you are – the Power of Nice will help you to understand why being nice is not dumb. It’s the ‘cheapest concession you can make’ and it’s in your best interests.
But if you’re still doubtful whether being nice is just bunk, take this little test:
For the next 5 days, do one nice thing each day, for a different person. The kindness can be small. It can be tangible – like coffee, muffins or flowers. Or intangible – like paying a compliment to someone that recognizes their contribution to the company. The important thing is that you should do it just to be kind, and with no ‘hidden agenda’ that it’s going to turn into a benefit for you. If you take this test, I want you to write me and tell me what you did, and what the result was. Did it make you feel great? Did you think about it later, and replay the kindness in your mind? Did it put a smile on your face? Was your good deed returned? Let me know! I want to hear from you.
~ Franke James, Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com, March, 2007
Read Linda’s guest responses for Office-Politics:
It seems there is no one to complain to, since she and her ‘boyfriend’ are at the top of the contractor ladder here, and Denise is buddies with our Alphabet boss too… Linda Kaplan Thaler, Author responds: " Well, what a tangled web of intrigue and deceit these companies have woven for themselves! "
I was very happy with her… Should I make an effort to get Christina back, or just cut bait? Linda Kaplan-Thaler, Co-author of the Power of Nice responds: "My thoughts for you first would be that you should treat this man’s fiance, Christina, as a totally separate individual. Yes, of course you should try to get her to come back…"
I feel like Polly’s actions have prevented me from getting recognition for what I do… when she is asked by outside people for this type of information, she will not refer them to me… she will answer them herself… The Power of Nice co-author, Linda Kaplan Thaler responds, "We believe the power of nice can take you far in both life and in business. But with that said, there are some situations where no matter how nicely you behave, there might be other factors to consider. While it’s clear from your letter you have done everything “right” in your professional environment, it is important to remind you that being “nice” doesn’t mean being a doormat…"
The Power of Nice
How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness
Authors: Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval
Publisher: Currency Book published by Doubleday, 127 pages, $17.95 USD
About the review author: Franke James, MFA is the site founder of Office-Politics.com, and inventor of the Office-Politics Game. ‘The Power of Nice’ book review © copyright 2007 Franke James. For enquiries regarding publication please contact email@example.com or phone 416.256.9166
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