Point/Counterpoint: Niceness is NOT the Problem


Point: “Our research shows that niceness is hurting relationships, and ultimately hurting your business. But there are actionable steps you can take to stop niceness and start boosting your business results.”

Source: Fierce, Inc. “Culture of Nice” Questionnaire of 1,144 respondents classified as full-time worker in the U.S. (April 18-20, 2019).

Recently Fierce has been showing up in my inbox with messages like this, a campaign built around “Culture of Nice” research – “When Niceness Overruns the Workplace.” The report finds:

  • “8 out of 10 U.S. full-time employees admit they keep concerns to themselves at work because they want to be seen as nice by their colleagues and leadership.”
  • “6 out of 10 employees say they have been fearful of voicing a concern at work.”

The way Fierce’s research is presented seems to conclude that niceness is the problem. Given events today, I believe it is unconditionally the wrong idea to say we need to “stop niceness in its tracks.”

Counterpoint: Niceness itself isn’t the problem.

At CEEK we contend there is a better way. We believe a healthy, engaged workforce supports a growing or otherwise successful organization. Will reducing niceness at work make employees more engaged? Quite the opposite. Even Fierce admits that only “5% of all surveyed rated ‘being nice’ as not important at all.” To emphasize: that means 95% of those surveyed think niceness has some place at work. Instead of viewing “nice” as a problem, we believe that engaged employees will find a nice way to have difficult conversations.

We believe that difficult conversations are worthwhile conversations. Feedback is a gift, though sometimes unwrapping that gift is a challenge. Being inclusive, understanding your own unconscious biases, learning how to talk with people – not just at them – are important steps to improving your personal, team, and business performance. We have built our own business around helping people and organizations get better at this.

When you dig beyond the headline, Fierce research does reveal important points that reinforce our own assertions. They say that most employees keep concerns to themselves because they are afraid of being perceived negatively at work by their peers and leadership. They also found that the majority of employees do not feel comfortable sharing concerns in more intimate settings with colleagues and upper management. The solution proposed by Fierce is to give and ask for feedback, confront behavior, and to invite and listen to all perspectives.

We do, too! In fact, we contend that this IS nice behavior. We advance an argument for carefrontation – that caring enough about your coworkers, teammates, and staff to confront them is nice.

Improving business results does not have depend on reducing niceness. Absolutely give and ask for feedback. Practice listening to all perspectives. Improve relationships by building your empathy with your coworkers. And give yourself the opportunity to learn and grow these skills while continuing to be nice at work. Don’t stop being nice. Instead, CEEK… a better way.