But what if it weren't a choice between nice and effective, between being likeable and arguing your corner? Is there a way to avoid hurt feelings, ruffled feathers and miffed colleagues and still engage in productive debate and push your own opinion?
On the HBR Blogs recently, Liane Davey, the vice president of Knightsbridge Human Capital, claims that you can be nice and still engage in healthy team conflict. You just need to know the right way to argue. Her tips on delivering disagreement for nice people include helpful, specific suggestions like:
Use "and," not "but." When you need to disagree with someone, express your contrary opinion as an "and." It's not necessary for someone else to be wrong for you to be right. When you are surprised to hear something a teammate has said, don't try to trump it, just add your reality. "You think we need to leave room in the budget for a customer event and I'm concerned that we need that money for employee training. What are our options?"
Use hypotheticals. When someone disagrees with you, don't take them head on- being contradicted doesn't feel very good. Instead, a useful tactic is to ask about hypothetical situations and to get them imagining. (Imagining is the opposite of defending, so it gets the brain out of a rut.) If you are meeting resistance to your ideas, try asking your teammates to imagine a different scenario. "I hear your concern about getting the right sales people to pull off this campaign. If we could get the right people...what could the campaign look like?"
Discuss the underlying issue. Many conflicts on a team spiral out of control because the parties involved aren't on the same page. If you disagree with a proposed course of action, instead of complaining about the solution, start by trying to understand what's behind the suggestion. If you understand the reasoning, you might be able to find another way to accomplish the same goal. "I'm surprised you suggested we release the sales figures to the whole team. What is your goal in doing that?"
If these sound like just the sort of tricks you're looking for, check out the complete post for more details and several more techniques.
But keep in mind, Davey's suggestions are aimed at enabling constructive work conflict. She doesn't take on a whole other area of being "too nice" -- not the kind that avoids debate, but the kind that refuses to say no to requests and obligations. If that's the kind of too nice you're struggling with, don't worry. There are tips out there to help you set boundaries and ensure other's respect your time as well. Check them out here.
Do you ever worry that you're too nice to succeed in business?
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel