I’ll admit it. I'm not a particularly nice person. In fact some consider me brutal with my honesty. (Some just call me a New Yorker.) Either way they’re right. I don’t coddle. I don’t insult, but I call it like I see it and often I offend. I don’t do it to be mean. I do it out of integrity. I believe (often foolishly) that when people engage me in conversation that they are truly interested in my opinions and experiences. So I share, willingly.
A colleague of mine claims one can offer blatant truth, and still be nice. She says: “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” I don’t buy it. I have often witnessed, when someone has invested their heart, soul and ego into a project, and you tell them truthfully and nicely why it will never work, they still think you are cruel and non-supportive. Don’t take my word for it. Just watch Shark Tank, or American Idol. Except maybe Kevin O'Leary, most of the investors or judges aren’t actually rude or impolite. (Not since Simon left anyway.) They simply point out the errors in the unfounded beliefs of the contestants…dashing their dreams and crushing their spirits…thereby appearing to be cruel and non-supportive.
The alternative to us truth-sayers is people with discretion. They grew up under the rule: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all.” They either lie and say something “supportive” when you bring them your hideous, doomed-to-fail idea, or worse they exhibit what I call Quiet-Politeness and simply say nothing. Most likely they’re not vested enough in your success to engage in conflict with you over your passion.
These nice people are not doing you any favors. In fact they are sabotaging you in three ways.
1. Nice People Waste Your Time.
This happens in sales all the time. You meet people at networking events. They’re polite. They never actually tell you they won’t do business with your company. So you optimistically think they’re worth keeping in your tickler file. You follow up every couple of months. You email them a birthday card. You tell yourself that someday they will come around. They won’t. They politely return your email or take your call, again omitting the fact that they’ll never buy and are generally annoyed with your persistence. In fact they would better serve you both, by stating that they already buy from their brother-in-law or that they hate your CEO, and just cut you loose. In sales, nice people suck up the majority of your time and resources. Just look at your conversion numbers.
2. Nice People Encourage Low Standards.
Most people ask for opinions in hopes they are on the right path with a project. A marketer who has passionately invested months in a new campaign runs it by a nice colleague for her feedback. The nice colleague thinks it’s a six on a scale of 10. The nice colleague supportively says: “ Looks good. Keep it up.” Why create unnecessary conflict in the cubicle next door? She thinks. The marketer feeling reassured, continues on his path of mediocrity. The campaign has lackluster results.
3. Nice People Enable Failure.
When an achiever is passionately driving down a fatal path, nice people tend to clear out of the way. Some are simply avoiding conflict. Others don’t want to appear non-supportive as the achiever reaches the point of no return. The nice people demonstrate their own brand of silent cruelty by not sharing their knowledge that can avert the disaster.
I’m not suggesting we round up all the nice people and ship them to parts unknown. Neither should we abandon all rules of polite society. But if you are an achiever in the business world, nice people will create unnecessary obstacles without some precautionary steps.
1. Defend against the “Golden Rule”
State clearly you do not want to be treated by nice people the way they want to be treated. Tell them instead to openly share their honest opinions and experiences or don’t engage. Tell them you intend to do the same.
2. Reward Bluntness
It doesn’t matter if you are an entrepreneur, manager or employee. When you seek feedback, show that you appreciate truth and constructive criticism no matter how harsh and painful. Show you can apply input so people are encouraged to provide more of it.
3. Give Nice People a Safe Path to Disengage
Most nice people can’t help themselves. Help them form nice people cliques and let them sabotage each other en masse. Perhaps you can identify them with an embroidered N on their lapels so they can find each other easily. This way you can avoid them and come hang out with those of us who will be brutally honest and give you the necessary feedback for success and achievement. We’ll be supportive by helping you overcome your real obstacles and we’ll encourage you to do the same for us. Come on over anytime. (You can find many of us at the Bull and Bear.)
It may not be a nice time, but it will certainly be refreshing.
I look forward to reading all your comments both good and bad. Of course I don't expect the nice people will say anything.