Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What Really Is Nice?

I got a lot of comments on my post about being nice, and it occurred to me that there were a couple of things that I should follow up. Specifically, it occurred to me that I didn't address what the actual act of being nice is, just that I think it's the difference between being good at what you do, and being great.

And I suspect we may have several different definitions of nice floating around. So here's my definition of being nice at work...

Being nice is:
  • Reaching out to people. Say "hi, so and so" in the morning instead of the nod-and-smile.
  • Not attacking people, but discussing ideas. It's perfectly fine to disagree with something, but any disagreements should be of the form, "Here's a hole I think I found in this idea, let's figure out what's wonky in that area" rather than "Who on earth would think that is a good way to do X?"
  • Giving credit publicly. Someone else came up with that cool idea? Say, "yeah, that's a good idea" out loud in public.
  • Letting a bad day slide. Everyone has bad days, frustrating times when they resemble a snapping turtle more than a human. On days like that, not escalating is the best way you can help anyone - including you - get through it.
  • Remembering the little details. Every Tuesday one of the teams here brings in bagels. Being nice is saving the last whole wheat bagel for the guy who really likes them and taking an egg bagel instead because you're really indifferent between those two flavors.
  • Really listening. Close the laptop, stop mentally preparing your response, and actually listen to the person speaking.
Being nice is NOT:
  • Letting people walk all over you. You still get to have opinions (of course!); you just need to express them respectfully.
  • Hiding bad news. If a release has to slip, or a major defect leaked to the field, or if you have an employee with a performance problem, it's not nice to hide it. Better to confront it, but make sure you're confronting the problem, not the person. And make sure you're ready to look for a solution, not just start moping about this major issue.
  • Telling people what they want to hear. In the long term, and even in the short term, the truth is the nicest thing you can say. Sugar coating something (or worse: lying!) is a recipe for disaster.

To me, being nice is really about attitude and phrasing more than it is about the basic underlying message. It's about taking the information you have to convey and making sure you convey it in a way that is respectful (Jeroen, that word's for you!) and considerate of your audience.


  1. Nice post , liked it :)

  2. Whenever I'd say 'Hi, so and so' I'd get funny looks... until I realized I should use their actual name instead. Then I just stopped saying anything because I don't actually know their names...

    jk, great read!