The power of nice: How to conquer the business world with kindness

Before I review this book, I need to level with you and tell you that I, myself, am painfully nice. Or, maybe considerate is a better word. Anyhow, I didn’t read this book to find out how to be nicer. I read this book to try and prove to myself that nice is *not* a detriment to success. For the most part, the authors were able to help me with this determination.

The authors, Robin Koval and Linda Kaplan Thaler, begin with “nice is the toughest four letter word you’ll ever know.” They start with the six principles of nice, and describe how niceness can work in our lives. The six principles are thus:

  • Positive impressions are like seeds: the results of the power of nice are rarely direct. You may not ever be able to trace your good fortune back to a specific encounter, but it lays the groundwork for a lot of opportunities down the road.
  • You never know: you should treat everyone you meet as if they were the most important person in the world. Because they are–to somebody. Maybe not to you today, but maybe in the future.
  • People change: This is a good one for my kids. I tell my boys, who knows…you might end up taking that snarky little know-it-all to the prom one day, so be nice. A little maturity does a lot for people, and snark is a close cousin to wit.
  • Nice must be automatic: this makes sense, nice only works if it’s genuine.
  • Negative impressions are like germs: impressions are in the eye of the beholder, and one bad impression can affect everything you do.
  • You will know: even if other people do not see you treat someone poorly, you will know you did.

The six principles are largely common sense, but it’s good to be reminded of our impact on others in daily encounters.

One part of this book I really liked was the recommendation to try and get to know other people by asking them about themselves. I also read about this strategy in Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1937). It makes perfect sense–if you’re genuinely interested in people: who they are and what makes them tick–you should ask them to tell you about themselves.

Also, I like the way the book emphasizes community–we’re taught to take all we can for ourselves in our individualist-centered, capitalist society. But, humans are wired to be community-oriented. After all, our brains are hard-wired for language (Eliot, 2000; Lakoff, 2010, Pinker, 2008; and others), which is our way of communicating with others in our group and maintaining our relationships. Life is not a zero-sum game–if the other person wins, that does not mean that I automatically lose. When you learn to shed the me vs. you mentality, you open up opportunities for everyone.

I enjoyed the chapter on saying “yes” because this is a very effective strategy I learned from a manager I once worked for. We were working on a software project, and the users kept adding features in meeting after meeting. I was exhausted from trying to manage their expectations, so I asked this manager for help working with the users. She said, I should just say “yes” to their requests. I was incredulous. But, then she explained that I should say “yes AND… , ” which goes something like this, “Yes, I agree the feature would be a great addition to the software… and, it will delay the project due date by two months, so we will likely be finishing in June instead of April.” See how that works?

But, saying “yes” is not just a way to show people consequences, it also opens you up to opportunities you might have otherwise missed. The best example I can think of is when you are invited somewhere, and you’d rather stay home with a good book (yes, this is for the shy people of the world). But, you can say, “yes” and actually enjoy meeting others and having new experiences.

Even though the authors say that nice must be genuine, there is somewhat a karma or what-goes-around-comes-around feel to this book. I believe the authors are simply saying there are more rewards to being nice that just the comfort of knowing you are nice. But, for people who are just naturally considerate, there is simply no other way to do things. So, it’s good to know there might be some reward in it someday.

Overall, it was a quick read and an interesting book. The book contains many stories and anecdotes. I’ll admit, one of the reasons I continue to read books about business successes is for the anecdotes. I’m nosey, and I like reading these little sound-bytes about other people’s lives. Plus, they are an excellent description of the book concepts in action. The book draws knowledge from well-known books on business leadership, so it’s well thought-out and researched compared to other books in the field.

Other References

Carnegie, D. (1937). How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York, NY, USA: Simon and Schuster.

Eliot, L. (2000). What’s Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. New York City, NY: Bantam.

Lakoff, G. (2008). The political mind: Why you can’t understand 21st century American politics with an 18th century brain. New York, NY, USA: Penguin.

Pinker, S. (2007). The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. New York, NY: Viking.

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