Being "Too Nice" At Work

Perhaps you may have received the following feedback at some point… “You’re too nice.”

Your initial reaction might be “Well, isn’t that a good thing?  At least it’s better than being too nasty or mean!” But you also know it wasn’t meant as a compliment. They are telling you something is wrong with you.

Let’s face it. We are all aware that to be successful in business, in corporate America, you need to be tough, assertive….a leader.  Somehow “too nice” seems like you aren’t cut out for that.

I have actually received that same feedback myself. Many times. I used to wonder what I needed to do to be “less nice.” But that never worked.

Over the years I learned that this is actually poor feedback for two reasons. It’s superficial and it’s unhelpful.

I say it’s superficial because it is often based on the assumption that successful people should come in one form – aggressive, pushy and loud. And if you aren’t this type of person you must not be the successful type. So, clearly, you need to change.

It is unhelpful because you may have a boss who is actually trying to tell you something about how effective (or ineffective) you are and instead tells you “you’re too nice.” What he should be doing is articulating the ways in which you are not performing to his expectations.

So what can you do if you get this feedback?

The first thing I would do is ask questions. Ask what he sees as being problematic as a result of being too nice. Have him clarify what he’d like to see from you. You’ll start to hear the REAL issues. The stuff you can actually work on:

  • Not challenging people when you have a different view or more information
  • Failing to advocate for your needs or getting buy-in from others
  • Lack of boundaries with your time
  • Making too many allowances for others
  • Need to work on getting your team more visibility and recognition

If this is what is going on, you’re ineffective and being “too nice” may be his diagnosis for why he thinks you are having these issues.

Your goal should be to get to the bottom of the specific skills and behaviors you need to improve upon.

Ultimately, it could mean being firmer in your delivery or setting clearer boundaries. But now you’re thinking about specific strategies on how to communicate or adopting tactics around managing a project, as opposed to figuring out how to change your personality. These are skills you can learn and develop. And if you need help with communicating your team’s wins more often, get it!

Finally, if your’e finding that they are having trouble telling you what you’re not accomplishing or where you are falling short, yet still insist that you’re too nice, you may want to question if they are simply trying to see you conform to a particular style –  the one they think you need to have to be successful. That is their problem. But you may have to help them see that by demonstrating (and reminding them) that there is more than one way of being effective and successful.