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Mister Nice Guy

Stop Being So Nice to Your Co-workers

By Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder?.com Editor

Do nice guys finish last at work, too?

A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology says yes. Dr. Nikos Bozionelos of the University of Sheffield in England researched personality and career success and found that white-collar workers who were the most agreeable, conscientious and sensitive to the needs of others were less likely to be promoted.

Bozionelos believes it's because they don't put their own needs first: "Agreeable people tend to self-sacrifice and compromise their own interests to make others happy." And because "nice" people do things just to please others, they often are given low-profile tasks no one else wants and wind up doing activities that don't enhance their careers. Because American culture celebrates forcefulness -- even aggression -- researcher and author Gary Namie says the altruistic have it just as rough here in the United States, where, "Nice gets you in trouble. Nice gets you exploited."

Author and executive coach Dr. Lois Frankel says there are a number of ways nice people undermine themselves. Here are five of the most common, along with tips for (pleasantly) breaking the cycle:

1. You Let Others' Mistakes Inconvenience You

Before rearranging your life to correct someone else's mistake, assess the risk versus the reward of meeting unreasonable expectations. At times you'll have no choice but to jump in to put out the fire. But there will also be times when you have the latitude to push back and say, "This isn't what we originally discussed and agreed to. Since I'll have to rethink the plan and put more time into it than anticipated, I won't be able to have it completed by the initially proposed deadline." Let the person know you want to provide the best service possible -- and ask for the time and resources needed.

2. You Let Others Take Credit For Your Ideas

Ever suggest an idea that seemed to fall flat, only to find out later it was implemented and someone else got the credit? To avoid having others steal your ideas, make sure you state them loudly and confidently or put them in writing. If you're at a meeting and someone proposes the same thing you've previously suggested, call attention to it by saying, "Sounds like you're building on my original suggestion, and I would certainly support that."

3. You Apologize Unnecessarily

Save your apologies for big-time bloopers. When you do make a mistake worth apologizing for, apologize only once, then move into problem-solving mode. Objectively assess what went wrong and ways to fix it. Always begin from a place of equality, for example: "Based on the information initially provided to me, I had no idea that was your expectation. Tell me more about what you had in mind and I'll make the necessary revisions."

4. You Work Without Breaks

Use your vacation days; take your lunch. Working non-stop can make you appear flustered, inefficient and incompetent. It also makes you less productive. To maintain maximum levels of concentration and accuracy, experts suggest you take a break every 90 minutes.

5. You Do Others' Work For Them

Recognize when people delegate inappropriately to you and avoid the inclination to solve everyone's problems for them. Practice saying unapologetically, "I'd love to help you out with this, but I'm swamped." Then stop talking. Of course being nice is not all bad. Dr. Bozionelos points out that it can be of great advantage as long as you are aware of and able to adjust your natural tendencies to undervalue yourself and compromise your personal interests. As Dr. Frankel puts it, "When all is said and done, do you really want written on your tombstone: "He Always Put the Needs of the Company Ahead of His Own?"


1. Acknowledge the influences that have shaped your thinking. Say to yourself, “My mind is full of other people’s ideas and attitudes, which I received uncritically and accepted because I was young and trusting. Many of those ideas and attitudes are now hardened into principles and convictions. Yet some of them are surely erroneous or unworthy.” Identify the people you have especially admired or been close to: your mother and father, an aunt or uncle, a coach or teacher, a celebrity. Consider each person’s convictions and actions. Decide exactly how those convictions and actions have contributed to your ideas and attitudes.

2. Sort out and evaluate your ideas and attitudes, even your most cherished ones. Ask, for example, what your political philosophy is. (That question, of course, means more than “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” It includes your views on the proper role of government and on citizens’ responsibility in a democracy.) Ask, too, about your views on religion, race, nationality, marriage, morality, and law. Compare your ideas and attitudes with other people’s. Make your beliefs prove themselves, not on the basis of their familiarity or their compatibility with other ideas, but on their reasonableness in light of the evidence.

3. Choose the best ones. Decide as objectively as you can which ideas deserve your endorsement and which attitudes are worth striving to acquire. Remember that you are never being more an individual than when you resist the pressure of habit and change the way you think about a subject or issue because the evidence prompts you to do so.

Real individuality, of course, cannot be attained in a single sitting, or even in a hundred. It is an ongoing task, the occupation of a lifetime, but one that everyone who wants to be a good thinker must undertake.

The Art of Thinking: A Guide to Critical and Creative Thought, Seventh Edition, by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. Published by Longman. Copyright © 2004 by Pearson Education, Inc.

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Page last modified on July 25, 2007, at 11:04 AM EST