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Why Don’t We All Just Be Nice?


Requiring people to be nice to each other shows pure business acumen. There’s an enormous cost associated with incivility at work and tremendous benefit that comes with respectful behaviors. This means that, even without considering workplace humanity, if you refuse to tolerate insensitivity, your company’s performance and profitability will inevitably grow. Everyone in your organization: leader, manager and hourly employee, has a choice with each interaction: are they going to lift people up or drag them down? Their answers are tied to your business success. Niceness should apply to all of your decisions: who you hire, who leads and who participates on teams.

In a June 2015 NY Times article, “No Time to Be Nice at Work,” author/researcher Christine Porath explains that “insensitive interactions have a way of whittling away at people’s health, performance, and souls.” I think we can all relate to feeling the effects of other people’s bad behavior towards us. But we may not realize the full effects on our personal well being, which can include things like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes--or the effects on our productivity. And disturbingly, as Ms. Porath points out, rudeness and other bad behaviors at work have been growing significantly over the past decades. Incivility is a totally avoidable business expense.

When people feel abused, and I don’t think that’s too strong a word, it resonates through your business in numerous ways. People miss information that’s right in front of them and make more errors; produce less, increasing the cost of goods and services; hesitate to contribute, reducing innovation; and turn customers away, losing business. You’re paying a high price if you’re tolerating bad behavior from anyone in your organization.

What it looks like when people aren’t nice

It’s not hard to recognize people who aren’t being nice. They:

  • Don’t pass on information or share ideas
  • E-mail or text during meetings
  • Don’t answer e-mails or texts
  • Don’t listen, and walk away if they lose interest
  • Answer calls in the middle of a conversation or meeting
  • Put other people down or point out their flaws
  • Take credit for things others have done
  • Show little interest in other people
  • Blame others when things go wrong
  • Aren’t polite and rarely say please and thank you

What’s the excuse for acting this way? According to Porath, who surveyed hundreds of people across organizations and industries, some people feel overloaded and don’t have time to be nice. Some feel like they have more power when they’re not nice. Others are too busy with technology to pay attention to other people. Personally, I don’t buy any of that. Niceness is not about time and power, it’s about caring about others and about the overall good of the organization.

When you boil it down, being nice is simply treating people with respect, something we all respond to. Too many organizations put up with people who simply don’t play nice. These people are too costly to tolerate, in terms of your corporate culture and your business performance. Demand niceness, and win the hearts, souls, and minds or your employees and customers—with immeasurable returns.


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