Play nice

You heard it from both parents and playground supervisors, “Play nice!” This was often followed by, “If you don’t, no one will want to play with you.” You got this warning not because someone else took your ball or called you a poo poo head. You got this warning because of the way you reacted.

The schoolyard was just a mini-microcosm of things to come. Throughout our education and career years, we are thrust into situations where other people are just not nice. Everyone acts to some extent in their own self-interest, but with some people it’s self-obsession and anger mismanagement.  If you’re like me, you feel a gut-level emotional reaction to these people that makes you want to lash out and defend your turf. 

It’s left brain vs. right brain warfare.  Left brain says, “If I remain calm, I can still keep this project on track, or close this deal.”  Right brain says, “It would be so satisfying to place a large piece of duct tape over that mouth right now.”

To survive these confrontations, I practice what I call Strategic Niceness:

–       Breathe. Long, slow deep breaths will tell your reptilian brain everything is OK and give you more oxygen to think clearly.

–       Separate.  You are not a target. You are observing someone else who is trying to express something that needs to be heard.

–       Listen.  Let everything come out before you respond. Interruption will only escalate emotion.

–       Think. Pause and consider your response before opening your mouth. And the first sentence should start with “I understand.”

–       React. Use questions to clarify and calm your way into a civilized conversation. Sometimes the best reaction is to defer an answer to later when emotions are defused.

Here’s the bottom line. People want to do business with people they like. This is a classic case of the golden rule… treating others the way you want to be treated.  Unless you are a masochist you probably want people to play nice with you, so you decide to be nice first.

Besides, it’s hard for a bully to keep punching you if your gloves are down… and the crowd will eventually turn on them.

Do you have a story of how playing nice paid off for you?

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4 Comments on “Play nice”

  1. Stacey Says:

    Great post, David.

    The Golden Rule isn’t always applicable. In many industries, people are angry, jaded, bitter and if you’re the nice one and treat people the way you want to be treated, quite often you become the door mat or the punching bag because people mistake kindness for weakness. It’s often misunderstood and misinterpreted and in some businesses kindness is taken as a sign that you’re not a power player and cannot play in the leagues of the larger scale successful players. And that’s just a fact. This is the outlook of many professionals.

    When you watch Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice this is where it is evident. The kind ones are treated as the weak players because they don’t want to rock the boat, rather only get along with their teammates nicely, play nice and do their job and be a work horse. In my eyes, there is nothing wrong with that. It is because of these kind work horses that work gets done, because often the bossy leaders don’t want to actually do the physical labor, they just want to lead and pray others will follow or be bullied to follow. Sadly, in this arena, kindness is frowned upon as someone who doesn’t have the chutzpah, the initiative, the drive and judgment is placed upon the kind ones who do play nice.

    While most will argue this is just a TV program, quite often in the hardcore business world of sharks, this is how the game is played – no matter who the players are.

    I’m a believer in integrity, quality work and being courteous and playing nice. But sometimes you have to take the reins and be tactful, diligent and exercise leadership in a firmer way in order for things to get done also. This is not to say that playing nice goes by the wayside, as much it is to say, that sometimes the business world dictates we wear different hats at different times in order to make our way through the rat maze.

    • davidgoad Says:

      Excellent points Stacey! This is a very situational proposal, I agree. Different lines of work require different levels of assertiveness, but matching nastiness with nastiness never really gets long-lasting results in my experience. If a chronically nasty person is your boss, change jobs. If the nasty person is a customer, strategic niceness pays off. And in my experience, being “nice” and “firm” are not mutually exclusive 🙂

  2. Gus Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree Dave. But on those occassions when I get caught up in the “rat race”, and forget to “play nice”, I rationalize my reaction with the phrase, “The medicine may seem harsh, but the patient needs it.” Keep ’em comin’. Toti


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