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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Reasons Being Too Nice at Work Actually Holds You Back

You’re probably familiar with the phrase “Nice guys finish last.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but what I do know is that being too nice will absolutely hold you back at work.

Because, while “the super nice one” isn’t topping anyone’s list of least favorite colleagues, it can negatively affect your interactions with your co-workers.

For example, here’s an email you might send with feedback for a colleague if you’re typically trying to be really nice:

I just wanted to say, the report draft you turned in was amazing on every level: I seriously saw nothing wrong with it! The only (tiny) thing I thought you might want to consider is changing the introduction to focus more on our engineering partners, and maybe to add a section to address the public sector, but no worries if not, and otherwise it was incredible, like everything you do. And I’m even happy to add those things in for you, if you want!

While this is certainly pleasant to read, it’s not actually all that helpful for anyone involved.

Here’s why:

1. You Come Across as Inauthentic

You might simply want to avoid offending anyone, but if you’re constantly equivocating, people may question if you ever say what you mean. If you’re praising their work to their face only to throw your support behind another approach, people will get suspicious of your gushing words.

To keep friendliness a priority, you can practice being direct without being brusque or blunt. Think about being specific in your praise rather than just being generally effusive all the time.

2. You Never Contribute Constructive Criticism

Giving specific praise isn’t enough—you’ll also want to get comfortable discussing areas where people can improve.

Most people want to do a good job and advance, and if your focus is solely on being well-liked, it can come at the cost of saying things that need to be said. In other words, if your colleague asks for feedback and you tell him his work on the project is incredible—and it’s not—you’re actually sabotaging him.

Yes, giving critical feedback can be scary, especially if it’s to your peers. But if you never make any suggestions, others might take it as a sign that you don’t care enough to help. Or—even worse—they’ll think you don’t know enough to add any commentary other than encouragement.

When you give suggestions, resist the temptation to pad them in a lot of qualifiers (“What you did was great, but maybe, you might perhaps, if you want, consider…”). Remind yourself that straightforward, honest communication will be seen as helpful.

3. You Become a Doormat

Being too nice also invites people to disregard your boundaries—without even feeling like they’re taking advantage of you.

Imagine your teammate wants to take off a bit early, but there’s a final piece of a project that needs to get done. So, she asks if it’d be all right if you stay late and complete everything, and without hesitation, you say, “Absolutely! No problem!”

Well, then she’s going to assume it was “No problem.” But if you do this all the time, you’ll end being the office doormat, and your teammates won’t even feel bad about walking on you because you make them feel good about doing it with your super-nice responses.

You are a genuinely nice person, so don’t feel like you have to put yourself last for your colleagues to know it. In fact, turning down these requests will help everyone. Your teammate will learn to manage time better and not rely on you, and you’ll learn to say “no,” nicely.

With the above in mind, check out the feedback email to your colleague from earlier sent in a way that’s not over the top:

I love the tone and the way you segmented the data in this report draft! Two things I think would make it even stronger are focusing the intro more on our engineering partners and adding a section about the public sector. I have some free time later this afternoon if you’d like to discuss further.

This version is shorter, to the point, helpful, and genuine—all things that first email was not—and still nice. So make the effort to re-think the way you see yourself. You’re there to do your job and do it well. You’re not there to walk on eggshells or to make everyone else feel incredible all the time. Withholding constructive criticism or bending over backward in an effort to be likeable will hamstring your team, not help them.

Photo of co-workers courtesy of JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images.

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