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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

The Surprising Way I Get Ahead in Business (and Life)

Before I began working on my business full-time, and it was but a side hustle, my past positions always included client-facing duties. I’ve always been told by superiors that my diplomatic nature (which I attribute to my being a Libra) and respect for niceties (which I attribute to my Southern parents making me write thank you cards for everything) set me apart—in a good way. Thank you, I’d say.

But I also noticed that many of the head honchos at companies I worked for seemed to take pride in being mean—slamming the phone down on customers who called at inopportune times, writing passive-aggressive emails to the staff at 2 AM because something out of their control didn’t go their way, and bragging to their associates about how loud they yelled at a courier. Is that really what it takes to be a successful professional?, I’d wonder. Do I have to adopt a tyrant tone to get ahead?

Now that I own my own company, I know that the answer is a resounding no. In fact, I’ve been reminded time and again just how far being a little nicer can go in business—and in life. Here are three ways being nice has paid off for me (and how it can for you, too).

It Helps You Keep Your Customers

Lots of people sell office supplies, and don’t even get me started on the number of clothing shops out there. So, it’s up to me to give people a reason to buy these things—that they can literally get anywhere—from me.

I’ve learned that one of the best ways to do that is by treating customers like friends. When filling orders or answering questions, I give people as much attention as I would a girlfriend frantically calling me after leaving her wallet and her favorite pair of sunglasses in a cab. Even if it’s something that’s completely out of my hands, I don’t take the easy way out and send them to someone else.

For example, recently one of my customers was frustrated with the production time of an item. Even though my hands were tied, I was there to hear her out and be her point of contact along the way, keeping her updated on everything I was doing to speed up the process. And, do you know what she did after she received the shipment? She decided to buy enough for her whole office—just because she felt she could trust me, and, as she said, “that’s a rare thing these days.”

It’s sad, but true, that taking the time to be nice can give you a competitive edge. It’s such a simple and cheap way to build a loyal clientele. With such little effort and investment, why not try to apply it to your business strategy?

It Helps You Make Connections

The saying, “you never know who you’re talking to,” is something we should all keep in mind—because, once in a while, you will be talking to someone important.

Take this recent incident that happened to me. At this season’s fashion week, I tripped over a bag that shouldn’t have been in the middle of the aisle, nearly face-planting in front of hundreds of (impeccably dressed) people.

But instead of huffing and puffing and spinning around to give a death stare to the woman I suspected to be the owner, I calmly shuffled back in line to keep my eye on the prize—an interview with the designer. While going over a few questions in my head, I realized that the owner of the offending tote was standing right behind me, and that she was wearing an accessory I had been dying to sell in my store.

I immediately talked her head off about the accessory and found out that she was the founder of the product. Needless to say, I left happily with her business card. Had I have been snippy with her, I could have set serious fire to a bridge that I had been working hard to build. No bueno. Taking a breath, counting to 10, and staying friendly certainly saved me in this situation.

It Makes People Want to Help You

There are times when we are all desperate for someone in corporate to treat us like a human being, not a number, right? And nowhere is this more true than when you’re standing in front of a smug ticket agent at the airport, willing to sell your most prized Bose headsets for a seat next to the toilet just so you can get home or to that important meeting across the country.

That happened to me not too long ago, and I had a big meeting planned with someone I wanted to finally meet in person in hopes she’d become my mentor. I was determined to get back to New York after the holidays in Atlanta, but the flight was overbooked, I was on standby, and the ticket agent smacked her gum like long lines of angry travelers was as interesting as golf. Instead of losing my cool with her (which would have been easy to do since I felt she was short with me), I thanked her profusely for listening and explained my situation—but more importantly acknowledged how hard her day must be with the biggest travel season of the year upon us.

We started chatting a little more and exchanged stories of a few memorable times spent in New Orleans (she briefly lived there, and I’m from around the area). And, do you know what she did next? She got behind that computer, did a little clicking magic, and, abracadabra, I had a seat on the plane. And, as a result, I also got the mentor I had been courting.

The lesson here is so simple, but it’s always true: When you need help from someone (and that time will come), being nice goes a long, long way.

I hope these anecdotes show you that playing the part of the Grinch who stole happiness at work and in life isn’t the only way to get ahead. By treating people with kindness and respect—minus the iron fist—you can make an even bigger, more positive impact in the way you do business.

Photo of smiley face courtesy of John Earl.