Karen was engaging in a performance feedback session with her supervisor, when he said these words to her. “You are too nice. Stop letting others push you around, stand up for yourself.” When she asked for examples of being too nice, he shared this example: “When the procurement group told you that they wanted to go with a vendor who on the surface appears to offer a better deal, you said Ok. We knew they would want to make the decision on cost however, we knew that vendor could not adequately meet our needs. You didn’t push back at all to make sure our needs were addressed.” Karen’s response was lacking any understanding of the impact of her behavior on her team, “Well, they said it was their choice and this was the choice they were going to make.” Her supervisor sighed.
If you are the person who has been told that you are too nice, you might struggle with that concept. How can someone be too nice? Isn’t niceness a good trait? Doesn’t it make you easier to work with? Here’s what’s behind the phrase you are too nice:
You don’t speak up for yourself
Effective leaders have a strong voice. That does not mean a loud or aggressive voice but rather one that clearly outlines the boundaries under which they can operate and deliver. If you don’t have a position or need, how can I know what you stand for or care about? If you can’t speak up for yourself, how can you be trusted to lead others who will need you to be their voice with important decision makers.
Sometimes, people don’t speak up because their opinion or needs are different than the other parties and they don’t want to risk disapproval or conflict. So they deny their own needs to keep the peace. While you may believe you are being nice, others may perceive you as a push-over, lacking in confidence or assertiveness. Karen’s characterization of procurement’s response, which drove her action, shows how easily intimidated she was in their interaction. Of course procurement wanted to make the decision that was in their best interests. Pushing back would have brought the conflict in their two positions out in the open- which is the only way it could be resolved.
You are not being authentic
Every single human being has needs, aspirations and opinions. When you go along to get along, others may not trust you. They may perceive you as holding back and make their own interpretation as to why- perhaps she has no original thoughts or anything interesting to add, or she just doesn’t care enough to put herself out there. None of these perceptions will help you advance in your career.
How can you improve the perception that you are too nice?
- Learn to be assertive. Being assertive means being honest, open and direct; it means recognizing your own rights and listening to the needs of others. Assertiveness is recognized through a firm clear voice and steady eye contact. It requires that you use transparent language like: I believe, need; I’d like; and No. The effectiveness of your interactions is improved by asking open-ended questions to clarify and create understanding. From a place of assertiveness, win-win situations are created. Karen was manifesting passive behavior by not expressing her needs.
- Develop negotiation skills. It can be difficult to get everything that you want out of every interaction, but you can strive to get what you need and some of what you want. Outline your needs, wants, and what you are willing to accept. In Karen’s case, she needed a new vendor, she wanted a specific vendor, while procurement wanted the vendor with the lowest cost bid. Even though she knew their position, she did not prepare herself to negotiate. She could have created 3 choices for her negotiation. What she wanted: her preferred vendor with no changes to cost; What she was willing to accept: her preferred vendor with a cost modification; and What she did not want: to seek additional vendor bids. Procurement likely didn’t want to start over either but didn’t understand why the preferred vendor was the better choice. Karen never presented that argument for their consideration. Negotiating with procurement could have gotten her the vendor she wanted at a cost they could accept.
- Carefully weigh your responses to situations before you act. When pleasing one group, it is common that another may be displeased. Bottom line, you can’t please everyone, nor should you try. Being strategic in your responses will help you build credibility and a reputation that enhances your value to the organization. In Karen’s case, her supervisor has more power over her career than the procurement department. She chose to take their side, even if she did not do so intentionally.
Be careful not to put yourself so tightly in the other person’s shoes that you forget they don’t fit your feet.
Your choices and actions determine how others see you and value you.