Be nice. Play fair. Be kind.
We all grew up with these messages echoing in our heads, and have hopefully managed to incorporate them to some extent into our family relationships, friendships and interactions with our neighbors.
But what about work?
Some people will say that only the sharks come out on top; that “Mr. Nice Guy” (or Ms. Nice Girl) will never be the winner; and that real professional success must come at the expense of peers, subordinates, and competitors.
There are plenty of motivations to leave your “nice” self back in kindergarten. If you are focused on moving ahead in your career, being helpful, friendly and considerate towards people who are not your immediate supervisors and don’t appear to have any clout in advancing your career, may seem like a waste of time and energy. In fact, those others may be overt or covert competitors, and you may tend to regard them with circumspection rather than generosity.
You may feel that you can give to others in other frameworks – through your family, volunteering, or donating to good causes – but that professional advancement requires a focus only on behaviors that will directly contribute to your success.
I don’t know if this approach delivered the goods in the past; but I do know that today, this kind of attitude can be downright dangerous – to your career.
It’s all about trust
It’s a common adage that people do business with people they know, like and trust. I would cut it down to one essential: trust. If your professional colleagues don’t trust you to tell them the truth, be there for them in a pinch, and deliver what you promised, they will be very unwilling to work with you again. And the converse is also true: if you have built trust in your professional relationships, those people will keep coming back for more.
What happens in the office no longer stays there
If once upon a time, not so long ago, most people could rest assured that their behavior at work would remain an office secret, at most spreading to the spouses or close friends of colleagues and employees, today something objectionable you say or do at work could show up on social media, become viral, and shoot you down mid-career.
Also, because people move between jobs so often these days, their concerns about jeopardizing their jobs may be mitigated by the satisfaction they will get from fighting back against manipulative, disrespectful or abusive behavior through making the objectionable behavior public.
What goes around comes around
Today marketing is all about personal references. When people want to make a new purchase, book a vacation or select a restaurant, they ask their friends on social media for their recommendations, and generally speaking, a personal recommendation or condemnation goes a very long way. The same is true when what you are marketing is yourself, as an employee, a supplier or a colleague.
Another point to consider: In today’s professional world things are pretty fluid. A lower level employee may move quickly up the ladder to a senior role, and a manager may find him or herself out of a job and applying for lower level positions. This means that power hungry, manipulative or disrespectful behavior when in a position of authority can come back to haunt you. You may find that subordinate facing you in a position of power a few years down the line.
On the flip side, taking the time to treat your colleagues, employees and clients with respect and kindness, and doing your best for them professionally is not only ethical behavior; it is likely to help you on your own professional trajectory. People who have interacted with you professionally will remember your approach and will not only want to work with you again the future, they will be glad to recommend that their most valued colleagues seek professional contact with you.
Would you like to work with you?
Beyond the practical considerations in favor of being “nice” at work, the person you spend the most time with at work is – you. Being around a power driven, manipulative colleague all day is tremendously draining. And though we don’t have so much control over who we work with, the one person we do have control over is ourselves. Coming to work with a friendly, supportive attitude is a gift to those around you, but first and foremost, it’s a gift to yourself.
So do yourself, your career and your colleagues a favor, and be nice.