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Being Nice Is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Career

Topics: Career Advice

Nice guys finish last, right? Well, not necessarily. While there’s something to be said for keeping your own goals and priorities in mind during your interactions with colleagues, being nice at work might be better for your career than a cut-throat strategy to get to the top.

being nice

(Photo Credit: JD Hancock/Flickr)

Here’s why:

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  1. “Networking” is just a boring word for making friends.

When you were a kid, you didn’t worry about networking with peers. You wanted to make friends, so that you’d have someone to talk to about your favorite TV shows and bands.

Being an adult isn’t that different from being a kid when it comes to building connections with your classmates, so to speak. You’re looking for common ground, mutual support, and yes, perhaps the ability to help one another out.

Because, as it turns out, your mom was right: the best way to make friends is to be a friend. If you want to build a robust network, the quickest way to do it is to do someone a favor. It will make you feel good to connect a former colleague with a job opening at your company or to write a letter of recommendation for your summer intern, but beyond that, it’ll make them feel good about you. And not to be too calculating in our niceness, but having people think good thoughts about you can only work in your favor, the next time you need a new job or a recommendation.

  1. People want to hire people who are pleasant to be around.

Pretend you’re a hiring manager. You have two candidates for a job opening. Both are equally qualified, with similar education, experience, and skillsets. One, however, seems a lot more fun to have around, while the other seems like the kind of person who would kick a trashcan if interrupted. Which one do you pick?

Companies hire to build teams, not just fill slots in the org chart. Given the choice, most people would prefer to hire someone who’ll make their workday more enjoyable, not less. Being the nicer candidate – meaning the more pleasant, not the easier-to-push-around – can give you an advantage during the hiring process.

  1. Being nice isn’t the same thing as being a doormat.

Building on the “friendly, not wimpy” theme above, it’s important to remember that being kind-hearted doesn’t mean taking whatever you’re offered. It’s possible to be polite without letting your colleagues, present and prospective, walk all over you.

This is especially important for women who are entering into a salary negotiation. Research has shown that women pay a higher social penalty when they ask for more money. But, that doesn’t mean that women should avoid negotiating; instead, they can incorporate this knowledge into their negotiation strategy.

“One thing I would encourage women to do is to have a communal motivation for asking for more,” says Margaret A. Neale, Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in an interview with Vicki Slavina at The Muse. “If I’m a man and I’m negotiating a salary, I can talk about my competencies. What women need to do is yoke their competencies with a communal concern.”

In other words, be nice – but ask for, and plan to get, what you deserve.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think it pays to be nice, or do nice guys finish last, in your experience? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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