Sunday, October 15, 2006


Can We Trust Corporate "Niceness"?

According to the article at the link below, "niceness" is gaining ground on the corporate scene. Frankly, I will believe this when I see it. Nonetheless, some companies and business authors are carving out a niche for themselves with this particular gimmick. Russ Edelman, one of the principals of Nice Guy Strategies, claims that corporations increasingly desire to "create an environment that supports a nicer mind-set. Organizations are asking, 'How can we create an environment that is friendly, welcoming, and warm, but also ensure that people in the company are held accountable and can achieve success?'" Robin Koval, author The Power Of Nice: How To Conquer The Business World With Kindness, graciously asserts that being nice does not preclude being strong, and that even nice people can be willing to stand up for themselves and their own agenda - er, "ideas". And so on, and so forth... Oh - gag me with a spoon, will you? Business folks have utilized "niceness" in the service of getting ahead since time immemorial. To those in the know, it has always been called "politics" or "persuasion" or just plain "schmoozing".

As for importing "niceness" into the office, that is all well and good. I, for one, prefer an atmosphere of cool and civil impersonality rather than abusive managers who cut to the quick and those braying and/or whining colleagues who together demonstrate the truth of those two old saws, "Familiarity breeds contempt" and "Misery loves company". That's my idea of niceness. Unfortunately, "niceness" is by and large an entirely surface phenomenon. The article goes on to describe how an employee supposedly can be laid off with "niceness", which belies the fatuity of the entire concept. There is nothing "nice" about being laid off.

Corporations that employ a higher grade of "niceness" while pursuing business as usual may make the office a little quieter, but the ultimate effect will be at best superficial and at worst completely hypocritical. Worst of all, corporations that aspire to "niceness" are more likely to impose "niceness" upon their employees as a standard of behavior than to embrace "niceness" as their own philosophy. As such, "niceness" will become yet another excuse for the draconian intolerance of personal idiosyncrasy that pervades all corporations. It isn't difficult to imagine some crisply dressed Stepford Wife (or Stepford Husband) of a manager firing you just for laughing too hard or for losing your temper (perhaps justifiably), all with a soft voice and a false smile - and having that pass as an example of "niceness".

"At work, 'nice' is on the rise" from The Christian Science Monitor

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