Be Effective, Not Nice

Nice people and incompetent people have at least one thing in common: they equivocate when speaking their ideas.

For incompetent folks, the strategy is logical – they nuance their concepts and answers so much that they say nothing. This is safe for them because their goal is to not be wrong. The best way to do this is to avoid strong statements or committing to a point of view. Sure, their audience leaves the room having received no value and will never engage them again, but an incompetent person doesn’t realize this. All they know is that they escaped face-to-face embarrassment.

For nice people, equivocation is sadly keeping them from achieving their goals. They are competent, but their priority is to be polite. They work to ensure that no one looks dumb and in the process make themselves sound incompetent. Their crystal clear concepts and answers to criticism are muddled with extra words, deference and unspoken truths. Not only does an audience gain very little from a nice person’s communications, they sometimes come away with misperceptions because they are forced to draw their own conclusions.

Of course, being mean isn’t the answer (mean people suck). The problem is in placing priority and focus on being nice. By putting focus on being nice, focus is taken away from the concept itself. Nice people want to show that they value other opinions, especially when they disagree; but when the focus is applied to using congenial words instead of the idea, that’s all anyone hears.

The good news is that you don’t have to focus on being nice for people to like you or to show them respect. If you are passionate and competent, plenty of people will like you, and they will absolutely love working with you. Respecting others is not about how you nuance your own ideas, it is about taking the time to listen to theirs.

If you are being too nice, take these steps in your interactions with others:

  • Do not use qualifiers: Words & phrases like “In my opinion”, “theoretically”, “basically”, “well”, etc. dilute your message. If it is coming out of your mouth, everyone already knows it’s your opinion. Look people in the eye and give them the straight scoop without extra words.
  • Do not interpret direct speech as fact: Many are intimidated by executives or customers who speak assertively – don’t be. They are where they are in part because they communicate clearly. When they are assertive with you they are not trying to shut you down, they are just efficient and clear about what they think. If you disagree or need to interject, do it. They expect you to do this and find you more valuable if you do.
  • “Bob, you want to take that one?”: If you are asked a question that you cannot answer fully, do not simply blindside a teammate with a “nice” hand-off that you think compliments him. Frame the big picture and hand off the one part of the answer that he specializes in. You won’t sound frightened and your teammate will do a better job answering as well.
  • Respect your voice: Your ideas are valid and if you have a point of contention you should speak up. Don’t sound like you instantly regret it by hemming and hawing – get it out there!

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