Small Business Advice
But nice has an image problem. Nice gets no respect
—Linda Thaler and Robin Koval
I normally do not write about books, but I just finished reading an incredible book by Linda Thaler and Robin Koval entitled The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness. This book really affected me because it put into words what I have been feeling for so long.
When struggling to think of a word to describe a colleague, friend, relative or an employee, I, as well as many others, frequently use the word “nice” if nothing else stands out in our minds. Often, when people are labeled as “nice,” it is assumed that they are weak and can be taken advantage of.
Contrary to this belief, however, I have seen many entrepreneurs who are nice and generous, but are also tough negotiators. I do not think that these two attributes are mutually exclusive. You can be nice and still be firm on important positions.
Thaler and Koval, the authors of the book, define “nice” as putting other people’s needs on the same level as your own. Their assertion is that being nice can have surprising results. Among these is a financial payoff. According to the authors, one study found that for every 2% increase in niceness through customer service, revenues increased by 1%. Another study found that medical doctors who had never been sued averaged 3 more minutes with patients. Bottom line: niceness does pay.
It is so strange to see how being just a little bit nice can have such wonderful results. A few months ago a reader wrote to me in response to one of my columns (a common occurrence, especially when I am talking about employees). He wrote to say how much he agreed with me (I really like this kind of response). When I wrote back, he was both surprised and grateful because he never thought that I would respond. Knowing that this man was so pleased by so small a gesture made me feel good too.
Many of my students come up to me many years later (often I do not recognize them) and tell me how kind and nice I was to them and what a great impression that made on their life. Was I trying to be nice to them in particular? Of course not. Rather, I was just being the person that I am and, in return, they were so grateful.
For those who, like me, can use some practice being nice, this book has some exercises that can help. One exercise is to do 5 nice things a day that have no immediate payout to you. Some examples might be saying, “Thank you,” to the person cleaning your office bathrooms or, “Hello,” to a stranger. I tried this for a week and was so surprised at how good I felt every time I did something nice.
Now go out and make sure that both you and your business are being as nice as possible.
You can do it!
Jerry Osteryoung is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University. He is also the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at FSU and Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 850-644-3372.