Everyone wants to be liked, and that’s true even in the workplace. When many of us spend more time with coworkers than family and friends during the week, it's natural to go out of our way to be nice and establish ourselves as well-liked. But being too nice can have greater consequences in the office than in your average social interaction. Leaders and managers regularly find themselves needing to make tough decisions with the team or business’ best interests in mind, and being overly nice can water down the outcomes of those decisions or prevent them altogether. While nobody wants to be a villain, the fear of being disliked can hurt your team and hinder your ability to thrive in your role.
Whether you’re managing a friend or trying to be universally liked, it’s likely you’re unaware of how your behavior is impacting your direct reports. If you’re not sure if you’re being overly nice, keep an eye out for these key signs.
Lying to avoid confrontation
If you spend a lot of your time at work finding ways to avoid conflict, it’s likely you're prioritizing people’s feelings over the needs of the business. Problems tend to fester when you pretend things are fine or there’s not an issue at hand, just because you’d rather not step on someone’s toes — and the eventual confrontation becomes that much more difficult and unexpected.
Unable to give candid feedback
A big worry, especially if you are friends with one of your direct reports, is that any feedback you give will be taken too personally and ruin your friendship or working relationship. It’s hard to be critical when you care about someone’s opinion of you, and you might even feel a duty not to offend them. However, you’re likely to see the opposite result when you withhold candid feedback: stunted employee development.
Overly persistent coaching
Another side-effect of the desire to not hurt anyone’s feelings is that you can’t cut ties with underperforming employees. The nice thing to do is to keep giving them one more chance, but you can end up frustrating the team (and yourself) by perpetually dealing with a bad fit. You might even see a talented employee leave out of frustration.
If this sounds like you, you’re probably being too nice out of misguided motivations. The consequences of being too nice aren’t always immediately noticeable, instead developing over time. Both Suzanne Barnecut of Zendesk and Kim Scott of Candor, Inc., discuss instances in their career where being too nice had a negative impact on an employee, but didn’t fully realize the consequences until much later late. Here are a few consequences you might not expect from being too nice to your direct hires.
- Creates perceptions of favoritism: If you’re providing extra attention to a friend or an underperformer, it won’t go unnoticed and it might lead to resentment.
- Stunts employee development: Direct feedback and constructive feedback are essential to creating opportunities for growth and improvement.
- Positive feedback appears ingenuine: If you repeat “Yes” or “Good job” too many times when you don’t really mean it, your direct reports will have a hard time believing you when you do.
- Causes unnecessary headaches for your team: Morale and productivity can both be negatively impacted, leading to conflict among the team.
- Unfair biases during performance reviews: Evan Thompson writes for Huffington Post that “business growth relies on unbiased performance evaluations,” which is nearly impossible if you feel a personal relationship is at stake.
Good bosses focus on guidance
Of course, making an active effort to be nice is not bad — and certainly better to the alternative. But you need to make sure to set boundaries that don’t interfere with your job. Now is the time to start reframing your perspective on feedback and coaching. Confrontation has a bad reputation, but when approached properly it can lead to moments of growth. The goal of providing criticism shouldn’t be to hurt people’s feelings. Instead, make a plan for your one-on-ones that leverage agile, real-time feedback to maximize your direct report’s productivity and growth.
Kim Scott created a 2 x 2 tool she calls “Radical Candor,” which is the ideal combination of challenging employees directly and personally caring about them and the business. The other quadrants on her graph include Obnoxious Aggression, Manipulative Insincerity, and Ruinous Empathy. These four quadrants provide a useful framework by which to map your behavior.
Strive to be considered kind and respected instead of nice. It’s important that you do care about your company and team, and that you make their success a priority. But providing firm and direct guidance goes a long way toward achieving success on all levels.
If you’re currently managing a close friend, you may want to ask to switch roles within the company. This is not necessarily an option at a startup or small company, but if you think there’s a possibility, it only helps to ask. Explain that your friendship causes tensions between direct reports who may perceive favoritism where it doesn’t exist, but that you’re confident you can remain unbiased if a move can’t be arranged.
“Nice is only good when it’s coupled with a rational perspective and the ability to make difficult choices,” explains Reputation.com founder Michael Fertik. It’s important that you set yourself up for success in making the tough choices that impact the entire team, and you can start by focusing on employee and team development, and less on being liked.