Nice is not a workplace strategy

Q. I am very nice at work and starting to suspect that nice is a bad idea as a workplace strategy. I bring goodies for coworkers' birthdays, volunteer to help people when they are overwhelmed, and stay late if a customer has a crisis. I've also been passed over for three promotions and given tiny raises and not much appreciation. Am I doing something wrong?

A. Yes, you are failing to realize that the workplace is a contest about respect, not popularity. You can win the popularity award at work and fail to get any of the prizes because people do not necessarily respect the people that they like.

At work, what you need to demonstrate is competency, boundaries and authority. Notice that these traits are not about having everyone in your workplace approve of you.

Women are more likely to assume that if they are liked, people will promote them, give them raises and promote their "brand" in their workplace. Keep in mind that salary differences between women and men are still about 30 cents on the dollar. Women tending to go for approval may have a lot to do with this ongoing difference.

Being able to navigate workplace politics effectively doesn't mean swinging to the other side of the "nice" spectrum and campaigning to be the office bad ass. The office jerk may win a workplace battle here and there, but in the long run everyone will make sure they get even, not mad.

Consider the actual jungle next time you walk into your workplace jungle. The most effective animals are those that command respect, exude authority but don't make a point to attack unless provoked. Pin one of these animals up in your cubicle and may it your new role model.

Celebrating birthdays and being helpful are fine occasional choices. You do earn interpersonal chips when you are nice that you can spend when you need favors. You may also enjoy the emotional rewards of being nice. However, day to day, it is more important to solve problems, bring in money and make it clear you are not a doormat.

Realize it is simply a common belief in business that nice people are synonymous with "people who don't want anything." Your coworkers and boss may indeed decide you don't want or need anything at work beyond what you already have. If you actually want to move up the food chain, make niceness the salt you sprinkle on your work not the main course you present to others.

The last word(s)

Q. I'd like to have more authority at work. Is there a way I can confront my boss about not giving it to me?

A. No, authority is a byproduct of doing what makes your boss's job easier not something you demand.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

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