Best of Both Worlds podcast: Getting ahead by being nice

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

As women rise up the ranks in companies, they often get advice warning about coming across as too “nice.” Nice people are push-overs. They aren’t seen as leaders, they can’t make the tough decisions or command respect. Or as one bestselling book once put it, “Nice girls don’t get the corner office.”

But is this true? Today’s Best of Both Worlds guest, Fran Hauser, has spent much time in corner offices, and is also a very nice person. Sarah and I interviewed her about her career (including her stint running Time digital, and launching, and now as an angel investor) and about her book, The Myth of the Nice Girl.

Hauser describes how being nice has often been her superpower. Once, while working at Coca-Cola, she was promoted to lead a rather large division (over more senior people) precisely because her teams really liked her. She was the person who asked about her team members’ weekends, and then actually listened to the answer. Turns out such “idle” chit-chat can be a good use of time! On more than one occasion, she has been brought in to jump-start a stalled negotiation. As an empathetic person, she can talk about what the other side really wants, and needs, in order to feel the negotiation turned out well.

Of course, nice leaders still need to do tough things: give critical feedback, conduct layoffs, or fire people for cause. Hauser talks in this episode about how she has handled all these situations. Particularly with critical feedback, coming into the conversation from the perspective that “I am your biggest fan” — and you want the feedback to work — can go a long way.

In any case, I hope you will give the episode a listen, and check out The Myth of the Nice Girl. And in the comments, feel free to answer about how “niceness” has affected your career, or how you might answer the listener question that came in this week. I had mentioned in a previous episode and blog post that I had spent serious time reading during a kid activity, and the listener wanted to know how I pulled this off. Did I get dirty looks from other parents who wanted to socialize? We talk about the upside of simply disappearing, or of using your phone (which seems like less of a statement than a book), and also of recognizing that everyone lives in his or her own little world. My default assumption is that no one actually notices what I do, or is thinking about me one way or the other. This has some upsides and downsides (and fits in to the “niceness” theme of this episode) but is one way to view the universe!

7 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Getting ahead by being nice

  1. I think I have a solution to the interrupted reading – radical honesty! I boarded the bus with a neighbour recently. We chatted when the bus arrived and sat down next to each other and I looked at her and said ‘I hate to be rude but I was looking forward to listening to a podcast as a transition between work mode and parent mode…’. She looked relieved and said she wanted to catch up on email and we happily ignored each other for the duration. We are still very friendly so I didn’t cause mortal offense.

    I’d imagine saying to the other mom ‘hey, I don’t get much downtime, and I’m dying to finish my book…okay to catch up for a few minutes and then sit in companionable silence?’ might be really effective.

    1. Yeah this can totally work. I had a best guy friend at work (until he moved away, *sob*) and I would often invite him to eat lunch with me. Sometimes he would agree and we would chat, and sometimes he would say I’m talked out today, want to read books over lunch? So we’d just sit at a table and read together, which was great! Then I started inviting people out for reading lunches myself. Try it, you might be surprised!

  2. Like Fran, I’m a nice leader. I always say I lead with respect and not fear. I build extremely loyal teams that people always admire. I’m excited to read this book and pick up more tips!

    In regards to the reader question, I spend a little time with other parents but then go off to read. Everyone knows where I am and what I’m doing. It’s just expected. Key is getting away.

  3. My issue with kid activities is that my kids really want me to watch them for the duration of their activity, especially my 6 year old. Do your children not mind your focus being elsewhere? Or, do they complain and you matter-of-factly tell them you have other things you plan to do with that time?

    1. I am upfront with my son prior to his activity about my plan.” I’m going to go for a walk but will come in during the last 5 minutes of practice to see what you are up to.” Then I make it a point to ask him questions on the way home about what he was most proud of. This allows him to get the attention he is seeking but affords me the alone time as well. The other piece to explain, if the activity is a practice that leads to a game or recital, that you are present during those times when possible.

      1. Thank you, Amanda! When my older daughter was my younger daughter’s age, I would have to walk in the hallways with my younger daughter (then around 2 and 3 years old). I would let my older daughter know up front the plan for how long I would be watching her practice and where I would be if I wasn’t watching, etc.. For some reason, I never thought to do this with my younger daughter.

  4. Thanks for raising this topic. I identify more with and respond better to nice. Look forward to reading this.

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