In The Myth of The Nice Girl author Fran Hauser busts the “myth of the nice girl”.
She says that it’s not true that being nice is a weakness, and with both science and personal experience, she proves that kindness can be a huge advantage in winning at both work and life.
About the Author: Francesca Hauser is a former media executive, startup investor and advisor and, today, author, advisor, investor, and advocate for women in business.
Busting The Myth of Nice & Weak
The author says our society is being victim of a huge myth that “nice” equals weak, under-achiever, and easy to be taken advantage of.
From a career point of view, she mentions the popular book “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office”.
And I would add that the same myth is often perpetuated in both dating and relationships, with titles such as “Why Men Love Bitches“, or “The Power of The Pussy” (and, for men, “No More Mr. Nice Guy“)
I couldn’t agree more with the author and I have already plenty exposed why those books can be as harmful as they can be helpful.
What “Nice” Really Means’
The myth of the nice girl is that she’s is weak, unassuming, and can’t stand up for herself.
Basically, a pushover with “kick me” written on her back.
But that’s not “nice”, says the author, that’s a pushover. And the two things are not the same and should not be the same.
This is how the author defines a “nice girl”:
A woman who cares deeply about other people and who wants to connect with them, who is guided by a strong sense of values to do the right thing.
She is considerate, respectful, and kind. (…) At work, she’s fair, collaborative, and generous.
The Superpower of Being Nice
Research shows that teenage girls who pursued high status (mean girls) were less successful ten years later than girls who were more likeable and kind.
The nice girls have used those skills in business, and it helped them be more successful and accomplished.
The more “mean-girls” types were less successful in relationships and had more problems with drugs and alcohol.
I think the author is right when she says that there is real power hidden in traits like empathy, kindness, and compassion.
These are undervalued traits in the business world, and it’s exactly why you can stand out when you embrace them.
Says Fran Hauser:
In fact, as I learned to own my natural kindness, it has become my professional superpower.
It has helped me build my personal confidence; the loyalty of those who’ve worked with me; and a strong, trusting, faithful network of colleagues, mentors, and mentees.
First, You Need to Be Kind to Yourself
I couldn’t agree more with the author when she said that being nice starts with yourself.
You can’t be kind to others if you’re not kind to yourself first.
Says the author:
Kindness starts with you.
If you’ve judged yourself harshly over the years, you need to let go of that. Remember, part of being authentically nice is embracing the real you, and you can’t do that if you’re busy beating yourself up for the things you’ve done imperfectly in the past.
Finding the Right Balance Between Nice and Strong is a Difficult, But Achievable
Many young women have asked the author how to be nice and strong at the same time.
That’s not easy.
It’s a learning curve, and you will go through some mistakes. It might take some time, but you can eventually make it. And when you do, you will be both nice and effective, and you will remain true to yourself, enjoying better and stronger relationships.
Finding the Right Balance Between Empathetic and Worrior Is Difficult, But Achievable
The myth is that nice girl can’t make difficult decisions because they care too much and worry too much about what others think.
But, again, says the author, that’s only the very extreme.
Empathy is a great asset to have and can help make much better decisions.
The key, again, is not to deny your empathy, but to strike a balance.
The Difference Between Nice & People Pleasing
- Nice is: Positive, yet honest and straightforward /
People Pleaser is: Sweeping things under the rug to avoid making waves
- Nice is: Helpful
People Pleaser is: Subservient
- Nice is: Humble
People Pleaser is: Putting yourself down
When should you do favors for others?
The author says she had a simple rule to differentiate between nice and subservient: whenever she wanted to do someone a favor, either because she liked the person or because it was a career-strategic favor, it was OK to do it.
Too Many Women Believe It’s Either Nice Or Strong
Many women the author spoke to agreed that being nice helped them.
And yet, 76% of the 1.500 polled women said they felt caught in a double bind between the need of being and the need of “having to be tough to succeed”.
The whole book is dedicated to showing that one must not choose.
How to Answer When People Tell You That You’re Too Nice
The author proposes five ways to answer when someone tells you that you are too nice.
My favorite three are:
- Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness
- It’s better than the alternative… Who wants to deal with a jerk?
- I know, and it’s really served me well!
Being Nice Is Crucial Because We Only Want to Deal With Collaborative People
When we first meet someone, we evaluate them for their warmth and competence.
Warmth is even more important because, if they are not warm, we won’t even care about their competence.
I couldn’t agree more, and I make it a central tenet of the power strategies on this website.
Overcome the Successful/Ambitious Bitch Double Standard by Owning Your Niceness
Fran Hauser correctly points out that while men often become more likeable when they are successful, for women it’s the opposite.
The way out of the paradox is not by being less ambitious. And it’s not by being more aggressive, either.
You overcome the ambitious/bitch double standard the by owning your niceness and leveraging it in a way that complements your ambitions.
For more methods, check out:
Get Buy-In From Colleagues Before Going to The Boss
The author explains how she talked to her colleagues and got their input and their buy-in before going to her boss with her proposal.
When she went to her boss with her colleagues’ input and buy-in already lined up, it was easier to get the boss approval.
And with the boss approval, it was easier to get the project off the ground because she had already spoken to her peers first. Now her peers didn’t see the author as competition, but as a friendly ally.
Make them a part of the process. By making it clear that you are looking to collaborate instead of compete, you’ll earn their trust and their respect.
Include Your Team As the Stakeholders of Your Decisions
Fran Hauser says that when she had to make difficult work decisions, she also asked her team.
Some people told her it was a mistake and that she would lose power and authority and, of course, they told her that she was being “too nice”.
But the author had a different opinion. She says:
To me, my team consisted of stakeholders who were totally invested in my decisions. I was liable to them. So I always got their input while still making it clear that, in the end, the ultimate decision would rest with me.
I very much agree with her.
Before “Leaning In”, Decide Your Priorities
“Leaning in” is a common refrain these days to encouraging women to take all opportunities coming their way.
The author says that advice is good, but that it can become counterproductive.
I quote her:
(…) Telling women to step up, go for it, lean in, and say yes.
And while that’s certainly an improvement (…) it’s not always realistic. In fact, this type of extra intense encouragement sometimes makes women feel that we must say yes to every opportunity or else we’ll be missing out, or worse, become bad feminists. FOMO, anyone?
Instead of feeling forced to lean in on every opportunity that comes your way, think first about what’s important to you. And then prioritize that.
How to Find a Mentor
The author has very good advice on finding a mentor.
My favorite one though was this: make it clear that it’s mutually beneficial, and not parasitic.
You can read a lot on parasitic approaches here:
The second great advice is to make your mentor come to you. How? For example, you could organize a panel discussion and invite a few heavy hitters to speak.
Avoid “Pick Your Brain” Expression
Picking your brain frames the interaction as you taking from them, while giving back nothing.
‘Pick your brain’ is non-reciprocal and exploitative. People who hear this a lot tend to cringe. These people are super time constrained and need to see something in it for them. The offer of coffee does not make it more attractive. (…) Instead: make it reciprocal (‘feedback’/‘brainstorm’), make it QUICK and easy (a 20-min phone call, not in-person coffee), and at the close, ask how you can be helpful in return.
I could not agree more.
The power of empathy and nice:
When I got a yes from him (of course), my team was incredulous. But it wasn’t magic. Mitch was inclined to say yes to me because we already had a relationship (…) I connected with him on a personal level. This wasn’t a power move. As a so-called “nice girl,” being empathetic came naturally to me, and it simply worked to my advantage when it was time to negotiate or ask for something.
On the need of introducing change gradually:
The people who’ve been there longer than you and are invested in the company’s ways are likely to take real offense to any drastic changes.
Real Life Applications
- Nice is good, pushover is not: don’t confuse the two
- Probe deeper when people say you’re “too nice”: people tell you that you’re too nice, make sure to find out what they actually mean
- If it’s a superior who makes an inappropriate comment, ask him to have a private conversation. It’s better than shaming him in front of everyone and potentially make an enemy. Read the case study here
- In performance evaluations, ask employees what they think they can do better: most of the times people already know, an if they start that conversation, they are more ready to accept the cure
- Develop a go-to team for stratetic decision-making: when faced with stress, men to go in fight or flight, and women go to their closest relationships (tend and befriend). Best of all instead is to have a network of experts you can consult. And a network of intelligent friends you can talk to when you need to make difficult life decisions
- Being nice means collaborating… With other women?
In one passage the author says that the “nice girls collaborate and help other women”.
Yes, it’s a widespread concept, and it sounds good. It’s often embraced and presented as a virtue. But, in my opinion, that doesn’t necessarily make it right (read more in my Lean In review).
Thankfully, Francesca’s stance is always supportive, and never antagonistic.
- Effectively combines power and kindness: one of the very few books that seeks -and succeeds- in marrying power with kindness
- Advice that works for both work and life: Fran’s recipe not only helps women have a great career, but also to have a great life
“The Myth of The Nice Girl” is a wonderful book.
And it’s a wonderful book on many different levels.
While it helps readers with great career advice, it also teaches them how to be successful at life, while remaining overall good people.
The author’s successful career also underpins her authority and give her credibility, while her anecdotal stories tell me she has a good grasp of social and power dynamics.
I can only recommend this book..
And not only to women, but to everyone who wants to combine personal success at work and business with personal success in interpersonal relationships.