The dog-eat-dog environment of today’s business world is anything but nice. Many entrepreneurs and corporate leaders seem to have taken the “Nice guys finish last” cliché as gospel. That’s not only alarming, it’s also completely false. If networking is key to success, then being nice is required. If customer service is important, then being nice is vital. If employee engagement is desired in your company, then being nice is paramount. Yet, niceness in the business world is becoming the exception rather than the rule. Why?
Competition is not war and beating the competition does not require that you ruin anyone. Yet so much of business is rooted in strategic thinking that plays out in war-like campaigns. Even worse, when you are in a dispute with someone, the lawsuits and counter-claims often escalate to the point that nobody wins except the lawyers. What happened to respecting your adversary and being nice, and to viewing the competition as a motivating factor in improving your own offerings? Does being successful in business mean everyone has to fear you? Or dread being around you?
Is there any hope of changing the tone of the free market into something more civil?
Kerry Patterson, co-founder of VitalSmarts and co-author of Crucial Conversations (a company and book that are all about empowering people to make better interpersonal choices), has just published a magnificent children’s book titled It’s Never Too Late To Be Nice. When I saw the title, I thought, “This book should be required reading for all future employees, managers, leaders and entrepreneurs—before they turn five-years-old.” (Technically, some nice person might need to read it to them.) But after I read it, my thinking changed. Everyone should read it regardless of age. I’d especially like to see community, religious and world leaders read a book about being nice. The Middle East (and entire planet) might be a lot different today if those in power had been taught, and had practiced this powerful message from their childhood.
The age of five is a tiny dot in my rear-view mirror, but I enjoyed reading this children’s book immensely. It is good to be reminded of the simplest and often most valuable lessons as we get older. Making the effort to be nice, especially when the circumstances we’re facing are difficult, can make a huge difference to those around us and go a long way in de-escalating conflict. The author is right about one thing: It really is never too late to be nice.
Larry Myler is an adjunct professor in the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at BYU.