How Nice Is Too Nice for Women at Work?

Last Updated Mar 16, 2010 2:23 PM EDT

In defence of nice peopleFor women in particular, deciding how nice to be at work is a continuous balancing act. Be too nice and you risk being ineffective and gaining an unhelpful reputation as a pushover. Go too far in the other direction and, to put it bluntly, you may be viewed as a bitch.
Recruitment blog Fistful of Talent took on this issue recently, after blogger Fran Melmed had this exchange with a client:
During our last conversation, a female client who's also a friend remarked, "I know that being nice is important to you." It was as if I'd lost credibility and my bad-ass stripes. Instinctively, I rushed to verify my worthiness. "I'm not always nice."
"Why did I feel a pressing need to say I wasn't nice, as if nice were the 21st century equivalent of Hester Prynne's scarlet A?" asks Melmed. After pondering the niceness tightrope walked by high-achieving women and whether there are generational differences at play ("I'm 45 and my friend's in her 30s.... Is being nice something the younger women don't think about?") she goes on to offer a full-throated defense of nice:
Contrary to popular opinion, I don't think being nice gets in the way of doing well. I think being nice makes doing well possible. Even if we stick to the most basic definition of nice--being pleasant--I'd still argue that it's what we want and need in companies and the world at large. Nice involves no assholes. Nice saves money. Nice connects with employees, customers, and peers. And nice is good for the economy.
Do you agree that niceness is an under-rated quality at the office? And do younger women struggle less with mixing niceness and toughness?

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(Image of nice people sign by goftheref, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.