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The secret to success: Be nice

COMMENTARY The other night I was watching a Ron White comedy special called "You can't fix stupid." The guy's hilarious. And, in addition to being right, he's also a jerk.

I don't mean that in a bad way; I've always sort of admired that in people. After all, I'm a pretty big jerk myself. But recently, through a strange course of events, I've come to see the error in my ways. I've come to realize that "You can't beat nice."

That's right. The whole "nice guys finish last" thing is dead wrong. Organizations are far more effective when people are nice to each other. Nice wins.

Now, anyone who knows me has got to be cracking up right about now because, like I said, I'm not a very nice person. But lately, I've been advising some friends on their career strategy. One woman, a friend of my wife's, is so smart, open, and downright nice, I don't think she has a clue what a pleasure she is to work with. I'd do anything for her. That's just how nice she is.

Mind you, I've helped loads of friends and associates get jobs, and while I'm sure they're appreciative, some of them just aren't that nice about it. Years ago I hooked up one guy with a company I used to work for that was looking for a CEO. He got the job, the company went public, and he made a bundle. I don't think he ever thanked me.

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But my wife's friend is so not like that. In fact, she's been at one company for so long that she really wasn't up on how competitive the job market has become and how sophisticated and cut-throat job seekers are these days. And it occurred to me that, once she gets to a live human being, she's got a real competitive advantage. As I told her, "Just be yourself, be genuine, be nice, and people will respond in kind. Things will work out fine for you."

How do I know that if I'm such a jerk? Well, when I want something, I can be really, really nice. And it comes across as genuine because I genuinely really, really want that thing and, if I have to be nice to get it, then I'll be as nice as I have to be. And you know what? Nine times out of ten, it works. That's because people are suckers for nice. Here's why:

First of all, it's human nature. I mean, if somebody's staring you right in the face, they really need your help, and they seem really nice, you'd have to be some kind of antisocial creep not to help them. And while email and phones aren't quite as personal, again, once you've made some sort of personal appeal or connection and you're nice and transparent about it, most people will help if they can.

Then, of course, there are those all-important Karma points. A lot of people really believe in that sort of thing, even if it is in more of a superstitious way than anything. So they'll help a nice person just to cover their bases, just in case. That's especially true of someone who's been more or less a jerk their whole lives, has seen the light, and is desperately trying to redeem himself -- again, just in case. That's right; it does explain why a lifelong jerk is helping all these people. Now you're catching on.

Lastly, people have a natural tendency to personalize everything, especially things with emotional content. We just imagine ourselves in the other person's position, the shoe being on the other foot, as it were, and we react the way we'd want them to react to us. Deep down, that's actually an egocentric or selfish tendency, but in this case, it actually comes across as a nice gesture. Whatever works, right?

The moral of the story is both simple and powerful. I don't care if you're an administrative assistant or a CEO, an engineer or a salesperson, in HR or in IT. No man or woman is an island. Organizations are matrices of teams and stakeholders. And they're far more effective at getting things done when people help each other and are nice to each other.

Not only that, but you always have a better chance of getting what you want if you're nice. And you''ll also rack up so many Karma points that you won't have to redeem yourself later. Yes, I know what you're thinking. "How about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates? They weren't nice." That's true. But you're not them. And neither am I. So take it from me. Be nice. It'll pay off.

Picture courtesy of Flickr user stevendepolo

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