Dec 5, 2012

The Next Breakthrough Business Idea: BE NICE

A colleague was telling me about an epic deal he was working on, involving dozens of high-powered lawyers and bankers.

“It was incredibly intense,” he said. “We had a huge conference area set up like a war room, with each party’s representatives lined up on either side of the table. For five days, we worked around the clock negotiating to close the deal.”

“Ugh,” I groaned, imagining the excessive hot air with all those $600-per-hour egos clogging up the room.

He then cautiously glanced around the room, leaned forward, and lowered his voice as if he was about to reveal some unfathomable mystery: “You won’t believe this,” he started, letting the words carefully slip out of only one side of his mouth, “but it was one of the nicest, most pleasant negotiations I have ever experienced.” He sat back in his chair to survey the shock value of his statement. 

Contract negotiations are typically a complex and unpleasant process, even if both parties are keen on closing. But really—nice? Pleasant? Perhaps he was mistakenly confusing this meeting with his daughter's recent girls scout gathering.

"Seriously," he continued, seeing my skepticism. “The two lead negotiators on each side set a very polite tone, right from the start. Everyone else just went along with it.”

And guess what? They got the deal done in record time. Rather than pounding fists on the table and storming out the room upon reaching an impasse, these dealmakers simply stated their concerns in an amiable tone of voice, then calmly asked the other side if they could be accommodated in some way. The whole process was viewed as a reasonable set of compromises, where everyone fully appreciated the best interests of both parties.

Perhaps these considerate negotiators thought it was World Kindness Day and decided to ramp up the niceness in a place where it had never seen the light of day. I snickered to myself, imagining the hard-core investment bankers in their hand-tailored suits outdoing each other with outrageous manners. It reminded me of the joke about the overly-polite woman who was pregnant with twins but mysteriously never gave birth. After she finally died, still in a pregnant state, the curious doctors opened her up to find two little guys in there saying, “After you!” “Oh, no, kind sir. After you!”

It’s not just in deal-making that we’re accustomed to negative treatment of people. I don’t know if it’s the pressure of performance, or just the puffing up of power, but a sharp-tongued, irritable and disrespectful tone can pass for acceptable in far too many workplace office settings these days. Just the fact that my friend thought being kind in a business setting was such an erroneous event—or, that someone had to dream up a day to focus on kindness—only serves to highlight how blatantly un-courteous and downright mean the workplace environment can be much of the time, if not held in check.

Research shows that negative interactions can have a tremendously destructive and long-lasting impact on people at work, triggering negative thoughts and feelings that can wipe out months of performance potential. The irony is, as any dunderhead knows, you will get much more out of people when they feel supported and affirmed in their jobs, as opposed to feeling bullied and pushed around. Business experts refer to this type of insightful management style as using Emotional Intelligence, but I have another, far more accessible name for it: “Being nice.”

Trust me, leaders, there are plenty of ways to get business results without resorting to nasty, mean and negative behavior. Check yourself:

You can be demanding without being destructive.

You can create accountability without making people feel like idiots.

You can expect high standards without sabotaging dignity.

Don't underestimate the influence you can have on a person, a team, an entire organization, to set the tone, to counter the rising tide of negativity.

Imagine the lives you could save.

Post by J.B. Wood.

 Image by Leonard Matthew. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

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