How to Be Nice (But Not Too Nice)

Your small business is a reflection of your personality. But you may have to step outside your comfort zone a bit in order to succeed as a boss.

After all, if you’re too nice — as in overly flexible, soft-hearted, agreeable, empathic, or generous — you may be letting other people take advantage of you, which ultimately could hurt your company. If you’re too rigid — as in frustratingly inflexible, hard-nosed, unreasonable, distrusting, or cheap — you may lose employees to competitors with more supportive company cultures.

The key is to find the fine line between rational and emotional responses and then maintain a balance that works for you, your business, and your employees. Here are a few guidelines for being nice — but not too nice — to your staff.

Set Clear, Fair, and Professional Policies

No one likes “rules without reasons,” but it’s equally unhelpful to say “yes” to every employee request. Treat employees with dignity and respect by providing them with stable, predictable company policies. Make decisions that show neither favoritism nor vindictiveness.

When faced with a policy decision, give priority to your company’s long-term needs but also consider those of your employees. For example, you might allow for telecommuting and flexible hours but limit the number of staffers who may be out of the office at once. Or let people take long weekends, but require they use vacation and not sick days on any Friday or Monday that they miss work without seeing a doctor.

When do you consider bending the rules? When an employee needs extra compassion, such as when a close family member dies.

Shun Decisions Aimed at Averting Arguments

Don’t say “yes” to employee requests — or set easygoing, flexible policies — simply to avoid conflicts. Instead, seek a balance between what’s sensible for the business and what’s fair to employees.

To this end, your policies and decisions should:

  • Accept and promote needed changes vs. kowtow to squeaky wheels;
  • Leave employees’ job responsibilities in their hands vs. shift them to yours;
  • Promote excellence and hold employees accountable vs. coddle underperformers;
  • Solve workplace problems vs. postpone finding solutions; and
  • Stonewall bullies and silence bigmouths vs. let them have their way.

Record the Impact of Your Policies and Decisions

Few of us can see the future, so it’s tough to predict exactly what impact on employees new policies will have. It’s helpful to keep a written log of your progress as a team, so that you can analyze where your decisions are leading the company.

Pay particular attention to such factors as:

  • Deadlines — If too many are missed, you’re probably too lenient in letting special needs and requests get in the way of important business activities and production.
  • Jokes — If your name is a punch line, you’re probably not setting policies and making decisions that are consistent, sensible, and business-oriented enough.
  • Exceptions — If you’re spending too much time making them or listening to employees trying to get you to make them, your policies and decisions probably aren’t clear, concise, and simple enough.
  • Friendship — If you’re treated more like a pal than a boss — employees disregard your privacy, debate your final decisions, or gossip during business hours — you’ve probably drifted over the line toward being too nice.

Adjust Your M.O. to Reach Your Goals

Use your log of decisions, policies, and their outcomes to evaluate where you stand on the “nice” spectrum. If you’re dissatisfied with either your business outcomes or your employee relationships, you can use this information as a guide to appropriately toughen or loosen your stance.

About Robert Moskowitz

Robert Moskowitz is an Emmy-winning author and editor with a knack for conveying complex and difficult topics in a friendly, down-to-earth style.
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2 comments
WilburJPhan
WilburJPhan

I second you @ Barbara!

Being too nice can not get you the places that you desire, after spending a considerable time in working world I realised that you cannot survive if you don't learn how to say "NO". Being too good can only get you a title of people pleaser..and nothing else... A very interesting topic indeed, looking forward to give my students this topic as their next project :)

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Barbara Rivera
Barbara Rivera

This was very useful information! Not even just for a boss but for employees themselves. We often forget that the person we are working for has a lot on their plates and have to walk a fine line between being a friend and being a boss, and that sometimes their decisions aren't to shun or hurt us personally but may be for the companies better good :) 

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  2. [...] As an employee, it’s easy to make a do’s and don’ts list of how to act as a boss based on your opinion of your leader. But, when it comes time for you to fill that role, finding the right balance between being nice and disciplined can be tricky. It’s important to gain respect among your employees without being too hardnosed; it’s equally important to show kindness without allowing others to take advantage. Author Robert Moskowitz shares his advice for finding the balance between rational and emotional responses: Source [...]