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Mindset Series: Handling the "you are too nice" comment

Updated: Feb 6, 2022

A few years ago , I was chatting with a few ex-colleagues when one of them said "... and so he (someone else) lost his cool and told them that he was not going to accomodate it .. blah..blah.. blah (insert a huge paragraph) .. can never imagine you doing that Gayathri , you are too nice".

HOLD YOUR HORSES! What did you just say????!!! I saw RED and internally my mind started reeling with all sorts of thoughts "Am I genuinely being too soft when I shouldn't be, OMG , is this going to affect my future growth - do people see me as someone w/o leadership material because of this perception??? "

In the business world , you hear about strong leaders like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who seem to reinforce the idea "being nice won't take you places"

Bill Gates is notoriously known for asking very pointed questions and putting people in an uncomfortable spot during reviews and for his epic email rants

In my BillG review meeting, the whole reporting hierarchy was there, along with their cousins, sisters, and aunts, and a person who came along from my team whose whole job during the meeting was to keep an accurate count of how many times Bill said the F word. The lower the f***-count, the better.

So what did all this mean for me? Should I change this?

Has this ever happened to you before? Someone at work or home says you are being " nice" ... read on to see how I handled this.

1) Nice is part of my identity and I need to embrace it: People usually behave in a way consistent with their values and identity . You see, the reason I didn't lose my cool during meetings when things didn't go my way is because I realized being collaborative and drama free is part of my identity. I pride myself on being (or thinking I am :P) emotionally aware and when things get heated I usually try to see the other persons point of view and try to take my "feelings/ ego" out of the equation and see how I can solve it for them objectively. When I don't behave in a way consistent with my identity it causes anxiety and stress. Once I embraced this it took the pressure out of "behaving differently just to fit a mold " and helped me carve my own path.

2)Reframe the narrative in my own mind and with others I recently had a co-worker tell me they liked how unflappable I was. Hearing how my behavior was perceived by others left a deep impression on me. I realized that I was looking at this a bit wrong - by not reacting strongly to situations and conversations ; by not losing my calm - I wasn't really being weak / 'nice' - I was being unflappable. How amazing is that ! Being able to turn around and address a situation with poise and respect instead of coming in with guns blazing and showing what a powerful position you are in - refreshing , right?. So I think the next time someone says "Oh, you are nice" - am going to see less red and react more with "Thanks! I try to not lose my calm and am unflappable".

3) You are able to build strong relationships when you are 'nice' I loved this interview with Sundar Pichai - see excerpt below - it really resonated on two fronts - Being known as the person who will listen to your ideas and conversation without cutting you off and being known as someone who can work well with all sorts of stakeholders (including cranky ones;)) is a huge asset. Embrace it and don't be ashamed of it. Treat others like you want to be treated yourself - with respect and critical dialogue & feedback devoid of hubris and one up manship.

Interviewer ".. You are known as the nicest guy in Silicon Valley.. even yesterday I heard "Sundar Pichai is a nice guy" - has that bothered you ?
Sundar : I've always felt that what we are doing is not a zero-sum game. The valley is a small world as you move across different companies etc and I always take the long term view. I also want to have fun when I come into work everyday ..

Summary: OK, This probably applies to any comment someone makes about your way of working . If any comment gives you pause -- All you need to do is the following:

Think long and hard about whether it is a) your preferred mode of operation b) If that is a good or bad thing and what the pros and cons are. If it is something you genuinely want to change - go ahead , fix it! If it's something you want to continue -- then reframe the narrative for how that behavior helps you and reinforce it with yourself and others. Be the change you want to see in the world :)

That's it for today's post folks. Would love your thoughts and feedback on how you addressed this problem.

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