How to Get a Job, Part 3: Be a Nice Person (or at least act like one)

We’re back today with the shortest and sweetest of the four tips on how to get and keep a job: Be nice. Or at least act like you are.

This has almost nothing to do with your ability to do the actual work you’re hired to do, but it has everything to do with people actually wanting you to be in the same room with them day after day, week after week, and so on. And you can’t underestimate the importance of that.

Now, I know that “be nice” is pretty general advice, and we all know people who aren’t very nice at all who actually THINK that they’re very nice people. So let me give you some clear and easy examples of clear do’s and don’ts of acting like a nice person in the workplace.

Alice Cooper sang "No More Mr. Nice Guy" -- and even HE is a really nice guy in real life.
  • If someone appears to be distraught, ask them if they’re OK or if they need anything. (And if you’re attracted to them, don’t use it as an opportunity to ask them out. You can do that later.)
  • Ask people how their weekend was, and listen to what they say. Try to appear interested, even if you’re really not (Appearing interested in what other people are saying is a very helpful skill in all areas of life. It can make or break you.).
  • If someone’s cleary struggling with a project, assignment, deadline, etc. — ask if you can help. Warning: They may say yes, which will obligate you to follow through and actually help. But even if you can’t help, it’s cool of you to ask. Like I said in yesterday’s column about showing drive and desire at work, the mere act of offering to help goes a long way in making people like you at work.
  • Don’t ignore people or treat them like they aren’t there just because you don’t work with them directly. Obviously this is more likely at bigger companies, but even at smaller workplaces, sometimes coworkers haven’t spoken a word to each other in months just because their day-to-day work paths don’t cross. Just greet people and say hello them whenever you pass by. Little things like that can someday make a big difference (it’s also really good for expanding your social circle, but that’s another topic altogether).
  • Resist the urge to gossip about your coworkers. I know, I know — sometimes it’s REALLY hard, because — well, some people are just ripe for it. But you never know when the wrong person is going to walk into the room and catch part of your conversation, whether it’s the person you’re gossiping about or one of their friends. If you must gossip, do it at home, safely removed from the workplace.

  • Don’t sleep with half the office. And I’m talking to both sexes here. Not that there’s anything wrong with consenting adults sleeping with each other, because that’s actually one of the things that makes life bearable. But you know how these things go: sleeping with someone is the number-one cause of pervasive and prolonged interpersonal weirdness, and if you get a handful of pervasive, prolonged, uncomfortably weird personal relationships going at work, then all of a sudden it sucks to be there at all.  (Re-reading this tip, I admit that it’s a stretch to categorize it under “be a nice person,” but it’s good advice nonetheless so I’m including it.)
  • In all instances, try to see your coworkers as human beings and not just “coworkers” or “fellow drones” or “things with arms and legs that you see every day at work.” They’ll like you better and you’ll like them better, and it’ll make your overall experience at work much less soul-crushing. And if you want to look at it from a pragmatic standpoint, understand the simple human truth that people like other people being nice to them, and the very quality of being “nice” is insurance against a lot of other things. There are loads and loads of utterly incompetent, silly, annoying and none-too-bright people who still manage to keep their jobs because they’re nice, and hurting the feelings of a nice person is something most of us are wired not to enjoy.

Even if you’re really, really good at your job — one of the best, even — your job isn’t 100% secure if you treat other people poorly. Why not? Well, a couple reasons:

1) If you treat other people poorly, then you’ll slowly alienate the people around you. That’s bad. In the future or even the present, you may need their support and cooperation on projects that determine your continued success. If you’re an asshole to them, they won’t want to support or cooperate with you. This will, over time, make you less successful.

And it’s one thing to tolerate a successful jerk who makes the company a lot of money, but an unsuccessful jerk is a prime candidate for a pink slip.

2) If you’re a jerk to the people you work with, you should remember that some of those people will be promoted one day, and may be your superior. When they are, they’ll remember what a jerk you were. You know what they say about revenge. (They say lots of things, I guess — choose the one you like best).

That’s all for today — got a noon meeting with the AAF-Black Hills Board of Directors. And thanks to those of you who sent my son birthday well-wishes — it was a good party with family, friends, and more Star Wars merchandise than I know where to store.

11 thoughts on “How to Get a Job, Part 3: Be a Nice Person (or at least act like one)”

  1. Rashid Ellis

    Wow straight forward; to the point. Nice people do uplift the working environment. Especially if they are energetic, but not too talkative. A working person makes others work harder too. …And it’s harder to fire a nice guy. Sometimes the nice guy can “linger” for years.

  2. simplygorgeous

    Great tips! Specially the one about sleeping… I am pretty good at staying friends and keeping personal and pofessional me in separate pockets. But the truth it does complicate relationships and soures the atmosphere.

    I have a question on maintaing being nice. I am volunteering in church by leading one of it’s busiest departments. Every Saturday after the worship I have ques of people waiting to talk to me. It is so upsetting seeing people who you need to see leaving, while listening to and appearing interested to those who are not “the current priority”. Any ideas?

  3. Words to live by. Not just at work, but in all aspects of daily life. You draw more bees with honey!

  4. Breanne Bigham

    I have learned that being nice in the workplace, even if you are having a bad day, is benificial (not only to you, but the the company as a whole.) The way that it may benifit you is that of promotions, bonuses, an extra day off, etc… and the way it benifits the companyy as a whole is that when you portray yourself as a nice person and show that you care about the people you are working with, it helps to bring more customers in, which in turn brings in more money for the company to spend on items they may need for their office building or medical supplies if working for a doctors office. When you are nice and show that you are or can be a harder worker, you gain respect from those around you.

  5. Being nice is very important in life, but I believe that when it comes to getting a job it takes even more that being nice. It takes determination and hardwork to get a good position that will benifit you in the most mannerful ways. Of course being nice is important because in order to attracked people we have to be an outgoing person. Eventhough being too nice is sometimes bad because they will take advantage of you. Some more words; just be yourself. Show your determination and hardwork.

  6. Good advice. However, I have seen cases where the so called nice person is the first to go because they lost an AIDS consent form. Sometimes the ruthless are the ones who manage to stay around, no matter how many mistakes they make and how much they tell the boss off. Go figure.

  7. I am thinking that it is not so much about being nice as being practical. In the fire dept (I am a volunteer) and in emergency services, we are taught to practice triage. That means you have to assess who needs the most critical attention and you have make some very difficult decisions.

    Does anyone remember the phrase about being “cruel to be kind”? Some people will take up a lot of time with things not critical. They will distract you and then have the nerve to criticize you for ineptitude or incompetence. There are a lot of ways to stop someone from “hogging the spotlight” to get to the one who really needs to be heard. I had a teacher point out to my art class that sometimes, it is not practical to wait for him to come to one’s work in a normal progression to have him answer a question. He encouraged us to consider interrupting a conversation to allow him to be aware of something going on that might need faster attention than he would otherwise have realized. That way, he would then be able to CHOOSE how to address the needs of the class as a whole. Maybe the fact that one person spoke up would mean someone else knew how to offer assistance to free someone else up–or maybe he solved the problem by having a group discussion that involved everyone stuck on the same point.

    Always a good practice is to remain conscious to your surroundings and environment to make better decisions as to how to prioritize your time. A good leader demonstrates their abilities by not “fighting crisis after crisis” but rather by anticipating how well they engage the cooperative spirit of those available. It is good to be able to develop ways of telling people how to respect your need to prioritize. They will eventually adjust to responding to that very practical approach to developing good sound business skills. To me, everything is based on one’s ability to sell a concept–either you sell otherwise on what you need to convey (in which case you get PAID–or they sell you on what they choose to convey (in which case you might stay broke). Keep in mind what your long range goals are and then assess how to determine the order of priorities. If your goals are good ones, it should become easy to sell your needs, because you keep showing people how everyone benefits.

    I hope I am making sense without belabouring the point. If these people are relying on you to get things done, they will appreciate that you cannot help them if you are distracted with things that maybe could have been handled differently. In short, you want to show others that you are worth more to them if your time is respected. Just keep finding ways to show people that your decisions are really always about giving better support to them! That is a NICE approach. If that doesn’t work, then the question becomes is that really the job to which you wish to devote your time?

    This discussion is based upon developing strategies to get jobs or to further your career goals, right? Then you will want to be able to convey to a prospective employer a plethora of ways in which you feel confident to use this ability as a transferable skill.

  8. I am so happy and excited I have seen this. I have had this bothering my mind a lot and its almost causing me to feel depressed- being nice, relating with people even when you are not working with them directly. I find difficult to relate with people who do not have something to do with me. Now many people probably look at me as being unfriendly, and its really affecting my relationship. I meet these people every week, and yet we seldom speak or communicate with each other. I need some counsel. Thanks

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