Whether they’re business owners or not, most women are great at making people feel comfortable. We nurture. We listen well. We interpret and respond to body language without even knowing we’re doing it.
Despite this, we’re forced to walk a fine line between being nice and being bitchy. Men—and occasionally other women—expect us to be cooperative and agreeable all the time. And in business, that’s not always realistic.
How Being Nice Backfired
A web designer once told me that he could complete an important project within a week. Then two weeks went by without a word. I e-mailed him asking him what happened, and he replied with a bunch of excuses. A family member was sick. Another was pregnant and expecting soon.
“Sorry to hear about the illness,” I wrote back. “But congratulations on the new addition! Take another week on the project; just be sure to complete it by the end of the month. Thanks.”
As the end of the month neared, he e-mailed me even more excuses. He’d been overworked. He’d had more family issues. He couldn’t have the project done for at least another week, and he was so sorry.
Did he really expect me to empathize? Probably—because that’s what I had primed him to expect in my first e-mail. But empathy was getting me nowhere. I sent him a curt response saying the project needed to be completed ASAP. He wrote that he would take care of it. And then he dragged things out another couple of weeks.
I wish I could say I learned my lesson, but it’s still hard to stop being darn nice. I guess I fear that the second I start making demands, I’ll be branded as a ball-breaker or a bitch. And my business has suffered because of it.
Stop Being Nice. Start Getting Real.
Debra Condren, author of the book “Ambition Is Not a Dirty Word: A Woman’s Guide to Earning Her Worth and Achieving Her Dreams,” offers this trick for taking back power:
“For one week, pay attention to the number of times you find yourself apologizing for anything at all. It may be explicitly, or it may be built into the way you phrase a statement, or the fact that you don’t say anything at all when you should be speaking up. …
At the end of the week, conduct a tally. You may be surprised at how quickly you were willing to place yourself in a contrite, weak position.”
If you’re like me, you should count the times you thank people as well. Only recently, I noticed I had the habit of thanking people, even when I was the one providing a service or favor. Have you noticed any men doing this lately? Doubt it.
Saying “thanks” isn’t just a friendly close. It puts you in a humble position, hinting that you owe the person something in return. When used incorrectly, the word can sap away your power. (It can also sound insincere.)
So the next time you feel an urge to be too nice, remember: you’re not being a ball-buster when you expect quality results in a timely manner. You’re not being nasty when you hold people accountable for their actions.
And if someone calls you a bitch, say thanks. Because if you’re like most women, it means you’re making progress.