Being Nice is Not Enough

red leaf

Have you ever met someone who seems to care, who is basically a "nice person," but who doesn't seem to "get you"?

That's how it went with the new president, in a merger situation discussed by Henry Cloud, in his book Integrity. The president was nice. He had good ideas and good intentions, but he didn't "get" people and it eventually cost him his ability to work with the Team.

Here are a few things the president said to various people's questions, in a meeting designed to build trust as the merger began...

"Well, that's not going to be a problem."

"You won't have to worry about that at all."

"That won't get in the way."

"That will work out okay. I think when people get the big picture of what is happening here, they will be happy..."

Essentially, without meaning to, the president invalidated people's experiences. He moved quickly to try to make people feel better, without giving them a chance to really be heard. Says Cloud, "You could feel the air kind of going out of the room." He concludes, "...although [the president] had their attention through his position, he did not have their hearts."

What happens when we don't gain people's hearts?

They become discouraged and unplug. They disconnect, give up, find another place to be heard.

Reading this chapter, I thought of the many times I've said to my kids, "Don't worry about it honey. It's going to be fine." The truth is that everything is not going to be fine if this is how we deal with people's complaints, worries, and hurts. Kids detach. Friends walk away. Employees quit.

Being nice is not enough.

Cloud shares a simple formula for "getting" people (though it may not always be simple in practice! :) ...

They talk >
you experience them >
you share what you've heard and experienced about their experience >
then they experience you as having heard them; they know you are "with" them

None of this may change how you help solve the issue. Or it may totally change how you help solve the issue. Or maybe you'll find that the solution isn't your purview anyway.

The point is connection. And in the end, that's the nicest thing you can do.

Leaf and Branch photo by J Barkat. Used with appreciation. :)

Integrity, opening post

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Blogger Jerry said...

I'll chew on that. With the many people that are in our house that is important to reciece and reiterate their voice even if solution is out of sight. I love run on sentences don't you? :)

8:08 AM  
Blogger Maureen said...

Variations of this apply in so many areas of life. In couples counseling, what you've described is termed the imago dialogue. I used it more than once in the management job I held before retiring, and I can vouch that it works, even though it can "feel" a bit unnatural in the beginning. It really is about listening and hearing before acting.

8:36 AM  
Blogger David Rupert said...

I have had nice managers who were totally inadequate as leaders.

I think I'm a nice manager -- but tough and effective.

Nice is good, but not if it faciliates or empowers bad behavior

1:20 PM  
Blogger Kathleen Overby said...

It takes so much practice NOT to placate or fix, but listen. Ugh. Important message Laura.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous LivewithFlair said...

I love this. I've been thinking all day about my teaching philosophy and the concept of "belongingness." This is so related! Belongingness ranks 3rd in the hierarchy of needs! http://livewithflair.blogspot.com/2010/11/belongingness.html

2:49 PM  
Blogger Deidra said...

I think about when my children would come to me with fears or worries that I knew I just could not fix and I would say, "It'll all be fine." I was trying to convince myself, and that phrase was a half-hearted prayer wish that I was right.

Last night I watched a movie designed to make me cry. A man's daughter was gravely ill and he worried aloud to a friend that he would lose her. His friend answered, "You've been dealt a bad hand," and then they sat in silence. It was comforting, because it was true, and the truth was that the friend knew there was no way he could fix it. He "got it."

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Lyla Lindquist said...

I'm doing a lot of work right now for a company (that used to employ me) who got itself in a bind because when the workload started to spin out of control, the manager kept telling his people it would be okay, don't worry about it, you'll be fine.

One by one, and two by two, folks have left because months on end of seventy hour work weeks is doing them in. It hasn't been okay, and they haven't been convinced.

Despite the fact that it's working out swimmingly for my fledgling little company, I feel for my former colleagues. I have to wonder if things would have been different had the leader been able to provide support and reassurance from a position of listening and understanding instead of pretending and wishing.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Solveig said...

This is interesting. Something to think about.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Louise said...

So true. We can so get into the habit of trying to comfort or reassure people that we lose sight of several realities.
Firstly as you say, sometimes people need to be heard more than they need a solution. Secondly in a fallen world sometimes things simply will not be ok and giving false though well-intentioned hope just makes it harder to cope. Thirdly even if things do turn out we in our finiteness cannot always know that in advance.
Connectedness is much more relational and helpful than quick and sometimes unrealistic assurances.

4:07 AM  
Blogger Marcus Goodyear said...

Yes! And connection happens through positive encouragement. In the book I'm reading (The Man Who Lied to His Computer), sociologists are finding that negative people are universally despised (even if their criticism is completely valid) and positive people are universally liked (even if their encouragement is mere flattery).

This is why I have a new mission in life to be a "nicehole."

9:20 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Thanks, All, for your comments! :)

Marcus, yours especially raises so many questions. Where is the line between being negative and being positive? How much can a person mention things that bother him/her before crossing the line? Are there ways to say negative things that feel somehow positive? Should we say only positive things, in order to be liked?

Okay, that was a lot of questions. You got me thinking!

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Sue Miley said...

I love Dr. Cloud's book Integrity. I went to California
last week to hear him speak. I think the title speaks volumes. A leader's role isn't to be liked or disliked as a goal in itself. We just need to have integrity and let our "yes be yes and our no be no". I have found that when I communicate consistently, hopefully a mixture of positive and negative based on truth, it is taken for what it is. When we are full of fluff it is insincere. When we have no substance behind our words, it is meaningless. If we are one sided and harsh, it diminishes our message. Speaking the truth with love, good or bad, will ring true if it is true.

4:33 PM  

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