There are a number of critical business skills that are all too often overlooked in school, training, and in practice. People know when others are good at their jobs, but often can not explain why. Each week (yes, I understand that this hasn’t been published in a few months) I will tackle one of these skills. This week: Being nice.

I once worked for a company where a particular manager struggled. No one understood why. Management loved her–she worked hard, kissed butt, and generally flattered those above her. However, she was extremely rude to the copy guy. And, as her job depended on getting massive amounts of documents reproduced in bulk, the copy guy was important to her success. She didn’t get it. And because she was rude to him, he back-burnered all of her documents which seriously impacted her performance. All she needed to do was to be nice and she would have been an unstoppable rock star.


Being nice is an important skill that many people do not pay enough attention to. In business, relationships define who gets ahead. Being nice is not being a push over or saying yes to every request that comes your way. Being nice is deliberately cultivating relationships with colleagues and co-workers. And being merely “pleasant” isn’t good enough. Being pleasant is a great first step and being actively rude to anyone is clearly not going to make you any friends. Being nice is a practiced skill that goes above saying “hi” to the people you pass in the hall.


At a minimum, being nice includes remembering peoples’ names and how to spell and pronounce them. Remembering key details about their personal life like the existence and names of a spouse and kids, favorite sports teams, birthdays, and other small details give you the impression of being someone who listens and cares. Understanding someone’s workload outside of your immediate interaction is another way to build professional relationships. I am more likely to squeeze a favor in for someone who doesn’t presume that they are my biggest priority.


As someone with a limited short-term memory, I rely on notes, emails to myself, and google docs to manage my business contacts. At meetings where there are people I don’t know, I draw a table and write down everyone’s names and roles during introductions. As a visual person, it helps me remember who said what when I can picture the person sitting at the table. I will also jot down any personal details that come out over the course of the meeting. For example notations like, “Pam, IT manager, Red Sox Fan” litter my notes. Before the next meeting that I know to check the box scores to chat about the last night’s Red Sox game before the meeting. Pam will feel a personal connection and that personal connection may help down the road.


Now, there is a fine line between deliberately cultivating relationships and being manipulative or swarmy. Do not be nice to people because you expect something back from them. Or only when you need something. Don’t bring up personal details out of context. Or push yourself on someone like a used car salesman. Be genuine and observant; not shallow and creepy. If you are concerned that you are pushing the line, practice being nice with your significant other or good friend. Ask them to tell you when you go too far.

58 Responses to Overlooked Business Skills: Being Nice

  1. JKA says:

    AGREE!!! People forget all the time to be nice to people who can help you get your job done and spend too much time kissing up to people. If the people you want to kiss up to but dont see how effective you are at your job and good at mobilizing people you are, there is more success in your future. The sign of a good employee is being someone others want to work with and for.

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