June 24, 2018

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Has Your Workplace Gone Too Far on the “Nice Scale”?

Dear Joan:

“My workplace is nice to a fault,” a client told me recently. “People just won’t tell you if they aren’t happy, or if you’re doing something wrong.” You may be rolling your eyes and groaning, “Give me a break! I wish I had a boss who was too nice.” But being nice can really be nasty. Consider your own workplace and evaluate whether it has gone too far on the Nice Scale.

  • Your manager doesn’t level with employees about their performance and rates everyone above expectations. When performance review time rolls around, they get general comments with few specifics. When you ask what you could work on, he says, “Oh, you’re just fine the way you are. Keep up the good work.”

This is a real de-motivator for excellent, high potential employees. They want to be challenged and they want to hear the truth about what they did well, so they can continue to excel. If they are off track, they want to know about it, so they can do a course correction before it’s too late.

If the whole culture is too nice, someone who isn’t a good performer is lulled into thinking everything is just fine, even though the rest of the team knows he’s a big problem. Managers will tend to play “pass the turkey” and the person just gets moved off into a new area, instead of telling the employee the truth and helping the person with a plan to improve

If an achievement-oriented manager takes over, she has the unfortunate job of having to deal with some angry employees when they are told their performance needs work. It can get even worse if the culture doesn’t support the new manager’s higher expectation-- making her look too demanding—like she has the problem. The result is a low performing organization that will never reach its potential.

  • There is pressure to be a “team player,” and if you disagree or raise a contrary view, you are seen as a troublemaker. Disagreement has to be worded so carefully, it takes an act of courage to question the group’s direction. Because the team has seen what happens to those who challenge the conventional wisdom, they quickly learn to keep their ideas to themselves.

This scenario squelches creative thinking and drives new ideas underground. Sometimes the devil’s advocate can be the most valuable member of the team—challenging them to be practical, questioning conventional wisdom, poking the group to move beyond “group think.” If all the contrarians and mavericks are dinged for not being team players—in spite of their respectful, honest questions and challenges-- the organization runs the risk of launching initiatives that are filled with problems and products that will be inferior to the competition.

Creative thinkers and problem-solvers won’t stay in an organization like this. Or, they will stay and resent the constraints placed on their desire to make things better. Sometimes they turn into “problem employees,” or try to go underground and become informal leaders of the disgruntled and unhappy employees.

  • The manager or co-workers don’t want to hurt feelings by confronting problems or giving direct feedback, so instead, they talk with other peers or co-workers about their failings. This quickly sends the signal that in order to stay on the good side of the boss, or the peer group, you need to play the kiss up game—talking about others behind their backs, so you can stay on the good side of those in power.

It’s amazing how many workplaces fall into this junior high school mentality. Of course, when someone else is badmouthed, you have to wonder what the rest of them are saying about you. It destroys trust and sets up an unhealthy environment that creates paranoia and political maneuvering.

How is your workplace? Does it encourage healthy debate, as long as it’s respectful of other’s ideas and opinions? Do you tell employees the truth and help them develop a performance plan if they are off track? Do you talk to someone face-to-face if they need to hear some feedback from you?

Being “too nice” doesn’t help anyone. Do your part to build a responsible, respectful, and trusting environment. And usually the straight line to that is by speaking the truth—sometimes even if it hurts.

Confronting poor performance, or difficult behaviors, is difficult. Joan Lloyd’s How to Coach & Give Feedback learning system is a step-by-step approach to giving feedback to your employees, your coworkers, or even your boss. Actually reduces defensiveness and encourages open communication. Now available in CD!

-Joan Lloyd

Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership training, conflict resolution between teams or individuals, internal consulting skills training for HR professionals and retreat facilitation. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce.
Joan Lloyd has earned her C.S.P. (certified speaking professional) designation from the National Speakers Association and speaks to corporate audiences, as well as trade & professional associations across the country. Reach her at (800) 348-1944,, or
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