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This media titan says being nice at work can be one of your greatest advantages

Nice boys may finish last but nice girls don’t get the corner office apparently. But why does nice have to be so closely linked with weakness?

This is something Fran Hauser, who has held senior positions at some of the world’s largest digital media businesses, including Time Inc.’s PEOPLE, InStyle and Entertainment Weekly as well as Moviefone and AOL and an angel investor who largely invests in female founders, has dealt with her whole career as a “nice” girl.

As a mentor to many women, a question she is constantly asked is how can you be so nice and successful. After writing an article for Forbes in 2016 titled Nice Women Finish First When They Ask The Right Questions and getting an overwhelming amount of responses Hauser just wrote her first book to help answer more questions on this clearly very important conundrum.

The book is called The Myth of the Nice Girl and is all about proving that in fact nice girls do get the corner office and there are actionable steps and practices to do it. “If you’re nice at work, you’re a pushover. That’s the myth I want to change,” Hauser told Ladders.

In part of her research for this book, she surveyed over 1,500 working women and the majority felt that the term “nice” was code for someone who is bland, ineffectual, and weak. But she defines the word nice as someone who is fair, generous, confident, and collaborative.

Hauser admits that it took her some time to come around to that definition, especially in the beginning of her career. “There’s a middle ground and it takes time to settle in when you are first starting out in your career,” she said. Hauser writes that you really have to view niceness as your capital.

She writes in the book, “The answer, I’ve learned, is to own your niceness and leverage it in a way that complements your ambition. Your authentic kindness is already inside of you. By tapping into it and using it intentionally, you’ll earn people’s trust, and that will allow your ambition and niceness to become equally valuable assets.”

Here are three career situations when you should use niceness to your advantage.

Speaking up at meetings

This is something many people struggle with. “It was really hard for me speaking at meetings when I first started. It was hard to find my voice. It can be difficult to determine when it is appropriate for me to speak up,” she told Ladders.

She suggests thinking about what you would like to contribute before you even go to the meeting: “Try a stock phrase you can use to insert yourself into a conversation. If you have something like your go to like, ‘I love that perspective.’ ”

Just starting to speak with something like that will help you get better at it. Hauser also suggests having an accountability buddy that gives you a little extra support to speak, like a little reminder sign or nudge: “If you don’t have an issue [with speaking] but you see someone else does encourage them with something like, ‘Sarah and we were talking about this the other day. Do you want to share your insight?’ ”

Giving feedback

When giving feedback, even if it is negative, it doesn’t have to always be a negative dialogue, Hauser said. It’s all about the way you start the conversation.

“If they feel threatened it won’t be a productive conversation,” she said. She suggests saying that you want to see this person win. If you also simply say, “What do you think could have done differently?” versus “What could have been done differently?” totally changes the tone.

The first one puts them on the offensive but the second one brings them around to assessing what they need to work on. They end up bringing it up themselves. “It’s all about how you frame it. This is a perfect example of combining kindness and strength,” Hauser told Ladders.

On saying no

This is something both men and women struggle with. Saying no to someone can be so hard but if you don’t it can be damaging to your overall productivity and career. Hauser writes a lot about how to make a “kind no” which goes something like:

  • I would love to help, but right now I’m focusing on … “
  • I wish I could help, but I’m not sure I’m the right person for this. You need someone who focuses on … “
  • I feel really comfortable doing the ‘X’ part. I think it would be so much more efficient for someone who’s an expert in ‘Y’ to handle that.”

It’s all about identifying your priorities and delegating responsibilities. She encourages women to get mentors early in their careers to help them navigate situations like this. “I want women to think about if they are too much of a people pleaser because that’s an insecurity and then people walk all over you. “It’s finding that balance of being nice and having a great energy, but also communicating in a firm direct way,” she told Ladders.

The book is The Myth of the Nice Girl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Fran Hauser available April 17, 2018.

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