4 Reasons Mr. Nice Guy Is Sabotaging You at Work

Maybe you were passed over for partnership. Maybe you lost that promotion you thought you had in the bag. Or maybe you simply feel so stretched that you have no time for yourself. The truth is being too nice can wreak havoc on your career aspirations. Even many top executives struggle with confrontation and simply saying “no” to colleagues.

Stemming from a desire to receive validation and praise, both men and women struggle with being too nice at work. There is nothing inherently wrong with kindness and going out of our way to help others – we all should when we can. But when our “niceness” ultimately breeds feelings of exploitation, resentment and burnout, it is time to self-assess and make a change. You don’t want to look back five years from now wondering what happened.

If you are not certain whether you are plagued with the disease to please, see if you recognize yourself in any of the below behaviors:

  • You need to be liked by everyone.Though having good interpersonal relationships is important, people pleasers tend to go overboard being nice for fear of being lonely when they stop pleasing. Choosing friendship over accountability will almost always backfire, as critical imperatives may slide, causing your direct reports to lose respect for your authority. To give you a real case scenario of how trust and respect are at stake, one of our clients was a self-proclaimed “high-five CEO” who needed to be liked by all his employees. He, therefore, avoided conflict, and his direct reports could not read his true feelings toward them. The result? A lack of trust and respect from his team and, ironically, a general dislike toward him. Remember, leadership is not a popularity contest. Be the leader who helps your employees to learn, develop and grow--every day—and your employees' respect will grow more than it ever could have out of friendship. As a result, your fear of confrontation will vanish as you naturally command a statue deserved by your transparency and actions.
  • Your excuse about why you aren’t pursuing your desires is that you are helping others first. Though it is wonderful to be of service to others, it can reach a point at which doing so becomes a vice. Known as the Martyr Complex, some crave the feeling of being a martyr mostly for their own benefit, thus preventing personal growth and truly fulfilling pursuits. Examine your beliefs. Are you trying to live up to an impossible standard? If you find yourself frequently saying, “I should,” “I believe I could/would,” then it is time you examined the true motives behind your niceness.
  • You walk away disappointed for not being rewarded for your suffering. Take a moment to reflect on the honorable deeds you do throughout the day. How many of them do you feel are burdensome? How many of them are intrinsically rewarding? Take responsibility for your actions. If you feel disappointed after a kind act, ask yourself how you contributed to the outcome? What can you do differently to walk away satisfied? Your answer will give you clarity on whether your self-inflicted suffering is worth it.
  • At the end of the day you are worn out and exhausted because you have put others first. If this is you, set aside “sacred” time for yourself. From exercising and walking your dog to engrossing yourself in a fun book or journaling, aligning your personal life with what invigorates you, especially after a stressful day, is invaluable to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Start by adding one fulfilling activity to your day! It can be just 15 minutes long, but make sure you’re doing it for you.

When you understand the behaviors that play a role in your disease to please, you can start breaking the habit. Do it just one act at a time. The empowerment you inevitably feel will become your new addiction!


Laura Berger, PCC, CEBC coaches exceptional leaders. She is member and columnist at the Forbes Coaches Council, Psychology Today, International Women’s Forum, and bestselling author.

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