You Can't Be Nice? - Great Managers Are Always Nice

Chapter 4

Why Can’t You Be Nice?

Some people say always being nice is unnecessary, a waste of time, or even impossible. Their arguments usually go something like this:


“I don’t have time to be nice.”

This is true for many managers. They have so many responsibilities and demands on their time that they can’t worry about the work environment they create. They’re fighting just to keep their heads above water.

Often, they point to their schedules and pressures as a badge of honor—a testament to their effort, value, and importance.

Perhaps they enjoy a fast-paced, high pressure, chaotic environment; some do. Most despise it. Certainly, it takes a heavy toll, both mentally and physically.

Too-busy-to-be-nice managers rarely build capable teams. Only people without other options are willing to work in an unfriendly environment, and they seldom offer their best efforts or stay long enough to become knowledgeable and helpful.

These managers could accomplish much more, as well as be happier and healthier, by stepping back temporarily, rearranging their duties, delegating some responsibilities, and developing a team to help them.


“This is a business, not a popularity contest.”

Some managers (and companies) are so laser focused on results that they don’t care about people and collateral damage.

What they miss is that we get better results when our employees are enthusiastic, enjoy their work, and stay at their jobs.

People are capable of ingenuity, determination, and extraordinary effort when they really want to achieve something. They do their best work when they feel respected, appreciated, and treated fairly. The little bit of time it takes to be nice pays big dividends in productivity, longevity, and happiness.


“I’m paying them! Now I have to be nice to them too?”

Paying someone only means they’ll show up—probably. It doesn’t mean they’ll give their best effort, or even make a reasonable effort.

If they buy into what we’re doing and feel like a respected member of the team, they’ll do much better work than if they’re just trying to qualify for the check. Perhaps they’ll stay longer, too, saving us the time and expense of replacing them regularly.


“You don’t know my employees.”

Some employees are indeed contrary, unmotivated, or just plain lazy.

Sometimes they’ve learned their attitudes and behavior from difficult upbringings or life experiences. Often, they learn them from their jobs and bad managers.

Some can be rehabilitated in an encouraging work environment. Many long for a manager who respects them and their abilities, and gives them a chance to show what they can do.

Others have problems that run too deep for us to fix. We can suggest changes and guide them toward help, but sometimes what they need is beyond our abilities, and we have to replace them.


We don’t need people who will work for us; we need people who will work with us.

—Mike Mitchell

You’ve got to remind them who’s boss occasionally.”

Does any employee ever really forget who’s the boss? A manager’s authority looms constantly over the workplace and all employees fear his disapproval.

A manager who reminds employees of his authority, even subtly, is resented. Employees hear what a manager says, even when they don’t seem to. There’s no need to add emphasis or pound the message home.

Managers who treat their people considerately and use their authority sparingly are respected and appreciated.


 “Some people just don’t respond unless you threaten them.”

An employee with so little buy-in that only a threat motivates him isn’t worth employing. He performs only when he’s watched. He’s minimally productive, frustrates motivated employees, serves as a bad example of what’s acceptable, and drags down the attitudes and culture of the team.

Threats, scolding, and discipline are the worst of a manager’s tools; they sap motivation and produce only temporary compliance.

If an employee with a poor attitude can’t be swayed by polite discussion, he should be replaced with someone who shares the team’s goals.


Encouraging words cost little but inspire wonders.

—Mike Mitchell

“I try to be nice but some mistakes are just so stupid!”

Sometimes mistakes are hard to understand. And they’re particularly frustrating when the consequences are significant.

But anger serves no useful purpose and is almost always counterproductive.

Regardless of how provoking a situation might be, it’s always better to contain our frustration, think through the possible responses, and fashion a calm and considerate reply.


“There’s no way to be nice when I have to reprimand or fire someone.”

Actually, it’s not that hard. Later, we’ll watch as our pro, Mike Mitchell, makes it look easy.

Previous: Always Nice?
Next: Creed of a Great Manager


You Can't Be Nice, from Great Managers Are Always Nice
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