How To Save Your Job - Play S.O.B. or Nice Guy?

For some, the economic downturn has induced a “take no prisoners” attitude and for others, they find themselves bending over backwards to appease everyone and anyone in sight.

The reality is that both strategies are short lived and unproductive. However, these appear to be the polarizing behaviors that people tend to gravitate towards when their jobs are in question.

The Shelf-life of the “Take No Prisoners” Attitude: At first glance, a dose of bravado and blatant disregard for others seems like the right approach when your job is at stake. Elbow your way to the front of the line and grasp your job and the opportunity with all your might. We surveyed more than 350 people and the consensus was those who are “successful” tend to be jerks 42% of the time. However, there seems to be an interesting correlation for those who have “succeeded” and the hundreds of billions of dollars that we must now throw in as taxpayers. History would prove that the “Take No Prisoners” attitude is a dead-end approach; especially when ethics is taking precedence over corporate greed.

Crushed By Niceness - A Formula for Failure: At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who suffer from Nice Guy Syndrome. In our research, we found that roughly two thirds (2/3) of those surveyed, felt that they were too nice. In an effort to save their jobs, they disproportionately focus on pleasing everyone else - often at the cost of their own career’s health and safety. We liken these people to those that put the proverbial Oxygen Mask on their kids before putting it on themselves. At first glance, it might appear that they are doing the right thing; however, when they pass out, their children stand less of a chance of survival.

So What Is The Answer? Neither extreme approach will work. Instead, some semblance of balance must be established that keeps people authentically nice when dealing with others while still asserting themselves in meaningful and substantive ways.

For the SoBs and Jerks: Lighten up and think of someone other than yourself. Have just a bit more patience, be willing to listen to other viewpoints and don’t face every conflict as if it is a battle to the death.

For suffers of Nice Guy Syndrome: You can learn from the SoB’s without becoming one! Confrontation can take place in a positive and product manner. Speaking up is a good thing, so long as you do it the right way. Winning out over others is acceptable and appropriate so long as your ideas are the strongest. These are all issues that Overly Nice Guys (and girls) suffer from in their respective careers.

As part of the research for "Nice Guys Can Get The Corner Office," I had the opportunity to interview the CEOs or founders from 25 global companies. These included organizations such as Southwest Airlines, Cirque du Soleil, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, The American Cancer Society, The Outback, Panera Break, Dunkin Donuts and The Vanguard Group. While each executive shared their unique perspective on the subject of being Too Nice in Business, there was a common theme that was expressed by all of them. That was to stress the importance of “having the courageous and honest discussions up front” to achieve lasting success.


Sam DiPiazza, CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers shared, “Business – whether we like it or not – includes competition. It is challenging, aggressive, and very demanding. And despite the perception of many, it can also be performed nicely.”

So to the Nice Guys (and girls):

1) Stay nice
2) Strap in and get prepared for a bumpy ride and
3) Remember that you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you take care of everyone else! If not, you’re just another one of the many Corporate Martyrs sitting on the unemployment line thinking…"I didn’t do anything wrong!"


Russ Edelman is President & CEO of Corridor Consulting and founder of Nice Guy Strategies, LLC (NGS) and the author of “Nice Guys Can Get The Corner Office: Eight Strategies for Winning in Business Without Being a Jerk.”
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