“Nice” is a funny word. Use it in a business context and it feels as if you are damning with faint praise. A sort of trite, pseudo-compliment which says more because it is used in place of a “proper” adjective with guts.
But it shouldn’t be like this. In so many (if not all) aspects of business, we’re simply people dealing with people. Often, price and service levels dictate business deals, but when those are sufficiently close not to matter, human nature means we like to deal with people we like. Nice matters. Hmmm… not convinced yet?
In my line of work especially, assertiveness is seen as a positive attribute. An ability to persuade, an ability to bring someone else around to your way of looking at things… these are skills that separate the good from the mediocre. Where does “nice” feature in such a dog-eat-dog world?
Well: I cut my early career teeth in the post-dotcom boom investment banking world of London, working on transactions all over the world, with some fearsomely smart, high-calibre people. Can there be any time or room for nice in such an environment? Nice costs money and money costs deals, surely? But fast forward and at some point, boom begets bust. The people you meet as your world is going up are still there when things come back down to earth again with a bang. That’s when we really understand the true value in treating people properly.
Being nice isn’t about rolling over and being passive. It isn’t about giving into others with louder voices. It’s about being consistent. It’s about doing things in the right way. At its simplest, it’s about recognising your own values and ethics and making sure they are forefront of our mind when dealing with others.
When we’re negotiating hard, it’s about securing the very best position you can but stopping short of rubbing the other person’s nose in it. Always leave them with their pride intact and act graciously when you do manage to get the upper hand. Just remember: one day, there will come a time when you are on the receiving end of what you dish out.
Paul Mason is the Corporate Finance Partner at Chiene + Tait LLP