Two Giant Problems With Being Nice

Ken is a nice guy.Everyone says so.
A senior VP of strategy at a major aerospace company, Ken prides himself on being pleasant and agreeable to work with.

Ken works really hard to be nice.   So what’s wrong?

Being nice is killing Ken’s effectiveness and efficiency at work.It’s also impacting his team, his peers, and the entire business.

How can this be?  Isn’t it nice to be nice?

Not always.  Here are two giant problems for Ken and his company:

  1. Ken says “Yes” and attends all meetings he’s invited to.

Ken has agreed to his company’s unspoken cultural norm: most every day of his workweek is filled with back to back to back meetings.  The meetings usually stop at 5 or 6 pm.  What happens then?  As Ken puts it,I can now start getting my work done.

Does Ken (or everyone else, for that matter) need to be in all those meetings?  No.Yet Ken’s unwilling to challenge the status quo.  He’s concerned about the “optics of not being a team player”.  He wants to be nice.

I understand Ken’s point.  Looking at one meeting as a data point of one, why rock the boat?But when you add all of those meetings together, what you get is collective meeting insanity.  A company’s most valuable resource is the time of its people.  Yet so many companies don’t treat it that way.

Expecting everyone to be at every meeting is a lose/lose proposition.The individuals lose because all their time (and focus and energy) is used up in meetings.  The team loses because most of the people attending participate as prisoners, the meetings are poorly run, and the outcomes are mediocre.

  1. Ken believes that all decisions need to be agreed to by everyone involved.

If a decision’s going to affect someone, shouldn’t they have some say in the choice being made?

What a nice, democratic ideal.  It sounds great.And works great…on paper.

However, as its practiced in reality (at Ken’s company and others), this leads to bogus consensus.

At Ken’s company, coming to consensus is confused with coming to agreement.  When everyone has to agree on everything, decision making slows to a crawl or comes to a stop.

This is not consensus–even if you call it consensus.

Consensus was designed to give people within a community a voice among a group of peers.  In true consensus, there are three decision options:

  1. Consent

  2. Stand-Aside

  3. Block

Consent means you support the choice on the table.

Stand-Aside means that while you don’t support the choice, you’re willing to go along with the consequences of what the choice will bring.  In a true consensus process, those who stand-aside speak aloud their reservations, which educate and inform the group.

Blocks are used extremely rarely.  Think of a block as your own personal nuclear warhead. A person blocks only when they feel that moving forward with the choice on the table violates a moral value or presents a risk that cannot be mitigated in any way.

The bar for a genuine block is extremely high.  Use it too often, and there’s a good chance your team will implode.

So how does a team practicing true consensus deal with disagreement?

First off, remember for a group committed to true consensus, they genuinely want everyone to be on board as they move forward. This isn’t political theater.

Here’s how they deal with it:  If there are more than a couple of stand-asides, the group takes that as an alarm bell:  we’re not ready yet.  This choice is not good enough.

The group then revisits its data and choices, and gets to work amending their position.

They keep working until they get to a very strong consent.

Consensus process has its pros and cons.The upside of consensus is that it can be a terrific way to create team cohesion and commitment.

The downside?   It takes time–sometimes an extraordinary amount of time.

In day to day business operations, not everything should be consented to (or agreed on) by everyone.

For example, do you need input from everyone at the office on what entrees to serve at this year’s holiday party?

You get the idea.********Being nice has its place.

But “nice” shouldn’t be used as an excuse for opting out of the courageous work of leadership.   That’s a simplistic version of “nice”, that comes with the added baggage of these problems.

The art of leadership involves setting clear boundaries and making difficult decisions while still valuing people and treating them with respect.

That’s the “nice” on the far side of complexity.  As a leader, strive to make that “nice” your goal.

Where have you seen “nice” create organizational problems?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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