Recently I read an article urging women not to be so ‘nice’ in business and saying it’s not important to be liked. Within minutes I came across a blog saying it’s bad to be polite in sales calls.
So is being nasty, rude and disliked supposed to help us get ahead? Apparently we confuse nice and polite with wimpy and passive.
In years of interviewing high-ranking executives and successful business owners I’ve found most to be nice. Yes, they got directly to the point. No they didn’t hesitate to voice their opinions or speak up if they disagreed. Yet they were pleasant and agreeable. Not agreeable in the sense of compromising their beliefs to be accommodating but agreeable in the sense of being open to discussion and willing to hear other points of view.
They were polite. They were respectful of my time, questions and my lack of knowledge on their topic of expertise. They seemed considerate of people they worked with, complimented their teams and showed admiration for their peers. They said, “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me” when appropriate.
As for politeness in sales calls, I agree with the article’s point that asking “How are you today?” on a cold call isn’t the best way to begin the conversation. I’m an advocate of rapport building in selling but believe that stating who you are and why you’re calling is the most polite and nice way to start a call to someone you don’t know. “Hello, Mr. Smith. I’m Sally Salesperson from the New Solutions company calling to talk with you about your service,” is polite in the form of being respectful and in keeping with the relationship with the person you’re calling.
As for being liked, I’ve often heard managers in my training classes say they don’t want to be liked, just respected. If your co-workers don’t like you, chances are they don’t respect you either. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from business school? The human need to be accepted ranks in importance right after the need for food, water, shelter and safety. If we don’t feel accepted and valued we don’t do our best work, share our best ideas or give our best effort. The key is to choose by whom you wish to be liked.
The example is often given that a manager doesn’t address inappropriate behavior because he or she doesn’t want to risk not being liked by an employee. I think that’s a myth. A manager who ignores inappropriate behavior doesn’t ignore the situation in order to be liked. They just don’t have the guts to address the problem. Allowing an employee to break rules and get away with poor performance doesn’t make that employee like you. It makes the rest of the team dislike you and lose respect for you. Requiring employees to perform appropriately and encouraging them to strive for improvement earns the respect of the team and management. And they’ll like you as a bonus! Choose to be liked by those you respect rather than making a choice from fear of being disliked by someone you don’t. Seems simple to me!
Is being nice, polite and likable going to guarantee that you get ahead? No. Working smart, focusing on results and doing good work will do that. Being nice, polite and likable will just win cooperation and build relationships along the way.