9 Ways You’re Being Too Nice at Work

lean inAs I read Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," I nodded so hard that I worried my neck would sprain. I noticed after a while that the highlight function on my Kindle was turning every page fully yellow.

The takeaway? Succeeding in business—whether that business is a blog, the PTA, or being COO of Facebook—is hard, and nobody can do everything right. But you can try, and you can remain a human being while doing it.

My own mom was a classic '70s feminist who dressed me in brown corduroy, cropped my hair short ("because you should be reading, not brushing your hair 100 times each night"), and led by example, raising her voice Brooklyn-style whenever she felt she was being slighted. Even under her tutelage, I internalized the idea that ambition and aggression were a turn-off. And that's a trap so many of us fall into: We want to be nice all of the time, whether at home or at work.

It's a constantly evolving position, a constantly moving target: How can we women—and men, too—be true to ourselves while succeeding in the workplace? In her book, Sandberg gives us nine instances when being nice isn't just unneeded—it's actively holding us back.

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  • AA

    This article was good but what if a woman did all of those things…must be the wrong workplace to be in?

  • Linda

    Or like me, I’ve had to walk away from a potential job in an interview because when I tried to negotiate my pay, I was shot down & told the pay was what it was, “take it or leave it”. So, I left it, only to find out later they gave the job to a guy less qualified than I was but they paid him more… SO,… I don’t buy the mantra that women don’t get paid more because they fail to negotiate for higher pay. My experience has been that whenever I try, I get shot down. Granted, it may be the way I’m doing it, but I’ve found negotiating for higher pay doesn’t work.

    • Lola.b

      Same here – I don’t think negotiating works anymore. Before interviewing they’ll ask you for a ‘range’. if you give them a range too high, they wont interview you. Once they make an offer, I’ve asked to discuss the salary, and have been told that it isn’t negotiable. Take it or leave it. A friend of mine had an offer, but asked for too much, so they let her go to find less qualified candidates that they could pay less.

    • Girly

      Wow that is horrible. I just did this same thing myself they said they can’t give me more money as they are opening this job position for me. I still got an extra 5 grand out of them.
      I have heard those stories and from friends. I can’t help but think it’s the presentation. But then again the company did come after me I didn’t go after them.

  • This is a great article. I think it’s definitely tougher as a woman and for some weird reason often women don’t help each other either.

    I also feel like many women perpetuate the stereotypical role of women, for example, at my workplace my colleague always takes it upon herself to fulfill particular ‘female’ tasks, like washing the dishes, ordering the stationary, buying milk and biscuits, getting tea and coffee for everyone, baking cakes for meetings, whilst it’s really lovely those tasks can be shared equitably amongst everyone.

    She also does women a total disservice when she says stuff like, ‘I always expect my partners to earn more than me’ or ‘I’m not a feminist’ (if you believe in women getting the vote, aren’t you a feminist?)

    My male colleagues don’t help either, they re-inforce it by saying ‘ I could never be with someone who earned more than me, men should just earn more’. Sometimes I can’t believe my ears and feel like I’m going nuts for wanting to be professionally equitable with men and financially independent (heck, maybe I would do something crazy like earn more than my partner, which I do at the moment) without being crazy some man-hater.

    • Sarah Mele

      Wow, I’m sorry it sounds like your workplace is pretty sexist TBH ..

  • KateKate

    I’m reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book too and I love it! It should be mandatory reading for all women, and particularly managers/bosses (male and female).

  • This book frustrates me because I have a very “lean in” personal style and am constantly criticized — and even attacked — for being “too aggressive”. You can’t even give an intern a less-than-stellar review without the school they come from taking issue.

    I wish the tips in this book were true. I’d be doing much better career wise. As is, they only work if you have an established manager who supports you in being genuine instead of nice, and that is, too often, luck of the draw.

    • skt

      Liana: I think its best to find another workplace where your work style is valued. Not every place will feel this way. Good luck!

    • Kathe M

      Absolutely If you don’t have support from your manager, then all being genuine will get you is a possible reprimand or being passed over for promotion

  • KatheM

    This is fine and well. But if you work at an organization that values bullying over production, where it’s all about pumping up your budget, handing out the lion’s share to your cronies to stay in power, and ignoring or abusing those who execute, then none of this fits. Not all of these rules will work in all workplaces. One thing this article did NOT adequately cover was KNOW WHEN TO GET OUT. Women keep overworking thinking their sacrifice will be recognized, when all it will get you is more work and more abuse. And this is not at some hole in the wall company. Some of the most prestigious workplaces on the planet do this (I don’t care what the mission statement says, it happens) and if these cute tips don’t work, then get out and leave for someplace that will appreciate you and reward you accordingly.

    Ivy League Blue Chip Factory Worker
    Washington, DC

    • Sebastian Heisenberg

      Well said – I agree 100%

      A lot of these problems are now an equal problem for many men, as well. Not a good sign for our society at all. Let’s hope for better days…

  • Ann

    I do not agree that is it wise to share personal information and “get to know” fellow workers to make a more productive work place. Good, collaborative communication is one thing. Talking about your personal life on the weekends is another. When you open up your personal life, you can easily become fodder for the adult work place bully or the workplace “queen bee.” Either way, you are now vulnerable. Friends, family are friends, family. Work is work. Keep the two completely separate and save your peace and sanity.

  • John

    “Fake it” AND “Be genuine” in the same article? What shallow personality ethic nonsense. Develop food character principles and stick with them.

    • John

      Spelling correction: “Good” not “food”