People sometimes think I am too nice, too soft even… What makes us think that friendship and kindness are to be left at home when we set out to work in the morning? I would argue that kindness and friendship make me more effective not only in building up and maintaining relationships (networking), but also in achieving results.

I recently posted something on how the Career Women’s Network of Kigali gives women a safe and friendly environment to practice certain key skills like public speaking. I got a lot of reactions on that post and also on the word “friendly”. So why does it pay to be nice?

1.     Approachability. I have worked with kind and harsh colleagues, with nice and mean bosses and what I know for a fact is that we humans learn quickly. We know that when the reactions are not good we don’t provoke them and when we find a kind, listening ear we go back with more ideas and suggestions. So yes, I am approachable and it pays off. I get a lot of feedback and inputs from colleagues and from the women in the network who come to me with brilliant ideas. In the network many of the themes and content for our monthly networking events are proposed by the members themselves. This allows us to be relevant and get great topics – many of which I would probably have never thought of myself.

2.     Experimentation. Remember the 10,000-hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Outliers? This rule implies that to be really good at a certain skill, to really master it, you have to put in many hours of practice. Although this rule has since been widely disputed, we all need (deliberate) practice to improve our skills – be they driving a car, public speaking or writing an article on LinkedIn. Practice implies making mistakes and learning from them. This is only possible in an environment where you feel safe enough to be vulnerable, to practice your imperfect speech and improve it with each new iteration. A kind environment where you are not judged or punished, but encouraged and supported is such a safe practice ground that allows you to take risks and excel.

3.     Getting Results. Finally, booking results often does not depend on ourselves, but on motivating others to align to the same vision and the same objectives. Achieving results is about negotiating with, collaborating with and influencing others. This is a lot easier to do when the people you are collaborating with on a project actually genuinely like you and want to help you. For which manager would you go the extra mile, the controlling and mean one or the kind and empowering one? You can motivate people with money, but it turns out that the types of tasks that work well on this extrinsic motivation are the repetitive ones. The highly sophisticated, creative and technical tasks fare much better on intrinsic motivation. This motivation cannot automatically be tapped in just by raising the pay check or by shouting at people. Instead, people tend to use this motivation when they really want to help someone and when they find the task particularly interesting and of their own choice.

In their book, Compelling People – The Hidden Qualities that Make Us Influential, the authors John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut discuss the impact of strength and warmth factors on how one is perceived. And yes, you can really be too soft. This happens when warmth is not combined with strength. Being nice, does not mean you allow people to walk over you. It just shows you treat people with respect and kindness which to me come more natural than their opposites. Kindness plus strength, on the other hand, give you superpowers. So the next time you think friendliness is unprofessional, think again… and remember the Swahili proverb “Wema hauozi” or “Kindness is never wasted”.

All the best.


Originally published on LinkedIn.

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