Being “nice” has gotten a bad rap lately. The blogosphere is filled with anti-nice themes as if that is a concept we should eschew because it means we lack the attitude or aptitude to get ahead in this competitive world. But what is “nice” anyway? Is it treating people with respect? Is it being friendly and approachable? Is it being honest and open? If so, I’m definitely nice. I do my best to be a positive force in the world and try to live by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The problem with being “nice” is that people often mistake this attribute with simplicity or ignorance. Whether or not it’s subconscious, there is an assumption that nice people are by definition one-dimensional. But I—and others like me—are nothing of the sort. We’re quite the opposite. For example, most people are surprised to find out that I spent ten years of my life working as a CIA intelligence officer focused on counterterrorism issues.
I guess I don’t look like the typical intelligence officer, although most people don’t know what that’s supposed to look like. Regardless, I don’t seem to fit the image because I actually smile instead of smirk. They are surprised that I have the capacity to play the complicated and sometimes dangerous game of espionage, but alas, I did, and I was very good at it. Appearances can be deceiving, and nice is only one aspect of who I am as a person.
I am not the only one misjudged or underestimated for being too nice. There are a lot of us who fall into this category.
Here are 13 things you may not know about nice people:
1. Nice does not equal naïve.
2. Nice doesn’t mean that we are out of touch or unrealistic in our perception of the world around us. In fact, we are way more tuned in than you realize. (And yes, we know when you’re not taking us seriously.)
3. Nice people don’t “win at any cost.” We win on our own terms, even if that’s not a popular thing to do.
4. Just because we’re smiling doesn’t mean we’re not some of the most competitive people in the world.
5. No, we will not bowl you over to get to the top. We’ll enjoy success more if we bring others along with us.
6. There is nothing weak about being supportive of other people.
7. Good interpersonal skills come from a deep well called ‘emotional intelligence.’ It is largely underestimated in the workplace, but as we know well, it’s VERY powerful.
8. It takes greater courage to be open and constructive in communications than to hide behind facades of arrogance or use imperiousness to camouflage self-doubt.
9. If you tell us no, we’ll be even that much more determined to succeed.
10. You don’t have to get out of our way—We WILL find a way around you or the obstacle you have raised.
11. Efforts to squash the nice guy will actually propel him or her even further up the ladder of success.
12. It might take us a little longer to get there because we don’t crush people to get to the top. But don’t get us wrong: we’ll go further and climb higher than you ever expected.
13. We come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, so please don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s 2014 for goodness sake.
It’s time to acknowledge that being a decent person is a good thing. You don’t have to be a complete jerk to win at the great game of espionage, wall street, big business, and life. Nice does go a long way.
All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official positions or views of the CIA or any other U.S. Government agency. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying U.S. Government authentication of information or Agency endorsement of the author’s views. This material has been reviewed by the CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.