Why Being the 'Nice Girl' at Work Isn't a Bad Thing

No matter the occasion, I can't send a single email without one exclamation point, and a chirpy "thanks!" at the end. It's a part of my nature, and it was never something I paid much attention to. That is, until I started working.

There's a common misconception that nice girls simply can't thrive in a corporate environment. I was told that, in the so-called dog-eat-dog world of business, being a nice girl simply wouldn't fly. Small gestures and mannerisms that I was used to, such as speaking in a softer tone of voice, or using an exclamation point in an email, were suddenly signs of weakness. People assume that being nice equals being a pushover.

This ideology didn't sit well with me. Did I really have to sacrifice my niceness to gain respect in my industry? Would it really bring me success and establish my authority, like what all these people say? Most importantly, would I even like myself by the end of my career if I bought into this standard?

This endless loop of conflict occupied way too much of my brain space, and I honestly felt lost.

Enter Fran Hauser's book, The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You HateAs I entered the workforce and found myself struggling with this delicate balance of staying true to myself and being assertive in the office, this book was my holy grail. Drawing on her years of experience as a top-level media executive at publications like Entertainment Weekly and People, Hauser deftly tackles this complicated dynamic and offers some great insights on how to succeed in the workplace without sacrificing your personal values. Although this book was written in 2018, I find that Hauser's tips are still incredibly relevant in the ever-changing corporate landscape.

And, here's a bonus: if you tend to overthink your words just like me, you're in luck. Hauser literally gives you sample responses and email templates to study from. Here are some of Hauser's knock-out lessons that I found particularly helpful as a college girl starting my first job.

Don't say sorry, say thank you.

Original Illustration in Canva for Her Campus Media

Ever been told you say "sorry" too much? It's a common symptom of nice girls. But, as easy as it is to sprinkle in an apology to your coworker when you're running a little late on a task, saying sorry tends to undermine your authority if you do it too often. And, it's probably not even the word that best describes your intentions. Hauser offers a quick and easy fix to this: saying "thank you" instead.

For example, "So sorry it took me so long to get this back to you!" turns into, "Thanks so much for your patience." It's a simple switch that expresses exactly what you mean on the basis of gratitude, without making yourself seem over apologetic. 

Don't be scared to ask for what you deserve.

Original Illustration in Canva for Her Campus Media

Okay, this one is easier said than done. I'm terrible at confrontation. But, when it comes to things like asking for raises, this is a fear that absolutely needs to be faced for the greater good. A 2007 study featured in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology involving MBA graduates revealed that 50% of the male graduates negotiated their first salary offer, while only 12.5% of the female graduates chose to negotiate theirs. That's right, 12.5%.

Reflecting on this study, Hauser contends that his big gap stems from the people-pleasing attitude that many women fall into out of fear of being seen as difficult, greedy or a diva. College students may have even more obstacles surrounding this negotiation process, if we even think to pursue it in the first place. Sometimes, we don't even know when we're being lowballed due to our lack of experience navigating this issue. 

The solution? Well, it really does depend on your situation, but the key is to not be afraid to ask. In Hauser's words, "the world is not going to end if you get 'no' for an answer."

Rely on evidence when you lack confidence.

Original Illustration Created in Canva for Her Campus Media Hello, imposter syndrome. 

When faced with difficult decisions or tasks at work, a lot of women suffer with the feeling that they're somehow not qualified to take them on. I find that this feeling is often amplified for my fellow peers due to that natural feeling of having no idea what you're doing in a brand new working environment. Navigating coworker dynamics, establishing a rapport with your boss, and getting used to your new 9-5 working schedule are just some of the many new challenges you have to figure out. However, Hauser assures us that this shaky confidence can easily be cured by reflecting on specific occurrences where you've had to face other hard decisions and tasks that made you feel unsure of yourself.

Perhaps you also felt overwhelmed when you had to single-handedly organize an event for a club on campus. Or, maybe you had to deal with a fussy classmate on a high-stakes group project. Pinpoint how you approached it, how it was received, and how you felt when you got it done. You got through that task, didn't you? You have that experience. Who's to say that you can't take this on?

Being nice is your superpower.

Freelance Girl Working at Home Sitting on Sofa with Laptop and Cat Illustration by Irina Strelnikova from Shutterstock

At the end of the day, there's absolutely no need to be harsh or commanding in the workplace, even when you want to establish yourself as the forerunner of the office. There's a strength in kindness. It makes you a more intuitive, empathetic, and approachable figure, which are all qualities that should not only be celebrated, but be seen as incredibly valuable. For example, Hauser recounts how being nice resulted in her professional connections being more resourceful.

In her words, her past colleagues "were more likely to remain loyal, stick with [her] in a negotiation, pick up the phone, return an email, do [her] a simple favor, and even bend over backwards when [she] needed them to, all because [she had] previously treated them kindly." 

Being nice also benefits your team as a whole, and positions you as a exemplary leadership candidate in your workplace. Think about it — wouldn't you be more comfortable sharing your thoughts, critiques, and concerns with your boss if you knew that they weren't going to react aggressively? Kindness and tact fosters transparent communication, and good communication in the office is key to success.

So yes, kindness works. Nice girls don't finish last.