Nice Guys Do Better Than You Think

In 1997, Green Day released a song that seemingly hung over my head throughout most of my youth.

Nice guys finish last.

It’s catchy. It’s funny. It’s kind of true.

But for an 11-year old that was kind of shy and considered himself “nice,” it was a death knoll.

As we all know, adolescent culture favors the bold and brash. As we look to grow into our adult selves, we try to differentiate ourselves while simultaneously fitting in. It’s a difficult song and dance made far more complicated by external narratives about who we should and shouldn’t be.

Well, as a soon-to-be 29-year old sports professional working in one of the top mid-major conferences in the country with men’s basketball, I can tell you that it pays to be nice. Kind of.

Nice is a very loaded term in today’s parlance. Synonyms range from wimpy, nerdy and subservient to genuine, sincere and caring. And even the seemingly positive terms in that last sentence are often taken as negatives in today’s fast-paced business and social culture.

If you aren’t trying to beat someone out for a job, then you’re trying to beat them out for a date. Competition pervades our daily lives. We don’t have time or patience to be “nice.”

Except for all the places where that’s not true. “Nice” to a young student or professional is actually a misnomer. The characteristics they associate with “nice” are, in fact, going to put them last.

Poor social skills and an inability to interact with people of various ages and interests? “Oh but he seems like a nice guy though.” FAIL.

Weird habits on a date or just being overly mushy to the point of nausea. “I mean he was nice, but…” FAIL.

Never speaking up for their accomplishments nor owning their failures. “He’s nice but I’m not sure he’s a good fit for a promotion.” FAIL.

Those “nice” guys…they do finish last. It’s just too bad that the word nice has been so thoroughly co-opted to these negative characteristics. A random blog post on Medium certainly won’t be changing those connotations of the term, but I’d like to show how “nice” can be linked to success.

In my very small segment of the business and communications world, I interact with a diverse group of stakeholders. From amateur athletes to rich coaches to athletic administration to media to fans, they all need different things and different approaches.

Oftentimes, my interactions with each group can be rushed, stressful or tense. That’s just the nature of handling 35 major events, breaking news and an ever-increasing spotlight that reverberates and shifts every second.

I work to always be accurate, fair, informative, timely, deferential to authority, yet firm in my confidence that I’m doing what is right.

Throughout every interaction, and there are plenty every day, I’ve vowed to smile and joke and banter as much as I can. Because let’s be honest, finding pleasant people to interact with these days is harder than it should be. Working every day with pleasant people can be such a rarity that it could practically be advertised as a job benefit on most listings.

For jobs where interpersonal interaction is a big component (and that includes most jobs these days with the importance of social media) I encourage others to be nice. Be pleasant. MAKE PEOPLE LIKE YOU.

That doesn’t mean being a pushover. And it doesn’t mean avoiding confrontation, but many confrontations aren’t based around issues that are intractable. They happen when two bitter people can’t find time to pleasantly seek a mutually beneficial solution and petty fighting ensues.

No one wants to hire someone who fights all the time. No one wants to date someone who’s a jerk. I know all the “nice” guys out there are throwing up their hands in protest on that one. But I promise you, it’s not because they are a jerk and you’re nice. It’s because they aggressively pursued what they wanted and you’re still waiting on the bench with your list of compliments.

Pursue life with ambition and fervor. Don’t settle for mediocrity. But if you do it with a positive attitude, and an eye toward being “nice,” I promise you will finish far from last.

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