Employee : Are you Too Nice?

Two Roads

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both…

…. I took the one not too nice,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost (modified)

Have you been trying to be a nice person at work? Have all your attempts at being nice made you feel miserable? Perhaps you might consider being “polite” instead. This subtle shift can make all the difference to your future.

Being Nice has its pluses. Nice people are an asset to the organisation. They are well liked and are fun to have around. They are accommodating, helpful and Easy to work with. But Too often we find the nice employee gets passed up for promotions.

Does that surprise you?

Russ Edelman in his book Nice Guys can get the Corner office Says that Being too nice impedes career growth. According to him Nice people are so caught up in pleasing others and getting others approval that they don’t stand up for themselves. If you are a nice person, which most of us are, this insight can hurt.

Right from a very young age we are taught not to fight, not to confront, not to be blunt in voicing our opinions, not to hurt others. We are taught to be sensitive to the people around us. That is a very good thing. Thanks to this grooming we are tuned into other people’s feelings being careful not to cause them any kind of discomfort. In the process some of us overlook our own discomfort. And, in a work place this kind of orientation can at times lead us astray.

For instance it can promote conflict avoidance when practical solutions need to be ironed out by confronting the problem. Avoiding Face – offs at all cost leads to a refusal to address important disagreements in a straightforward manner which would help in improving performance.

Being nice is good but there is a point beyond which the rules of diminishing returns take over. If we were to plot the relationship between being Nice and performance it would be an inverted U. Beyond a point being nice becomes a problem.


inverted U

  • In trying to be Nice people suppress their view points to go with the flow even if they are strongly opposed to the view. The organisation misses out on valuable inputs and eventually suffers.
  • Out of deference to others nice people end up saying yes to everything and get taken advantage of.
  • Nice people feel awkward in accepting their rightful credit. A nice person believes he is being humble but not valuing your own work has its pitfalls. You miss out on your rightful credit and the just rewards.

To succeed at Work and avoid these eventualities there is one primary tenet which  people having a “Nice Guy” syndrome need to keep in mind.

  • Business is competitive. It is a place where people come together to work and they also compete. “Competition” is an intrinsic part of business. Performance counts. There will be winners and there will be losers. We need to decide with which crowd we might want to throw our lot in.

At the workplace the urge to be Nice needs to be balanced with the requirements of achieving results both individual and organisational. Nice people need to realize the importance of speaking up when they perceive that actions are not taking them towards agreed upon goals. Working in an organisation means times when we work with compromises, it involves mutual give and take. But win-win on paper should also be win-win in reality , Nice types should not allow themselves to be shortchanged.

So how do we move away from this self-defeating tendency ?

To start with it requires a mental shift from “nice” to “polite”.  That means we stay kind and considerate to our office colleagues but are clear about our boundaries. It means we are do not hesitate to speak up.

This mental shift would not be easy for the Nice and sensitive souls but it can be done. It will require practice. Here is how –

Know what you want. Have a clarity on your goals. This will ensure that you get to prioritize your results over others needs and requests. Getting clarity about your goals and internalizing the same would take time. But it will help in setting your boundaries.

Acknowledge Anxiety. When you anticipate others discomfort you might turn anxious. Acknowledge the anxiety and Let it be. Face your fears and move on.

Fake it till you make it: As Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook in her book LeanIn says – sometimes you can’t wait for everything to be feel right. You might not feel confident but Just go ahead and fake it. Fake assertiveness speak up even if you don’t feel like it. See what happens.

If being Too Nice is an issue that is affecting your work it would need more attention. Start reading on this topic and enroll for workshops on assertiveness training. You could even get a coach to help you out.


The difference is too nice – where ends the Virtue, and begins the vice.

Alexander Pope

Prakash Francis is a Talent expert based in Bangalore. 



Interview Question:What is your greatest Weakness?

I have come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.

Jeff Weiner (CEO Linkedin) 

The question “what is your greatest weakness” continues to be one that stresses and stumps candidates. Sort of putting them between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand you do not want to appear insincere, on the other you are not in a position to highlight something that could be red flag for the interviewer.Strengths and Weaknesses - Internal Part of a SWOT Analysis

You might wonder why ask such a question – and make candidates uncomfortable?

The reason is simple. It is to find out how aware you are about your weaknesses and strengths. Further, it gives an indication about how open you might be to receive some constructive feedback. This question in a way helps in developing clarity about your fit for the role.

There are multiple ways to handle this question and the online sources have a number of them listed out. But most of the listed advice is cute to say the least. One often quoted suggestion is to turn a strength into a weakness – I am a perfectionist. The problem is that the interviewer is likely to have read the same blogs, and he is going to know where you are coming from. This kind of response makes you appear evasive, and raises a red flag on your honesty.

Instead consider scenario shared below. Note how this candidate tackles the question in an open, transparent manner.

Interviewer: Ravi, can you tell us about your greatest weakness?

Ravi(candidate) : Sir, I assume you mean with respect to the job I am interviewing for.  

Interviewer: Yes, You are right.

Ravi: I feel I need to work on my organizing ability and productivity. Let me explain. I have a good record at my work so far. I have consistently achieved or surpassed the numbers and have been commended for the same. I have excellent ability to approach and persuade prospects and clients. I am good at asking questions and am good at follow-up. But where I fall short is in not being completely organised. I can be better at managing my time and in organizing myself in a manner that I my productivity improves and I am able to achieve much more. 

Interviewer: Mr. Ravi, does that mean you are saying that you are not productive enough.

Ravi: No that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that with my existing skills I am good on the job considering my overall performance – but I can do a lot more. But to move ahead in my career –I need to work on my ability to organize myself, so that I can handle greater responsibilities with ease.

Interviewer: If you are good on the job and that is shown by your performance results that means it is your strength. We would like to see an example of your failing.

Ravi: I see where you are getting at. But thing is that I do not like to fail so I try to anticipate such situations and prepare myself accordingly. Based on self evaluation I realize that – if I do not work on my skills of organizing I will have challenges while taking up greater responsibilities and work loads. Hence I am preparing myself accordingly – by reading books on the topic and enrolling for courses.

I hope I have answered to your satisfaction , I would appreciate if you could share your thoughts on areas that I could improve upon.

This is one way to handle the question. Have a frank discussion about your weaknesses.Inability to stay organized is a weakness – yet it is a weakness a number of candidates struggle with especially in the early years. The other thing is that the candidate is open about how he is tackling the situation and his keenness to improve himself.

This answer displays

  1. the candidates thought clarity,
  2. Self awareness
  3. Willingness to work on himself.

All attributes of a positive, career focused candidate.

The writer is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.



The Secret to a Great First Impression

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

First impressions are not about you!

They are about the person you are trying to engage with.

And as to the question  ” How to make a great First first impression?” the Best response is “Don’t try to impress.”

Engage the person and get interested in him/her.

Trying to impress will get you the opposite result of what you desire.

When we go to social events we come across some people who appear fake. These people are worried about impressing you rather than being genuinely interested in you. It is a turn-off.

On the other hand, what about people we do like. People whom we like to speak to, to engage with? What is it about these people that we get impressed with?

In my opinion, it has a lot to do with being natural, being comfortable in our own skin. Being genuine.

Broadly the traits that lead us to get impressed can be classified into two categories :

  1. Non Verbal
  2. Verbal

These two aspects form the microcosm of our impact on people when we meet them for the first time.

Non Verbal

The cornerstones of good Non-Verbal engagement are –


They say Eye contact begets eye contact. Typically people are comfortable in holding our gaze for 2-3 seconds but with mutual consent this gaze gets prolonged. Scientifically it is proven that there is a neurological connect, during good eye contact, ( activation of mirror neurons), which creates a bond. This ability to maintain a good eye contact has a huge impact on how we are perceived by others. Good eye contact paves the way for the next key factor of Non Verbal impact The smile.



The transition from an eye-contact to a smile takes just a few milli-seconds. First the eye contact , followed by a smile then perhaps an imperceptible nod. The smile here refers to a “genuine” smile. A smile that involves all the muscles around the mouth and the eye. Infact scientists even have a name for this smile , it is called the ” Duchenne” smile after the neurologist who goes by the same name.

Both eye contact and the smile do not involve a tactile touch. The next cornerstone of non Verbal engagement involves a physical touch, that is the Handshake.


The rules for a good handshake are simple. A firm clasp, a gentle shake and a confident stance. The duration would not be more than 3-4 seconds. Again it is based on mutual consent. More than 6-7 seconds and things can get weird. Mentioning your name during the handshake leads to better name retention.

These are the fundamentals for good non – verbal engagement and this entire routine (Eye-contact , Smile and Handshake)would take less than 10 seconds. These 10 seconds pave the way for the next stage which is the “Conversation”.

Conversations are the “Building Blocks” of a relationship. Infact they are the life blood of healthy relationships. Business or personal. While the Eye-contact , Smile and the Handshake help in creating the initial “impression” it is the actual conversations that will determine what impression you leave the person with.

Having a good engaging conversation is not about being witty, or in cracking jokes. If it comes naturally to you well and good. Else stay clear. Don’t try to be funny.

Engaging in conversations is as simple as showing genuine interest in what the other person has to say and in response, sharing your thoughts in a positive, non-intrusive manner. It is all about giving the other person the “Gift of your Attention”.

There is a ton of literature online about how to become a good conversationalist. The advice revolves around asking questions, active listening, nodding your head appropriately etc. Perfect advice no doubt. But if it doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t do it. People see through the fake stuff. Often we fall into the trap of showing these outward signs of listening to the person, while actually we are thinking about what to say next. We get in to an auto mode. That ultimately kills conversations.

The key to good memorable conversations is to stay true to yourself and be genuinely interested in the other person. It is about how you make the other person feel. Because that is what they are going to remember. Nothing is worse than a person realizing that he was speaking to a wall.

Incase you are not interested in what he/she has to say – politely dis-engage. Move onto the person you find interesting to talk to.

Best way to get better at conversations is to have more of them.

I am reminded of an old story of a wise man named Chidananda.

Chidananda was a great writer and once he was called to speak about writing to a bunch of college students. He went on stage and asked “How many of you really want to be writers”?

All hands went up.

“In that case” he said “ I suggest you all must go home and write”

With that he left.

So, if you want to genuinely engage with people for the first time or the nth time – meet more people and start having more conversations.

I do the same.

Prakash Francis is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.    




An experience of Immersive Theater

conurt6ukaauivrBeing the last Thursday of the month I headed to Chancery pavilion for the monthly NHRD meeting. But, things seemed somewhat different yesterday. There seemed to be an unusual buzz. Long ques at the registration. Flustered patrons. Flustered volunteers. Bodies jostling for their space. And i soon found out why.

An experience in immersive theater to be delivered by Aruna a theater persona and founder of Visual Respiration.

This sounded different. And, what a difference it turned out to be.

The audience were treated to a truly immersive experience, in which Aruna  enthralled the audience with her impressive performance on gender conditioning. Using Rhyme, Repetition & Reflection she wove a magic spell around the audience. Our inner eyes were opened, even if momentarily, to the ever present gender conditioning that we live out non stop – in our work and personal lives.

You can get more details about her workshops and her work by visiting her site visual respiration .

Personally, I am not a feminist , neither am i a proponent of inclusivity – at best i am a fence sitter – with no leanings. But the buzz gets stronger perhaps it is time to take a call. You might call it the inevitable. Besides, as the father of a 17 year old daughter my patriarchal views are coming increasingly under the scanner and the earlier i condition myself to this reality the better.



Hallmark of a Great Career

mzl-jpiwrvacStephen Covey & Jennifer Colosimo in their book  – : Great Work Great Career” say that for a person to have a great career he/she must live up to two standards. The first being that he/she must have made a distinctive contribution to the field of his work, and the other, that he/she must generate a strong feeling of loyalty/trust in others.

Going by this standard  – A couple of my teachers back in school come to mind. They made an immense contribution to the lives of students like me and we trusted them completely to guide us in the right direction.

The interesting thing was that they were regular teachers teaching regular classes. They did not make much money and they were not very powerful outside of the limits of academics. But they guided the trajectory of my career and the careers of many other students. For this I am deeply indebted to them. Many of us students speak of them in a reverential manner.

I guess the next logical question to ask would be were they successful?

I am not sure.

As i said earlier – they were not wealthy and not very famous.

Does it mean that you can have  a great career but not be successful or, put another way, you might be successful but yet have not had a great career.

Off-course this is just one example and we cannot generalize.

What do you think?  Great career and Success  – congruent ? or divergent ?




Fail Better

Ever Tried?

Ever Failed?

No Matter.

Try Again.

Fail Again.

Fail Better.

On 26th January 2014 history was made. Offcourse India celebrated its 65th year of becoming a Republic. But the history I am referring to was made at the Rod Laver Arena – when an “also-ran” –defeated a giant of Tennis. Yes folks I am talking of the Final Match of the Australian Open 2014 – when Stanislas Wawrinka – Defeated Rafael Nadal the reigning world number 1 and 13 time grand slam winner.

Stanislas Wawrinka –  The highest he had reached prior to this game was the Semi Finals  of a US Open. No doubt Stan was a Good player – he has an Olympic gold to his credit. But when he was pitted against the top four of Tennis – he pulled a blank.39-1 was his record against the Top four of Tennis.

Going into this match the odds were stacked against him. He had played 12 matches against Nadal and Lost all. Leave alone winning a match – he had never won a set.

It was going to be a classic David versus Goliath and everyone had written off Wawrinka. Some papers called him a pushover. Stan himself had a very simple game plan – it was to Fail Better.FAIL Better for Blog

Can anyone blame him for that.

Come to think of it – is there a better way to look at things?

When you have played and lost so many times – your self belief hangs by a thread – the demons of self doubt rule the roost – lets be realistic – winning or even expecting to win becomes secondary – playing matters and it matters that one Fails Better.


Success follows.Success Follows Blog

Should’nt we take the same approach?  

When it comes to the playing fields of our profession … of our careers. We have reached a certain station. We have worked towards it faced struggles overcome them and won laurels for ourselves.

But the question begs asking – given the resources we set out with – have we become the best that we could have been. Have we tested the limits of our capability.

I am afraid the answer is “No”. I am afraid after falling a few times we have settled for what has come our way. Some us have never even tasted failure. We are Not willing to test ourselves further. Fearing failure.

We have become satisfied with our achievements. We have Plateaued.

No doubt the plateau is a high place – but the peak Beckons.

The Peak Beckons
The Peak Beckons

Question is are we willing to have a go at the peak. Are we willing to test the peak of our capabilities.

This journey to the peak is littered with failures and bruised egos. Are we willing to face the challenges that this journey to the peak will throw up.

Edmund Hillary when he was asked how he felt after having conquered the Mount Everest. Replied

I did not conquer the Mount Everest. I conquered myself.

So my dear folks are you willing to conquer yourself doubts and fears and realise your Peak?

Each one of us has immense potential – a lot of it lying untapped. And as you embark on the journey from the plateau to the Peak, from good to Great a journey which challenges your self belief – I am sure you will face many challenges-you will be pulled down by  many a self doubt.  And You will fail many a times. And as you pick yourself up and move on again  – I suggest – you recall this man – Stan Wawringka –the Giant Slayer and this quote which is tattooed  in his left arm –

Ever Tried?

Ever Failed?

No Matter

Try Again

Fail Again

FAIL Better for Blog

The Skill Paradox

What got you here won’t get you there.

Marshal  Goldsmith wrote a book on this topic to highlight the importance of letting go of the delusions of success. Typically this book was targeted at the Leaders and CEOS who were successful and who were under the belief that since they accomplished so much there way is the right way and things will straighten out to their favour. But that is not the case. Else we might not see such successful CEOs and the organisations they represent biting the dust. Think Paul Allen.

The Skill ParadoxBut my reason for writing this post is directed to the aam junta – the lesser mortals who make up for 90 % of the employed – the minions.

The queer fact is that the minions of today will turn out to be our future Leaders – some of them atleast.  I think we can say with a reasonable amount of assurance that some of the minions we will take up key roles – 5 years / 10 years down the line.

Hence the statement from Goldsmith – addressed to us minions

What got you here won’t get you there.

I like to call it the skills paradox. The skills that got you here won’t get you there.

As new entrants to the work force your skills in languages , technical know how and qualifications help you step through the door or break through the threshold. But, increasingly organisations are realising that Managerial roles call for a certain different set of skills. Which, you may choose to ignore at your own peril.

No doubt an organisations’ success depends on the individual skill levels of their employees. But, if those highly skilled and highly paid employees are not able to work in sync as a team – then the teams’ and by extension the organisations performance levels suffer. This is especially true for the manager. If the manager is unable to resonate with his team a lot can get forsaken. There are  umpteen instances where an exceptional performer gets promoted and we soon find the overall performance of the team nose dives.

The irony is that our educational curriculum on which over 15 of our learning years are spent, is geared towards developing our Intellectual Skills – memory and analysis. Almost negligible importance is given to building our social skills – communication, giving and taking respect, self awareness, self belief, etc. Life habits that build character are not touched upon. The reason could be that these skills are not easily measuarble. How do you measure discipline? Or for that matter your ability to negotiate? Tough .

So that gives rise to a situation where we have ultra smart, tech savvy students with data on their finger tips – aces at number crunching. But place them in a social setting – they break into a cold sweat. Promote such an individual Top Performer to a Managerial role and you are likely to see the whole team performance suffer

What are the abilities that separate a leader from an individual team player-

According to an article by the Guru of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman – the five abilities that distinguish a good leader are

  • Self Awareness
  • Self Regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

Ironically – these are the very same skills that are not taught at school.

The good News is that leading organisations have woken up to the importance of interpersonal skills.

Over the past couple of decades the trend has been increasingly towards gearing up the employees with skills to work better in concert in the work place and helping them to improve their emotional quotient.   But still a not needs to be done to take these learnings to the grass roots.

Lets hope the coming years will see a speedy tapering of the skills Paradox.

Wishing you all Happy Holidays and Warm wishes for a Fantastic New Year!!