You might be wondering why I have pitted these two characteristics against each other. It’s true, most of the time we would say we are nice people and often consider ourselves effective in our work.
This post is aimed at those times we are more likely to block out of our memory: The times when we are under the cosh; extremely busy; head down with lots of work on and can inevitably find it hard to be a nice person, especially in the moment – those split seconds when we are forced to interact with people during this over stretched period. Is this starting to sound more familiar?
Take a very mundane example: You are running late for a meeting, you are at the barriers leaving a train station waiting to present your ticket and the person in front of you is on the phone, coffee in hand attempting to fish their ticket out of their back pocket and taking some time to do this, do you feel like being a nice person in this moment? Most rational adults can stop themselves from exhibiting any signs of annoyance at this but let’s just think about what’s going on inside: You don’t know or have anything against this person specifically… the reason you don’t feel like being nice in this moment is because the person is stopping you from being the most effective you i.e. getting to your meeting as fast as possible. Now imagine translating this feeling into your workplace, your client meet-ups, your out-of-hours work at home with the family and you may start to understand why I see these characteristics as opposing one another now and again.
As a short aside, I’ve known and met some pretty chilled out people in my time, so if that’s you, amazing, this issue is not likely to be scratching where you are itching, so perhaps you’d like to move on to some of our other topics more suited to laid back people, for example managing your email inbox…
So let’s break this topic down into a couple of questions which I will address in turn:
- What are the wrong ways to interpret being nice?
- Why does it matter about being a nice person if you are effective?
- How can I stop effectiveness switching into being unapproachable?
- How do I learn the long sought-after art of patience?
- What are the wrong ways to interpret being nice? So let’s get our terms straight, when I say being a nice person I don’t mean being a doormat. I don’t suggest that a nice person is someone who stops everything immediately for everyone and never thinks about their own work. Other words to perhaps better describe being a nice person in the context of effective work may be approachable, understanding, thoughtful, caring, interested in others, having a sense of humour, engaging, patient.
- Why does it matter about being a nice person if you are effective? These characteristics, when shown to your co-workers, family, clients or anyone that needs to interact with you during your working hours, will in some way demand the same back. More importantly true effectiveness comes about when we harness the potential in others and see that we cannot function as an island; we are people orientated by our very nature. Every patient and approachable gesture made by you is a step closer to creating a good working culture and a long term effective strategy for success.
- How can I stop effectiveness switching into being unapproachable? There are two main reasons why effectiveness can feel like it has to be the same as walls-up, unapproachable unfriendliness: a) Not wanting to hinder focused flow; b) Pressure coming from lack of time
- It can be very hard to get into a good state of flow so when you are there you naturally do not want to be disturbed and someone doing the disturbing may not get a very nice version of you, well actually it’s probably more likely to be the 2nd or 3rd person who disturbs you who doesn’t see your nice side! Try and limit distractions as much as possible when you know you need to be in this state: Check your diary and block out a chunk of at least 90 minutes; turn off all notifications and go to a space where you are likely to be the least interrupted (your tortoise enclosure). You might want to send some kind of agreed signal to your colleagues or family that now is a bad time to talk e.g. a sign on the door or headphones in. If you tell them in advance then in this circumstance not being approachable does not equate to not being nice.
- More likely, snappy and unfriendly behaviour comes about when you are in a time pressured situation. Firstly you may want to ask yourself – how have I got here? Assessing time pressured situations is a very broad topic; I decided to write a part 2 to this post to spend a bit more time on this topic, you can read it here. Assuming you are making efforts to limit times when you are under extreme time pressures the main principle to take home is: Do not fear interruptions during these times. Being interrupted does not mean you have to stop what you are doing. I always used to have a little notepad by my desk so if a call came in or someone spoke to me I could remain calm and approachable with them, write their question, task or issue down and tell them politely a rough timescale of when I’d likely get back to them. In most cases this will be enough but in times when that does not satisfy you’ll probably need to delegate or assess priorities between the thing you are doing and the thing they need you to do. In every case there will be a clear difference between the two and a call will be made as to which thing gets put down the list.
- How do I learn the long sought-after art of patience? Our culture is not really all about patience anymore. Everyone is more about immediacy and people are starting to think NOW is the only option. It is a tough thing to break away from this and convince yourself and those around you that waiting for things is ok. I’m buying a sofa bed at the moment; do I mind that it says it will be dispatched in 6-10 weeks? No, because I’ve asked for a specific fabric and know it is being custom made just for me. When we understand the value that time offers we are prepared to be patient: Patient with people, patient with ourselves, and patient with inanimate objects. This is the case with every day short term things too, and if we let that moto penetrate our psyche enough it starts to affect how we react when things take a long time and can become a habit even when the thing or person we are waiting for isn’t adding value during the long wait!