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If movies are a reflection of our culture, then clawing your way to the top is the only route to success in our dog-eat-dog world — think Meryl Streep as ruthless editor-in-chief Miranda Priestlyin the “Devil Wears Prada.” To the contrary, “The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness,” says the road to success is paved with being nice. Yes, nice. Authors Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval of the Kaplan Thaler Group, an advertising agency in New York City, were invited on the show to talk about why being nice can help you be more successful in the office — and in life. Read an excerpt:
The Power of Nice For years, we have loved a particular security guard in our Manhattan office building. In fact, most of us at The Kaplan Thaler Group think the world of him. A large, jovial man in his mid-fifties, Frank brightens people’s days by giving everyone who walks into our building a huge, warm greeting. “Hello, Linda!” “Hello, Robin!” he’ll say. “Happy Friday!” Frank’s engaging banter changed the way we started work in the morning. Instead of simply flashing our passes anonymously and making a beeline for the elevator, we found ourselves seeking out Frank and making sure to say hello. He set a positive tone for the entire day. But we never considered how Frank might be helping our business, other than preventing intruders from entering the premises. That is, until the day Richard Davis, the president and COO of U.S. Bank, the sixth-largest bank in the United States, came to see us. For months, our entire team at The Kaplan Thaler Group had been working to create a pitch that would wow Davis and win us the huge U.S. Bank account. At the time of Davis’s visit, it was down to the wire. We were one of two agencies still in the running for the account. Davis and his team were flying in from their executive offices in Minneapolis to meet personally with us. We didn’t realize it at the time, but in fact Davis and his staff were a bit apprehensive about the kind of treatment they’d get in New York City. The furious pace and hard-bitten “out of my way” attitude of the Big Apple had become part of the mythology of the city. They were afraid we would be too cold, too aloof. But when Richard Davis and his team walked into our building, they received a warm, enthusiastic greeting from Frank. When Davis reached our offices a few minutes later, he was gushing about the friendly security guard. “This guy gave me a huge hello!” he said. “And all of a sudden, I thought how could I not want to work with a company that has someone like Frank? How can I feel anything but good about hiring an agency like that?” We won the account. Of course, Davis wouldn’t have awarded us the job if he wasn’t impressed with our work. But we’ve gotta give Frank credit. With a multimillion-dollar account in the balance, it was Frank’s warm hello that helped us cinch the deal. That is the power of nice.The security guard wins the heart of the COO. It might sound like a Disney movie, but we can assure you it was no fantasy. We wrote The Power of Nice because we completely disagreed with the conventional wisdom that “Nice guys finish last” and “No good deed goes unpunished.” Our culture has helped to propagate the myth of social Darwinism–of survival of the fittest–that the cutthroat “me vs. you” philosophy wins the day. One of the biggest-selling career books in the past few years is called Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. Yet this completely contradicts the way we have run our business and our lives. In less than a decade, we built The Kaplan Thaler Group into a powerhouse in advertising with close to $1 billion in billings, making it one of the nation’s fastest-growing advertising agencies. Our success was won not with pitchforks and spears, but with flowers and chocolates. Our growth is the result not of fear and intimidation, but of smiles and compliments. Time and time again, we have seen the extraordinary power of nice in our business dealings and in our personal lives. It is the patient passenger who politely asks the airline ticket agent to please check one more time who gets the first-class upgrade, rather than the “I’m a triple platinum member” blowhard. It is the driver who is polite and apologetic to the police officer who sometimes is forgiven for driving over the speed limit.
But nice has an image problem. Nice gets no respect. To be labeled “nice” usually means the other person has little else positive to say about you. To be nice is to be considered Pollyanna and passive, wimpy, and Milquetoast. Let us be clear: Nice is not naive. Nice does not mean smiling blandly while others walk all over you. Nice does not mean being a doormat. In fact, we would argue that nice is the toughest four-letter word you’ll ever hear. It means moving forward with the clear-eyed confidence that comes from knowing that being very nice and placing other people’s needs on the same level as your own will get you everything you want. Think about it: Nice is luckier in love. People who are low-key and congenial have one-half the divorce rate of the general population, says a University of Toronto study.Nice makes more money. According to Professor Daniel Goleman, who conducted research on how emotions affect the workplace for his book Primal Leadership, there is a direct correlation between employee morale and the bottom line. One study found that every 2 percent increase in the service climate–that is, the general cheerfulness and helpfulness of the staff–saw a 1 percent increase in revenue.Nice is healthier. A University of Michigan study found that older Americans who provide support to others — either through volunteer work or simply by being a good friend and neighbor–had a 60 percent lower rate of premature death than their unhelpful peers. Nice spends less time in court. One study found that doctors who had never been sued spoke to their patients for an average of three minutes longer than physicians who had been sued twice or more, reports Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. It is often the small kindnesses — the smiles, gestures, compliments, favors–that make our day and can even change our lives. Whether you are leading your own company, running for president of the PTA, or just trying to conduct a civil conversation with your teenage daughter, the power of nice will help you break through the misconceptions that keep you from achieving your goals. The power of nice will help you to open doors, improve your relationships at work and at home, and let you sleep a whole lot better. Nice not only finishes first; those who use its nurturing power wind up happier, to boot! In the chapters ahead, we’ll show you that being nice doesn’t mean sacrificing what you want for someone else. There’s always a second, third, or even fourth solution when you apply the principles of nice.
Excerpted from “The Power of Nice,” by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. Copyright © 2006 by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. Excerpted by permission of All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.