There’s a really popular article on LinkedIn called “A Human Resources Career Is Not for ‘Nice’ People.” So far, it’s garnered more than 20,000 likes, almost 2,000 comments, and nearly 10,000 shares.
It’s not hard to see why: When you read something implying that friendliness and human resources are incompatible, you think Wow! or What? or Huh? or But I’m in HR and I’m nice!
Is Nice Enough?
The problem, as the article insists, is that too many HR people think that their jobs are all about helping people. They consequently assume that “being a nice person is qualification enough for the function.”
Who are these people? Who are these professionals that believe that grinning from ear to ear at work is all you need to do your work? Many of the HR peeps who I know have “MBA,” “SPHR,” or a host of other acronyms trailing their names. What idiots! They spent all that time and money and energy growing their knowledge when they could’ve gotten by with a mere smile.
The post goes on to detail how hard HR can be. It cites examples of professionals who must lay off people, have difficult compensation conversations, and do other not-fun things. All of which point to the notion that “nice is not enough.”
Well of course it isn’t!
The article eventually explains that we should replace “niceness” with “empathy.” Fair enough, but can’t we embody both? Shouldn’t we?
But Don’t Nice People Finish Last?
The bitch. The jerk. Donald Trump. We see these people at the summits of their fields and we think the cliché is true: Nice people finish last.
A while back, academic researchers found that people who rated themselves “highly agreeable” earned less than others. That kind of sucks if you’re a decent person, right?
But hold on. The study asked people to choose between adjectives: “agreeable” vs “quarrelsome,” “cooperative” vs “difficult,” etc. Except, these choices are not mutually exclusive—it also seems like the report was really comparing passiveness to assertiveness. You can be either of these and nice at the same time.
So forget the stupid clichés. Listen to Laurie Ruettimann, who wrote, “Insecure HR leaders who don’t have the support of the CEO will try to garner favor with the executive leadership team by talking tough. But seasoned HR professionals know that you can’t be influential without being nice.”
“Nice” Is Not a Dirty Four-Letter Word
Here’s the truth: Sometimes nice people finish last. Sometimes jerks do. Sometimes nice people win. Other times Donald Trump does. So if success can come regardless of demeanor, why not choose to be pleasant?
Then again, why are people even questioning the value of collegiality? As if choosing the alternative were a legitimate option. As if a fancy title, plushier office chair, and extra coins justify being an obnoxious “leader” (the quotes are there for a reason). Research showing that kindness does or doesn’t pay is interesting, but it shouldn’t serve as a guide for how to behave. If you need a report to show you how to treat your coworkers, then quit your job and work out of your home where you can’t ruin other people’s days. Or better still, if being nice doesn’t feel genuine to you, then at least learn to fake it.
To everyone else, don’t be ashamed to say that you are a nice person. There’s no more important attribute. And if liking people is why you chose to work in HR, that’s cool. Don’t spout bullshit about organizational alignment, management theory, strategic alliances, or other fancy reasons that you think will impress others if they aren’t true for you.
People take jobs for money, stability, opportunity, and yes, to work with other nice people. That’s all OK. Your motives for picking your career are not important. What you do in it is.
Ultimately, being nice is a requirement to work in HR. It’s a requirement to work in every field. Because most importantly, nice is a prerequisite to being human. Period.