A few months back, entrepreneur and founder of Revelry House Lo Bosworth was asked by E! Online’s Catt Sadler about how she gets over her nice girl syndrome when she has to be a tough business owner. I think this is something many nice girls have to deal with in their career. Young professional women, even in this modern day, were still raised to not be pushy, aggressive, or loud. Being perceived as polite is always of the utmost importance.
Women, and I am the first one to say I do this, tend to like people to like them. I still have that middle school mentality where I want the cool girl to also think I’m cool. But the problem with that is I become very meek and don’t ask for what I want, need, or deserve. I’m more concerned with making sure this person likes me than seeing how they can help my business. I’ve always had trouble finding the line between strong and tough to deal with.
I’m still stuck in a popularity contest mentality and it’s hurting me. A recent study, which compiled data over 20 years, found that women who were “disagreeable” at the office made five percent more than their friendlier, “nicer” female colleagues. This study literally proves that nice girls finish last.
That is something I think comes more easily to men. If a guy is demanding or tough, he is called a good at business. On a bad day he may be called a ball buster, which still has a ring of positivity. I always want to be thought of as nice, but at the same time I want to be known as that smart girl who is confident and strong, asks for what she wants, and also makes a really good impression. How do I get over my nice girl syndrome without going way too far over the line? It’s still a minefield for me, but here is some advice that will help nice girls finish first, not last.
It’s Not Personal, It’s Business
You may think the above quote is from You’ve Got Mail, but actually it’s from The Godfather (which Tom Hanks’ character quotes in the delightful romcom about internet mail.) You have to remember this. It would be great if everyone I met in my career was a real friend and, to quote Mean Girls, I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy… but that sounds like a lot of work and I don’t have the time. Amy Smalarz, President of Strategic Market Insight, tells Levo, “Don’t take it personally. It’s business and businesses need to be run efficiently with people who contribute. Too often, women give people second, third, and fourth chances—when they should have been gone a long time ago.”
Ask With Strength
Vanessa Wade of Connect the Dots PR says, “Understand what you want or need is not bad; it is something that can boost your self esteem, your brand, and help the company. Again practice with a trusted friend to build your confidence, speak clearly, don’t fidget, look into their eyes and hope for the best. Nice girls don’t always finish last!!”
It’s not about what you’re asking, it’s about how you’re asking, says Elizabeth Mitchell, a freelance fashion writer and author of The Neon Blonde. “When asking for more money from an editor, I always like to back up my request with solid proof that I deserve it. This typically includes pointing out examples of past performance (articles I’ve written that have done very well for the site), so the editor knows exactly how valuable I am. I’m still working on the Nice Girl Syndrome myself, but my best advice to readers is to just go for it. You’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask. Weigh the risks with the rewards. Oftentimes, the worst that can happen is the person says no. The rewards though are much higher!”
Remember, if you have the goods to back it up, you aren’t wasting their time! Nicole Yelland, a director of marketing and communications, says, “This one has always been hard for me, especially when I meet someone who is a ‘big deal.’ To overcome this perception, realize that they’re just someone else with a job to do and short on time—so skip the mumbling, kissing up, and fumbling. Look them in the eye, introduce yourself, maybe mention how you’e heard about them (if and only if you have) and get to the point.”
Don’t Run Away From Conflict
When people start arguing or even politely disagree, I literally look for an exit and quickly plan a strategy to get out as fast as possible. If I can’t move, sometimes I just start to hum or pretend a corner of the wall needs my immediate attention. In other words, I hate conflict. A teacher once came to talk to me in high school, not necessarily about anything really bad, and I literally crawled under the table. Melody Wilding, a therapist who works with young professional women, says avoiding conflict is a classic symptom of Nice Girl Syndrome, but this isn’t a healthy way to move ahead in the workplace. “Instead of playing the blame game, turn disagreement into problem-solving. Respond with a supportive, neutralizing statement such as, ‘Let’s talk about how we can fix this.’ Or acknowledge what the other person has said, and state your opinion, ‘I hear that you’re unhappy with the marketing project. I propose we explore some alternative solutions’.”
It’s all about how you approach the situation. Be confident. Here are a few more quick tips from Karen R. Koenig who has been treating “nice girl” clients for years:
- Talk with assertive women about how they get their needs met in the business world. Listen to their advice, then start practicing it in non-business situations until you become skilled at expressing your needs clearly and firmly.
- Look for mentors—male and female—at work who can help you grow into being less nice and more assertive.
- Write out what you want to say in business situations, and practice saying your words (watch your tone and posture) in front of a mirror until you’re comfortable with it.
- Ask trusted colleagues to critique your behavior in meetings to point out progress or challenges in transforming yourself.
- Review your goals and how unnecessary niceness prevents you from reaching them.
Ask Tracy Cioffi about her best confidence tips.