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Why Playing Nice Doesn’t Work

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When was the last time you heard someone say they could ‘work with anyone?’ The truth is, people really can’t work effectively together without mutual respect, trust, and open dialogue—the underpinnings of friendship.

Yet, we often hide behind perceived niceties when there’s a personality conflict brewing. That’s the situation my friend “Suzie” found herself in last week when a respected colleague asked her to ‘make nice’ with someone further up the chain of command.

Frustrated, Suzie complied with the request to ‘make nice’ while she fumed inside. As someone on salary, the additional last minute task took 30 minutes of personal time because it was just one more thing tacked onto a day already packed to the gills with work. Later, Suzie picked up the phone to relieve stress. “I don’t want to ‘make nice.’ I want to make a difference!” Suzie exclaimed. Hmmm. Perhaps we should tack on more than 30 minutes.

Corporate Politics Poisons Cultures… And Employees

The ‘play nice’ conversation happens all too frequently. Generally a sign of politics at work, ‘making nice’ is cultural poison. Avoidance skirts underlying issues and serves to reinforce existing dysfunctions. This situation will continue to degrade unless the organization addresses its political challenges.

Burying problems takes its toll both personally and organizationally. The request to play nice condescends to employees by alienating and demotivating people who truly want to make a difference. It also creates friction between those who strive to do the politically correct thing and those who strive to get more work done.

Suzie’s colleague wants to keep organizational balance by going through the motions to demonstrate respect for titles. He believes following channels is the right way to get things done, even while recognizing that bureaucracy often ties his hands. Suzie just wants recognition for her achievements and a reasonable workload.

Suzie will be at odds with her friend (an important part of her support structure) until they talk things through and there’s acknowledgement for how she feels.

In Suzie’s case, lack of acknowledgement is especially devastating. As a star performer that has taken on special projects that have generated results beyond the company’s wildest expectations, she needs recognition. She’s met pressing deadlines for the past year, and current commitments continue into the 4th quarter. Suzie needs help. And believes she will not get relief in any form. As expected, the additional effort Suzie put forth the other night has gone wholly unacknowledged.

Determined to deliver what has been promised, Suzie has taken on too much and has burned out. Spectacularly. Burnout has bled over into her personal life. Suzie’s anger and frustration about work impact her mood at home, where it causes additional strife. Without resolution in the workplace, Suzie’s only option will be to eventually leave the company. To do otherwise would put emotional and physical health and family relationships at long-term risk.

Politics Signals Failure in Leadership

‘Making nice’ also signals failure in leadership. In this instance, senior management  knows there’s a problem with this particular manager and has chosen to do nothing. Whether it results from power structure or discomfort with conflict resolution, this approach drastically reduces productivity and profitability. Employees disengage in a political environment, and disengagement hampers:

  • Motivation and creativity
  • Customer service
  • Competitiveness
  • Corporate reputation
  • Employee retention

Turnover hurts… not only from a cost perspective, but also for its impact on morale, brain drain, productivity, and budget. So, the next time you find yourself skirting an issue because of corporate politics, step back and consider taking a different approach.

Diffusing a highly political situation generally requires 3rd party intervention. Please contact us if you need help clearing the air.

© 2012. All rights reserved.

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