The Principle of Nice

My mother hates the word “nice”, so Mum, if you’re reading this – I’m only trying to reach my audience.

There’s one business principle that analytical, highly educated people don’t often talk about because it’s just too plebeian/common for words: niceness.

Bad Justifications for Continuing Useless Argumentation

Within the last week, I’ve wasted some valuable work time conducting a Facebook post argument with strangers, and an email war with an acquaintance, simply because it ticked me off that they were acting like condescending bulldozing jerks. While my logical brain informed me that (a) it’s useless to argue either on Facebook or email, and (b) I could be using the time in much better ways, my emotional side came back with this argument: “Yeah, but they’re being JERKS. And they shouldn’t be allowed to be that way.”

Did all end well, with all three of the people bowing to the inevitability of my superior arguments and changing their wicked ways? No. I said things, they said things, everyone firmly dug in their toes and stuck to their guns. And all of the parties involved were complete strangers who had never met in person.

Irritation: Why I Thought These Guys Were Jerks

There’s a lot of male-bashing out in our feminist-happy world, and sometimes I can rise above the dark undertow. This time, I found myself thinking, “Typical guys. Trying to fob off their lack of information or lack of coherent argument with emotional reasons masking as real thinking.” It is really irritating to hear the ghost-like whisper of male condescension, pinpoint the fact that the argument itself is based on a very flimsy premise, and still be unable to get beyond the mask of logic: “Well, I’m using words that sound logical, and if you can’t see how my personal stories and flimsy reasoning relate to the underlying issue, that’s your problem.”

Verbally, it’s about the same as a man hiding his engorged torso behind a long black leather jacket, telling off another man at a bar for accidentally bumping into his belly, and then complaining to someone the next day that “Women just don’t appreciate a real catch when they see one.” Nothing you can tell that man about his lack of attractive powers will actually be heard, because of the pre-existing idea that (a) he is a catch and (b) other people’s blindness to his charms is their problem.

I could not truly hear the things being said by any one of these three, because it was couched in an offensive, in-your-face tone. Perhaps to them, it sounded quite reasonable and matter-of-fact. Perhaps their mothers all love them, and I’ve pegged them all wrong.

Actual Business Principle

Be nice to people, even if you’re sure that you’re right.

Being right is good, but if you go around telling people that you’re a genius at something (even if you are), it tends to make them think that you’re a blowhard. Perhaps you are a genius, and so far above mere mortals that they can’t see your amazing reasoning skills, but they won’t necessarily thank you for pointing that out.

Sometimes, arrogance is also a sign of criminality, because criminals always think that they’re cleverer than normal folks. Beware the attorney who blazes in, stating confidently that the judge is an idiot and the opposing counsel is a tub of lard for brains, and he (or she) alone can sail in and save the day for your case. He will probably lose – not necessarily because your case isn’t good – but because he ticks off everyone around him (or her) with the biggest attitude on the planet. Some of those attorneys just lose the case, and some get disbarred. (For a fun read, see the Presiding Disciplinary Judge website for Arizona. This judge gets to decide on suspensions and disbarments, and sometimes the attorneys really dig themselves a very large hole that is hard to explain.)

Second Actual Business/Ethics Principle

Real humility means that you don’t mind admitting (a) when you’re wrong and/or (b) someone else has thought of a better idea. Both are possible quite often, and it hurts nothing but your pride to admit it.

It’s not necessary to wander around looking like a lost sheep, constantly proclaiming as a defense mechanism (against all possible criticism), “I could be wrong – it’s happened before – nobody can be right all the time,” and so on. Just an internal acceptance is usually necessary for everyone’s sanity, and if someone starts to sound like they’re losing their cool, feel free to offer that as a ‘soft answer that turns away wrath’.

Don’t offer yourself as a target, because that invites bullies. You can state your idea or principle quite calmly, and then follow it with, “but if I’m wrong, I’d like to know.” The trick is that you actually have to want to know if you are wrong. That’s the hard part.

Be nice to people unless they constantly try to take advantage of it, and then hit them with every solid argument that you have, because they’ve identified themselves as bullies. There is no reason in the world to let a bully get away with anything, except that it’s a waste of time to get them to see reason. They will always be right in their own eyes.

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