Don’t Be So Nice!

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In a recent session, a team began their check-in by identifying communication problems. This was odd because everyone in the company was sitting around the conference table. How can people who sit across from each other every day not communicate effectively? As the day wore on, I realized that the team was suffering from “nice” disorder.

A Failure to Communicate

The person in the sales seat, we’ll call him Jim, needs information from a person in the finance seat (we’ll call him Bob). Jim comes to Bob with his request: “I need numbers for a big presentation, but I know you’re busy, so no hurry.”  

What Jim meant was: “No hurry, but I need it by Thursday to prepare my presentation.” Bob hears that Jim’s request isn’t urgent, and so he prioritizes other things on his plate. And without follow-up or a reminder, Bob promptly forgets about it.

Suddenly, on Thursday night, Jim looks up and realizes he doesn’t have the information necessary to complete his presentation. Now he’s upset with Bob and tells him all about it. Meanwhile, Bob is lost because he hears “no hurry.” 

How many times has this happened to you at work or home? 

How Does Nice Disorder Start?

Sometimes, we think if we’re “nice,” we’re helping the other person. But really, we’re likely just avoiding our own discomfort or a need for people to like us. 

Nice disorder is the root cause of many communication problems. It causes us to be wishy-washy or vague with requests or feedback.

1. For example, by trying to be nice, Jim doesn’t help Bob understand what “no hurry” means. He also didn’t follow up before he was on red alert late. For his part, Bob didn’t ask for clarity of timeline when Jim initially asked him for numbers. These are classic nice disorder symptoms.

2. In another example, when someone misses a deadline for a task, they may offer a plausible explanation. When everyone accepts the excuse, even though the miss has a negative impact on the business, nice disorder takes hold.

3. In one final example, let’s say a newer team member offers a solution to an issue that you saw fail miserably at your last job. Rather than sharing your experience and lessons learned, you let nice disorder take over and say nothing. 

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Curing Nice Disorder

The treatment for nice disorder is candor. Even if it doesn’t feel like it at first, candor with our co-workers is a very selfless act; it requires us to put others’ needs ahead of our own selfish needs to avoid confrontation. 

Here are a couple of examples of how to solve nice disorder when it manifests.

1. Make a Clear Request

When you need something from someone, define the task, confirm they’re the correct owner of the task, and provide a completion date. So, Jim would say to Bob, “Bob, I need the numbers for my presentation by 2 p.m. on Thursday.”  

It’s not your responsibility to figure out if someone is too busy. However, it is your responsibility to ask the appropriate person for what you need. Then, it’s that person’s responsibility to complete the task in the clear time frame you provided or to negotiate a different deadline.

2. Hold Owners Accountable

When a task owner misses a deadline, instead of accepting their excuses, others need to hold the task owner accountable. 

Instead of saying, “That’s okay” (when it clearly isn’t), team members should ask the task owner, “What happened?” They should ask why the task wasn’t a priority. 

Be careful here to make the conversation about the issue and not a direct attack on the person. Be soft on the person and hard on the issue.

3. Offer Open and Honest Feedback

When you withhold information that could change a team’s decision on a solution, your selfishness causes your team to pursue a lost cause. Instead, get comfortable with being uncomfortable and offer open and honest feedback during discussions. 

If you share your concerns and experience, the team has time to alter or scrap the plan, saving time, money, and a lot of frustration.


To be a great leader, manager, or team member, you have to care enough to tell people the truth. Nice disorder leads to mediocrity; clarity is a love language that lets teams solve more critical issues faster. When a team has more clarity with open and honest conversations, they naturally lead to a more growth-oriented organization.

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