Nice is a four-letter word

Simon Ellis | December 19, 2018

“It’s just that, well, you’re too nice.”

And thus ended yet another teenage relationship. Yep, I was that person. I was infuriatingly reliable, disappointingly supportive, and so gratingly empathetic a heart-to-heart about her bad day at school could induce nausea.

In my ignorance I’d never realised that arriving on time for a date was really rather uncool, and I was never tempted by motorbikes and cigarettes because, well, bikes are dangerous and cigarettes give you bad breath.

The only way I’d be racing from 0-60mph would be to drive off a cliff.

I’ll tell you who did like me though. Parents. They LOVED me. The very same things about me that drove their precious daughters to suicidal levels of boredom and security were like catnip to a mum or dad. They knew I could deliver their daughter back home safely when I promised I would. They knew more often than not I did my homework and had a strong work ethic – I was a provider in the making. They knew I wanted a relationship – I wasn’t just in it for, well, the quick win shall we say. And they liked my car too – an 850cc Mini. The only way I’d be racing from 0-60mph would be to drive off a cliff.

Reliable, supportive, empathetic, relationship-oriented – I’d say that sounds a lot like EllisJames. Either we only deal with parents of daughters, or being ‘nice’ is something that businesses like. Trouble is, ‘nice’ doesn’t exactly sound cool does it.

How do you leverage nice?

There are those among us who are entirely genuine in their focus on the churn of business – where their working conditions matter nought, so long as the figures are right and the results are to plan. For them, the fact that a business is ‘nice’ to work with isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference. But for many others, fortunately all of our customers, being ‘nice’ to work with is the very foundation of our working relationship. Of course, EllisJames isn’t unique in this (actually we are, but I need to sound magnanimous for the purposes of this post) – how many times has someone recommended a business to you, saying, “they’re really nice to work with.” Hopefully quite a few or I’m not going to make my point here.

That point being, how do you leverage ‘nice’?

I’ve experienced many examples of efficient service over the years, but it wasn’t always ‘nice’; and many times where service wasn’t great, but it was not-great in a really nice way. So to be ‘nice’ isn’t intrinsically linked to service levels (although good service is often a by-product of being nice).

I’ve met many hard nosed business people who were very nice; and others of a softer nose who were really rather awful. So to be nice isn’t a function of business proficiency or acumen either.

But ‘nice’ is so often talked of, so often critical to productivity, so often intrinsic to a healthy working environment. Yet we wouldn’t dare proclaim we’re nice to work with because we think it would sound disingenuous, flippant or not relevant to a big corporation (although we are actually really rather lovely to work with, ‘lovely’ being nice²).

To be ‘nice’ is to authentically care about the interaction – the temperature of the space between us.

To be ‘nice’ is to authentically care about the interaction – the temperature of the space between us. It requires empathy, self-awareness and personal investment – a willingness to give without the guarantee of receiving. To be nice, therefore, is not a sign of weakness but an innate desire to work together – to be a part of something bigger than one could create alone.

It’s a little bit like being in love. Which is another four-letter word.

Si Ellis