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How to avoid the nice guy syndrome

By Kate Lorenz
CareerBuilder.com

Editor's Note: CNN.com has a business partnership with CareerBuilder.com, which serves as the exclusive provider of job listings and services to CNN.com.

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Do nice guys finish last at work, too? A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology says yes.

Nikos Bozionelos of the University of Sheffield in England researched personality and career success and found that white-collar workers who were the most agreeable, conscientious and sensitive to the needs of others were less likely to be promoted.

Bozionelos said he believes it's because the workers don't put their needs first: "Agreeable people tend to self-sacrifice and compromise their own interests to make others happy." And because "nice" people do things just to please others, they often are given low-profile tasks no one else wants and wind up doing activities that don't enhance their careers.

Because American culture celebrates forcefulness, even aggression, researcher and author Gary Namie says the altruistic have it just as rough here in the United States, where, "Nice gets you in trouble. Nice gets you exploited."

Author and executive coach Lois Frankel says there are a number of ways nice people undermine themselves. Here are five of the most common, along with tips for (pleasantly) breaking the cycle:

1. You let others' mistakes inconvenience you: Before rearranging your life to correct someone else's mistake, assess the risk versus the reward of meeting unreasonable expectations. At times you'll have no choice but to jump in to put out the fire. But there also will be times when you have the latitude to push back and say, "This isn't what we originally discussed and agreed to. Since I'll have to rethink the plan and put more time into it than anticipated, I won't be able to have it completed by the initially proposed deadline." Let the person know you want to provide the best service possible -- and ask for the time and resources needed.

2. You let others take credit for your ideas: Ever suggest an idea that seemed to fall flat, only to find out later it was implemented and someone else got the credit? To avoid having others steal your ideas, make sure you state them loudly and confidently or put them in writing. If you're at a meeting and someone proposes the same thing you've previously suggested, call attention to it by saying, "Sounds like you're building on my original suggestion, and I would certainly support that."

3. You apologize unnecessarily: Save your apologies for big-time bloopers. When you do make a mistake worth apologizing for, apologize once, then move into problem-solving mode. Objectively assess what went wrong and ways to fix it. Always begin from a place of equality, for example: "Based on the information initially provided to me, I had no idea that was your expectation. Tell me more about what you had in mind, and I'll make the necessary revisions."

4. You work without breaks: Use your vacation days; take your lunch. Working nonstop can make you appear flustered, inefficient and incompetent. It also makes you less productive. To maintain maximum levels of concentration and accuracy, experts suggest you take a break every 90 minutes.

5. You do others' work for them: Recognize when people delegate inappropriately to you and avoid the inclination to solve everyone's problems for them. Practice saying unapologetically, "I'd love to help you out with this, but I'm swamped." Then stop talking.

Of course, being nice is not all bad. Bozionelos points out that it can be of great advantage as long as you are aware of and able to adjust your natural tendencies to undervalue yourself and compromise your personal interests.

Frankel says, "When all is said and done do you really want written on your tombstone: 'She Always Put the Needs of the Company Ahead of Her Own?' "

Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Other writers contributed to this article.



© Copyright CareerBuilder.com 2005. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority
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