tl;dr – Highly recommended for working women. It helps you in how to be assertive in various situations and these ideas can be applied not only at work but also in personal life.
The following review is also available as a podcast.
This book has been reviewed by Vijayalakshmi Kartik. She has her own arts and craft blog at https://crazycookup.wordpress.com
Welcome to book reviews by Digital Amrit! This episode is about The Myth of the Nice Girl by Fran Hauser. This book came up in my goodreads feed and the subtitle ‘achieving the career you love without becoming the person you hate’ really drew me into the book.
The author Franc Hauser had started her career at a huge accounting firm, then moved to media and is now a mentor and start-up investor. She felt the need for this book based on her own experiences in the real world on how to be nice and successful at work. It is not easy but comes with conscious practice. After all, who would want to work with a heartless task master? At the same time, you wouldn’t want others to mistake your being nice for stupidity or weakness.
The book is about being “nice” at work and nice is defined as being considerate, genuinely kind and respectful towards others but not being a people pleaser or a doormat. The nine chapters of the book are the author’s experiences in working with people right from her early career up to and including her current pursuit as. She has described various situations which presented themselves to her and how she kept her cool and made her point, without being come across as being a … um, the term rhymes with the word hitch. She had successfully come out of these sticky situations most times; at other times, she had learnt something valuable. She shares both kinds of experiences and the tactic or the learning from each one.
As you read the book, you find that you are not alone! Take these for example – I am sure all of us would have gone through at least one of these –
- Being used as an errand girl because you are the youngest member of the team in terms of age
- Having to work longer hours than agreed but you are too scared to speak up!
- You read an internal email on a position that needs to be filled – something you had been dreaming about, but you are hesitant because you feel you are not good enough for that position.
- You didn’t negotiate for your pay or perks. You just took the offer because you were worried that by negotiating, the offer will simply vanish!
- You have a great idea that will lighten the workload or puts things from a different perspective, but you are thinking of what others might feel about your views or ideas.
- You are in charge of providing feedback to a member in your team and it is not exactly positive feedback and you are worried about how he / she will take it.
The author and scores of other women have been through these and more. It is heartening to know there are ways of handling these nicely, like how the author had. The author attributes her success to certain behaviours or habits which could be tweaked suitably and put to use by the readers.
Let’s go through the gist of each chapter and then over my thoughts on the book and its ideas.
The book has nine chapters and the first one is about using your ability to be nice as your superpower in getting what you want at work. While this superpower doesn’t exactly shine visibly as a halo behind your head, it is unmistakable in your ability to shine at work. You can be firm and nice at the same time. Being nice is not white lies but being genuinely kind, respectful and considerate in treating your colleagues. Don’t we all like to be treated the same way? On the flip side, if someone tells you that you are too kind, find out why they feel so and make changes if necessary.
Chapter 2 is ambitious and likeable. Alright, they don’t seem to go together but again like nice and strong, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Tthe problem is that these two values stereotypically go hand in hand for men whereas for women, they can be either ambitious or likeable, not both. This explains why the leadership positions are dominated by men. As a woman, how can you be both? A few strategies are given in this chapter – take credit for your work and share the credit with others when due. Step up – be a little proactive and use the opportunities that come your way. Men do so more often than not. Women do hold back, when presented with the same opportunities. Another way is to create opportunities as you step up. The advantage of being nice is that people are willing to take at least a few minutes off their busy schedule to listen to what you have to say.
Chapter 3 is how to speak up assertively and nicely. It is possible to respectfully disagree with others, voice your thoughts without fear of what others might think of your ideas. Do you remember anyone holding a position of power, talk to you with fidgeting fingers, looking down at the carpet or stare at the ceiling while making a point? Of course not! The key is to maintain eye contact and proper posture. Also, if you are interrupted, be bold and nice while you inform then that you are not finished yet.
Chapter 4 is about providing feedback. Giving out constructive feedback can be a sticky situation to deal with. If not provided or taken in the right spirit, this kind of feedback can end in tears or strained relationships. But, these outcomes should not come in the way of providing feedback. Start with the positive ones and then give the constructive or negative feedback. If you are at the receiving end, make sure that you look at the feedback as an indication of what to learn or how to do, rather than as problems identified with you.
Fifth chapter is about confidence. Ever felt low or tense before an important meeting or a presentation? The key is to think of the times you were awesome at a presentation, find out what went right and use it to make this a success too. When it comes to tough decisions, they bring a lot of stress with them. The consequences and the aftermath make it only worse to take the call. But, how long can it be left hanging? Use solid data or evidence which would help make an objective decision, think of how the decision will align with your values and have a go-to group. This go-to group is not your typical friend or family member with whom you can let off steam. The go-to group should enable you arrive at a decision – more like experts in the area where you need to make decision. While making decisions, take risks where you need to and learn from the outcomes.
Chapter 6 is on negotiations. Statistics reveal that men are paid more than women in general and more men negotiate for better pay than women, which widens the wage gap. Negotiations don’t stop with salary or bonuses or job titles. Perks such as flexible working arrangements, education assistance, etc could also be negotiated, along with salary. It can extend to getting extra people to finish your task or more funding for investment into your project. There is no perfect time to ask for your raise or change of job title. Get data on your accomplishments and explain the value that you bring to make your point. While moving between employers, sign on bonuses are not to be taken lightly. Don’t negotiate to win; make sure that it is a win-win in order to maintain relationships.
Networking is the focus of chapter 7. Networking opens up opportunities for personal growth and also for your organisation to grow. Networking takes time but is essential to take that time. Events, discussions, meetings, forums – online or in person, are the different avenues with which you can network. Make your presence felt – meet people, mingle with them. If it is online, comment and share or retweet. That’s how you get noticed. Also, ensure that you widen your network, find common interests with those you connect, offer help and ask if they would be interested in something that you are working on – a project or a hobby or an initiative. And if you are going to ask someone for something, do your research on what they are doing, what you need to ask and how to word it. Keep your commitment to show up – an introduction at a conference may lead to a coffee meeting or lunch. Be there and make the most of it.
Chapter 8 helps you draw boundaries and set your priorities. If you are spending too much time on tasks which are not important or you are too busy working on those that you lose sight of the important ones, then the author’s Four-Square model will come in handy. List down the top 2 or 3 priorities for each square (personal, family career, hobbies, for example) and look at your tasks to see which ones help in focussing on these items and those which don’t. Cut down those non-essential items by rescheduling, delegating or removing them off your calendar. With those relating to work square, sync-up with your boss or team. If someone makes an offer you can’t refuse, check for alignment with your priorities and then decide on it. Practice saying no in a kind but clear way so that neither you nor your relationships suffer because you had to say yes when it should have been a no. Sometimes, there is a hidden spot between yes and no which might work to benefit both of you. Think about it.
The concluding chapter is about finding your mentor. Having a mentor could give you head start at career and put you at a competitive advantage over the others who don’t have that luxury. The kind of mentor you need depends on what you wish for – scaling up in your current organisation or help you network or having a specific set of skills. And, just because someone is great at what they do, they may not exactly be mentor material. Once you identify a mentor, reach out to him or her. Stay connected with your mentor – keep in touch every once in a while, not just when you are in a fix. Also, a mentor can provide the enablers in decision making or help you look at the opportunity or situation from all perspectives, but a mentor doesn’t decide on your behalf. So, once you have decided on what to do, make it a point to let them know about your decision and how it worked out (or didn’t). Where it is possible, you could also provide valuable advice or suggestions to your mentor. It needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship.
So that’s it, the book is over for its chapters but gives details of all the surveys and other material that were discussed about in these nine chapters.
Personally, throughout the book, there were so many situations with which I saw my present or past at work. Some of the issues that I had faced or continue facing which are discussed in the book are balance between work and personal life, work hours creeping up when working part time, people don’t take you seriously because there are male counterparts in the team, trouble saying no because it might affect the relationship, giving feedback when things are not working out well, etc.
There is one idea that I immediately put to use after reading the book. It was not at work but at home. I had to tell my seven year old that some of her actions or inactions were not ok. Every time I have had this conversation with her, it had been a disaster and the message was never delivered or taken in the right spirit. It also had the side effect of ruining our relationship, at least for the rest of the day.
After reading this book, I used the praise sandwich approach. I told her that there are so many things that she does that make me proud and told her those 6-7 things that matter. Then I told her that there were 2 things that were not going well and it would be great if she could change those two and what it would be like if she made those changes. There was a clear difference between how the message was received. The good things about her made her listen to me fully, without retaliation. That was a wonderful experience!
At the same time, there are a few areas about the book, which I wish were better. First, I strongly feel that the catchy title does not exactly do justice to the contents of the book. The author defines nice in a different way than normally understood but still the book’s focus on most chapters is on being assertive, rather than nice. Yes, being nice in the way the book means it, puts you on a higher pedestal with your co-workers but isn’t there more to it? Also, I felt that the first chapter was a little too long and the same message was given in multiple forms. But other than these, I have nothing to complain about.
This book is highly recommended for working women. It helps you in how to be assertive in various situations and these ideas can be applied not only at work but also in personal life.
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Also published on Medium.