Being “Nice” Is WAY More Valuable : Under30CEO Being “Nice” Is WAY More Valuable : Under30CEO
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Being “Nice” Is WAY More Valuable

| January 11, 2013 | 17 Comments

be-niceUnder30CEO co-founder and my good friend Matt Wilson wrote a recent article, “How to Stop Being Nice and Get What You Really Want.” While I can’t begin to explain how much I respect Matt and his perspective, I strongly disagree with this particular point of view.

From Matt’s article, I deduced that “nice” means being thoughtful, fair, self-aware, and caring. I agree. The logic goes that somehow these attributes cause problems with making money, prioritizing focus, and ultimately getting what you want. I don’t see the causality. In fact, I see being “nice” and creating value as highly correlative.

Money flows from creating extrinsic value. To create extrinsic value you must change the world in some way others find meaningful. To change the world meaningfully requires scaling yourself beyond your immediate human limitations. To scale requires influencing others. To influence others requires charisma, and a large component of charisma is likability (the other is respect).

We all choose to help certain people while ignoring others. But why? It usually boils down to likability. How you treat me showcases your values and motives. The more likable you are, the more inclined I am to treat you well (reciprocity), and the greater the chance you have of influencing me. People we care about get our attention, and that attention drives action.

Let’s divorce likability from respect because they are fundamentally different. I respect Ari Gold’s abilities, but I don’t like him. I don’t dislike him because he’s direct (which is a beautiful thing) but because he’s self-absorbed, untrustworthy, and highly abrasive. I like my buddy Joe (name changed), but I think he’s lazy, lacks purpose, and is not particularly insightful. Neither Ari nor Joe is going to influence my behavior. The trick is to be both respected and likable.

I used the term extrinsic value earlier to describe things that others find meaningful. Logically, money can’t be the ultimate goal since it is nothing more than stored opportunity to purchase future resources. Purpose is the ultimate motive and is inherently subjective. I think most people would consider positively impacting the world as a meaningful purpose (“dent the world”). A small way to do this everyday is to treat people fairly and thoughtfully. Doing so requires self-awareness and an appreciation for things beyond your immediate circumstances. Sounds like a pretty damn likable and impactful person to me.

Life is an accumulation of tiny choices. Each day we’re faced with an endless array of conflicting propositions and must decide how to allocate our resources. Making a point to be “likable” not only helps you achieve extrinsic goals (money, fame, and power) but also actually helps you achieve the ultimate purpose of making the world a better place.

The choice isn’t between being liked and making money, or being successful, or getting what you want. The choice is between being an asshole and having a much more difficult time achieving those things.

The most ironic part of Matt’s whole article is that he is literally one of the most likable people I’ve ever met. He cares deeply about others and about positively impacting the world. I hope he doesn’t get distracted with shit that doesn’t matter, and as a friend it’s my job to call him out on it.

Now the real question: “Does that make me more or less likable?”

Brent Beshore is the CEO of AdVentures, ranked #28 on the 2011 Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing companies in the U.S.

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  • MattWilsontv

    Hey Brent, thanks for writing this rebuttle. Nothing wrong with a little friendly debate between a couple “nice” guys.

    I think that being “nice” and being “likeable” are two seperate things. I won’t do business with anyone I don’t like, and that’s my hard and fast rule. But… there are some people I like, but don’t think are particularly “nice”. They are difficult to do business with, always fight to get their way, and can be a downright pain in the ass, but damn do they create value. These same people can be thoughtful, fair, self-aware, and caring.

    My article described my own personal struggle with always wanting to be “liked” and feeling that I have to be “nice” and “easy to work with” and a pushover. I’ve realized that I need to be more direct like Ari, fight for what I want like Arrington, and be more agressive like Mark Cuban.

    In the end, I think exercising this skill will lead me to create more value for others, and ultimately help me make the world a better place. I need to focus on my goals, and if it means confronting controversy, then, so be it.

    Hope you don’t think that’s me getting caught up in shit that doesn’t matter.

    PS. I still like you.

  • Russell Kommer

    Although I agree with being confident and somewhat firm when speaking with people in a business setting, it’s simple human nature not to go extra mile if one does not appreciate who you are and what you are trying to accomplish. A example in my day to day is referencing working relationships using phrases like working “with us” and not “for us”. I always overpay, never underpay. I thank people and show appreciation constantly whether a client or employee. I do admit turning business away which makes people angry sometimes but I do it in the nicest way possible. Thank you so much but no thank you. Always positive and always respectful which will be reciprocated generally. I think you both have valid points and you both are my friends, I hope that we can discuss this soon in person. Cheers!

  • Jake G

    How to win friends and influence- “a man convinced again his will is of the same opinion still” Being a jerk to get your way never pays off in the long run. If you are only concerned about short term gains them by all means be an @$$ hole. Even if you are respected acting like that over time people will lose respect for you if you are not likable. Thanks Brent good read.

  • Elaine Joli

    Look, you both seem pretty nice. Brent, I’ve read some of your writing, and I think you are one of the most articulate, thoughtful writers out there, and in this post, you don’t disappoint.
    Matt, really, this isn’t much of a debate. We don’t need to encourage more difficult, immature, annoying, hedonistic behavior in our young entrepreneurs.

    When I was young and starting out in my career, (I’m in my fifties) I felt the same way as you do. In order to get great work from the vendors, creatives, and agencies I worked with, I felt I had to be tough, demanding, show them who’s boss. I justified it as you do; “getting great work” was the ultimate goal. But here’s the thing I came to understand over the years as I matured and found my secure footing. I acted “tough” and demanding because I was insecure and unsure of my own talents. I needed to show the world I could get things done, and I didn’t know how, and the fallback position (which is the easiest is to take it out on vendors, suppliers, agencies, freelancers, employees) was to demand it.
    It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Everyone can pick a piker a mile away. No one wants to work with them. And the pikers are the folks who think they can bully their way to success.
    After 30 years in marketing, I can tell you Matt, I won’t work with anyone who isn’t likable and nice to be around. I wouldn’t have hired myself. Learn, little grasshopper, that nice is a real value – a real commodity. When you are comfortable in your own skin, comfortable with what you are accomplishing, happy with the small triumphs – you will stop this nonsense thinking that being likable is what’s holding you back from greatness. Look a bit deeper and really read Brent’s post. You have a really good friend there.

  • Ulrico

    I loved this article and agree with the sentiments. I commented on Matt’s article with my disagreement and he responded with some very fair and valid comments & ideas as well. Very enjoyable journalism, gentlemen.

  • MattWilsontv

    Thanks Ulrico, really happy to hear you still following the debate. Hope this content made you think.

  • MattWilsontv

    Hey Elaine, a lot of good points here. Interesting to hear what you’ve learned. Trust me, I’m “nice” enough… I don’t need to show anyone “who’s boss”, or bully my way to success.

    My likeability is certainly not what’s holding me back, and I agree with Brent that being liked and having success are not mutally exclusive. But, if I’m truly confident about my point of view, sure of my talents, and secure about myself and my decisions I need to stand up for them, tell people what I really think, and be difficult when I need to be.

    Thanks for your sentiments.

    -Little Grashopper out.

  • Pingback: Being “Nice” Is WAY More Valuable | Marketing Planning and Strategy |

  • Jared O’Toole

    As Matts cofounder here are my 2 cents. I think the terms “nice” and “mean” are the wrong ones to be throwing around here. Looking at Matt’s article I think what he was trying to talk about was being assertive and knowing when to say no.

    I’ve learned first hand that a lot of deals or opportunities that come your way in business aren’t necessarily right for what you are doing. We’ve even lost clients because we brought new terms to the table that made more sense for us….There was no shouting or cursing. We simply asked for what we wanted/needed and if it didn’t work out that was it. It wasn’t a fit for either party but no one left with hatred or anger towards the others.

    I think to make more money or be more successful you do have to be assertive. You have to ask for what you want and be able to say no to the other person even if you really like them.

    That doesn’t mean anyone ends up less liked, respected or viewed as an asshole.

  • Brent Beshore

    Elaine: Thanks for the kind words. In fairness to Matt, I consider him anything but a little grasshopper.

    I completely agree with your perspective and likely wouldn’t have hired myself from a few years back either.

  • Brent Beshore

    I love the debate as well. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Brent Beshore

    Are you running for political office Russell? If not, you should. :)

  • MattWilsontv

    haha more importantly, when are you guys coming down to visit in Costa Rica?

  • LaTonyaWilkins

    Thanks for saying this. There is still some sentiment out there that you need to be mean to be successful. I think one element to add is values. You usually respect people that have overlapping values.

    Partially identifying with someone else’s values is enough to at least like them but you
    may not have huge respect for them. However, the more overlapping values
    you have, the more respect you have. Values may change over time though.

    So, in summary, some people may value being authoritarian or combative and will appeal to similar counterparts. So, being mean can sometimes work.

  • Russell Kommer

    I don’t think the world is ready for that. ;-)

  • Shily-Virtual Office Assistant

    Being “nice” is a very broad term. It covers a lot of adjectives, yes it also means likeable. Great share.

  • Deborah Pannell

    I’ll jump in here to add my two cents, if anyone is still engaging in this conversation…

    I’ll admit to having operated under the preconception that this question was one that primarily preoccupied the minds of women, as we are traditionally socialized to be accommodating, nurturing, “good girls.” Oftentimes, when we begin to act in our own self-interests, as one must do to become accomplished in business or achieve a specific goal, we end up feeling conflicted about our own sense of entitlement, or fearful of being judged for “bad” behavior. I know this is something I have struggled with over the years, so it’s really refreshing and reassuring to see such a thoughtful dialogue being undertaken by a group of young men (not ignoring the women who’ve participated so far, just acknowledging the guys).

    I don’t really see the need to make a choice here, as I think it’s more a question of balancing clarity and an awareness of one’s own needs & boundaries with a generosity of spirit that makes people feel comfortable around you. I generally like to avoid conflict, so for me, being “nice” is just a way of keeping things smooth and upbeat. Also, assuming all candidates are equally as qualified skillwise, I will always choose to work with the person I like more, especially if we’re going to be interacting on a project for an extended period of time. Why consciously choose to work with someone whose annoying little habits will blossom, over time, into things that really drive you crazy?

    Perhaps being a jerk works in certain situations, but as far as a general working model, I find kindness (perhaps a more accurate term?) to be much more fruitful, and enjoyable. It doesn’t mean I won’t say no when I have to draw the line. But I’ll probably be nice when I do it.