The Expense of ‘Being Nice’ in the Workplace

The Expense of ‘Being Nice’ in the Workplace

Everybody loves nice people. Nice people won’t hurt you. Nice people will always help you. Nice people can even be the vehicle you use when you need to go further.

Oh and everybody likes to be liked. Even before Facebook invented the ‘Like’ button and utilised this as psychological tool to deepen its users engagement. And it is so understandable that in order to be liked by other people, a person would behave nicely. Yes, you are being nice in expect of being liked. A simple basic rule of social interaction.

But what happen if you’re in a situation that will harm you to be nice? What happen if your expectation to be liked is failed? What happen if your nice behaviour is being used by other people at your expense instead?

Well I’m talking about professional and business environment. I just came across this interesting article about three types of personality in workforce: takers, givers and matchers. As obvious as it sounds, taker is someone who continuously taking advantage for himself and neglect others’ benefit. Giver, on the other hand, is that ‘nice guy’ who care about your need and try to offer help. Matcher is someone who constantly maintain the balance of ‘taking’ and ‘giving’.

People will naturally (well, mostly) be a giver in terms of close relationship like family, friends and lovers. But in workforce, it is normal that you will tend to be a taker. Especially in the business world with ruthless rule: eat or being eaten. Being a total giver certainly won’t benefit you, since it equals to surrender yourself to be a ladder other people can step on. Most people, however, will fall in the category between: a matcher. It’s a basic rule of reciprocity: you get what you give and vice versa. You help people in the hope they will return the favor if someday you need them. As Adam Grant (2013) put it:

“If you’re a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you’re a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, you might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return.”

That typical nice guy: always smile and ready to help

That typical nice guy: always smile and ready to help

My dad is an example of natural giver. He’d rather walked himself away from a company than having to fire his innocent subordinate. He’d rather suffered himself than having to see other people suffered because of him. He’s a brilliant man–it’s just he helped other people too much that he forgot to care about his own self.

It’s probably not surprising then if research suggested that givers are the least successful people in their careers. Compared to takers, on average they earn 14% less money and 22% less powerful. Being nice in professional workplace is, scientifically proven, not helping you to reach successful career.

If so, then why some people still thrive to be a nice guy in workplace?

It’s because, eventhough some givers succumb to the bottom of career ladder, surprisingly some other givers are also those who occupy the top position. In short, “both the worst performers and the best performers are givers; takers and matchers are more likely to land in the middle. Givers dominate the bottom and the top of the success ladder.” Being a giver means you can either be exteremely failed or extremely successful.

How could it possibly happen?

Well, a giver is simply generous in sharing time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them. Apparently, every time you help others with your skill, you learn something from it. It’s like that simple philosophy of educator: by teaching you’re learning. The more you help, the more you learn, the more you get expert, the more you make valuable relationship, thus the more likely you are to succeed.

Still, if all givers receive those benefits; then why some of them fail while others succeed? Vicki Helgeson suggested that one of the critical distinctions between self-sacrificing givers and successful ones is the willingness to seek support. They do not hesitant to share the ‘help load’ by asking support from other people, thus expand the ‘helping spirit’ itself. Moreover, succesful givers also help with careful consideration of when, how, and whom to help.

Grant put the conclusion of his theory very well:

“Givers, takers, and matchers all can— and do— achieve success. But there’s something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: it spreads and cascades. When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses. Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. In contrast, when [givers] win, people are rooting for them and supporting them, rather than gunning for them. Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them.”

At the end of the day, it is our right to choose our own reciprocity style in workplace; a taker, a giver, or a matcher. If we identify ourselves as that ‘nice guy’ though, then make sure to be kind in the right way.


La Armonía de Cordoba

La Armonía de Cordoba

As soon as the sun slipped into the horizon, red tinge appeared on the sky. Its flaming colour blended perfectly with bone-like whiteness of Old Town buildings, while the green water of Guadalquivir refclected the light. Bewitched, we stand on the Roman Bridge with a dazzled look–enjoy the perfect moment and feel like never ever want to go home. Cordoba was showing its beautiful twilight to us, and that scenery was frozen forever in our memory…

Night view of Roman Bridge with Mezquita-Cathedral in the background

Night view of Roman Bridge with Mezquita-Cathedral in the background

Going to Cordoba was part of spiritual journey.

I still remember the day when I was in junior high school; sat in my class listening to my teacher’s lecture. He told us about magnificent Andalusia, Spanish region that was once conquered by Muslim rulers. Cordoba, the capital of Andalusian caliphate, became center of civilisation during Islamic golden age. It was the place where all greatest minds gathered, knowledge was developed and wisdom was reaped. It was the residence of famous Muslim scholars like Ibn Rusyd (Averroes), al Qurtubi and Ibn Arabi. It was, in short, the proof of glory of Muslim medieval civilisation.

At that time, my little mind was so fascinated by the story that it became a lifetime dream to visit Andalusia. However, when I actually reach the sacred city eleven years later, I knew that my mind has evolved. By the time I finish this journey, I no longer view Cordoba only as ‘the lost treasure’ of Muslim. It is, afterall, a living witness of how multiple civilisations clashed and tried to defeat each others.

Statue of Averroes (Ibnu Rusyd), great Philosopher who translated the lost Aristotle works into Latin, re-introduce it to the West

Statue of Averroes (Ibnu Rusyd), great Philosopher who translated the lost Aristotle works into Latin, re-introduce it to the West

Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba is the prominent icon of this city. Originally built as Catholic church, it was turned into a mosque in 8th century when Muslim caliphate conquered the region. When Christian kingdom reconquested the city, the building changed back into cathedral. Thus, today it uniquely becomes a kind of ‘sandwich’ architecture; Christian decorations are stacked upon Muslims ornaments and so forth. In one side, you can still see a beautiful Mihrab that shows direction of Mecca where the Imam used to lead the pray, but on another side you can see a fully functional chapel with its mass preparation. Christ sculptures are everywhere but indeed you walk through the mosque pillars once used as praying rows. The church tower was once a mosque minaret but now is occupied with huge bell.

Seeing through those intertwined ornaments, it becomes clear that this building reflects how religion was used as a symbol of power. Still, isn’t it so beautiful to see how different cultures blend together?

Jesus sculpture with Moors ornaments background

Jesus sculpture with Moors ornaments background


Once mosque pillars


The Mihrab

Lely and I spent two nights in Cordoba. We stayed in a nice backpacker hostel where we met Gul Yoo, a funny Korean guy who lives in Russia and was in the middle of his one-year-travel-around-the-world. He was a keen fan of Renaissance art and told us bunch of interesting stories (and suggestions) about our next destination: Italy. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to walk around Cordoba together but still we manage to keep contact via Facebook. I think the best part of doing (semi) backpacking trip is that you always end up with new friends after 😉

Apart from Mezquita-Cathedral, another must-visit spot in Cordoba is of course the Old Town! It just feels amazing to stroll around those medieval buildings with its exotic corridors. Wander around. Get lost in the maze. For every entrance always lead you to another unexpected exit point. For every narrow street always surprise you with enchanting building in. And one typical charasteristic of this place is that that you can find ‘hanging flower pots’ arranged symmetrically on almost every wall of the buildings, especially the garden. Oh I really love the sensation of getting lost in Cordoba Old Town!

Cordoba Old Town seen from Cathedral Minaret

Cordoba Old Town seen from Cathedral Minaret

Strolling around the city corridors

Strolling around the city corridors

Typical hanging flower pots of Cordoba

Typical hanging flower pots of Cordoba

Another beautiful spot in Cordoba is Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. It is basically a palace for Christian king who visit Cordoba. I like the wonderful gardens and flowers and ponds and how we can spend the day taking pictures from any angles here 😉

Gardens of the King

Gardens of the King

Also, do not forget to enjoy the Roman Bridge of Cordoba. The twilight (and night) scenery was just unforgettable! The bridge was always busy; it somehow connects the old town with the new city of Cordoba. From this point you can see Mezquita-Cathedral, Guadalquivir river, and Calahorra Tower all in one scene.

Calahorra Tower on the end of the Roman Bridge and the Guadalqivir river flowing under

Calahorra Tower on the end of the Roman Bridge and the Guadalquivir flowing under

Not only church and mosque, Cordoba also has a Jewish synagogue, which is one of the only three synagogues left thorough Spain. Not many things left in this small synagogue but still it’s interesting to see that this city has a trace of three religions. At a glance it may look like a miniature of Jerussalem; a holy place for Abrahamic religions with their intertwined history.

The Synagogue

The Synagogue

Afterall, Cordoba might be the witness of some religious wars in the past, but still it maintains religious diversity in harmony. As written in the small handbook I got in Calahorra:

“Oh my Christ/ who welcomes Christian, Jew and Moor/ provided their faith/ is directed towards God”

“Let the Moors (Muslims) live among the Christians while preserving their own faith and not insulting ours.”

(Alfonso X, The Wise)

“My heart has become capable of every form/ It is a pasture for gazelles/ And a convent for Christian monks/ And a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaaba/ And the tables of the Torah, and the book of the Koran/ I follow the religion of love/ Whatever way love’s camels take/ That is my religion and my faith”

(Ibn Arabi)

*) This post is part of my Euro Trip series. Cordoba, 6-8 September 2015.

La Belleza de Barcelona

La Belleza de Barcelona

Before coming to this city, Barcelona in my mind was just one of European football capital. And ex-Olympic Games host. Never thought about its marvelous Gaudi architectural design, its hilly contour alongside beaches, and its Catalan culture blended in the red-yellow buildings.

Three days and three nights in Barcelona were simply amazing.

Lely and I got wonderful host (via AirBnB), Isabel, a young artisan living with her two adorable cats. Isabel was a woman with very warm personality, typical Southern European people. She was genuinely friendly and lovely! Her parents originated from Andalucia but she was born and raised in Catalunya—thus she was able to tell us about how North and South Spain were totally like two different countries 😉

We also unexpectedly got new travelmate, a guy who also stayed in Isabel’s flat for a week vacation. His name was Ramin—a half Persian and half German. Ramin, Lely and I ended up exploring Barcelona together for three days, and it was really wonderful time 😀 Here are some highlights of our visit!

Sagrada Familia

If Gaudi is the God of architecture, Barcelona is simply his throne on heaven. All his beautiful works are spreaded over the city, with a single incredible masterpiece under spotlight, Sagrada Familia. This cathedral was built on 1882, but until today, the construction has not even finished yet. Ha! Just wait until 2026 when it will be done……….they said.

The first time I saw this church, honestly it looked a bit spooky. The gothic exterior seems like ancient building you saw in horror movies. But when you get into it…the  view was breath-taking! Sagrada Familia was purposedly designed to imitate tropical rain forest. When you’re inside the building, you’ll feel like standing in the middle of jungle. The pillars vined to the ceiling as if trunks of gigantic trees tried to scratch the sky. The colourful window glasses reflected outside light as if sunshine pass through colourful leaves. The roof itself was formed like dense vegetation covered a huge forest. It was just…..beautiful 🙂


A building across three centuries

Gaudi was apparently an architect with deep interest to nature, and he applied this natural form into his masterpieces. Who thought a hive or a form of plants can be embedded in construction? Sagrada Familia is a must-visit-object during your trip to Barcelona (and of course because it’s kinda ‘signature building’). Still, I think EUR 15 is probably too much to enjoy this masterpiece. I mean, I can even observe the whole archeological site of Italian Pompeii ruins all day long with less than that…

Another notable Gaudi work was Park Güell. However we didn’t get into this park since we (Lely and I) didn’t want to spend more money 😛 So we just walked around another free park nearby and eat chips…

Parc de la Ciutadella

Have you ever been to a place where you feel like you can just spend the whole day there? Where you can just enjoy yourself and have serene ‘me time’? Where you can just wander around to chase after some inspiration? Parc de la Ciutadella is, for sure, one of this kind of place. If I live in Barcelona, this park will likely be my ‘runaway haven’ of daily stress. I don’t know, it feels so comfy just to walk around and enjoy the company of the crowds. The voice of street musicians, performance of street artisans, people doing sports, reading books, family hangouts, amazing fountain monument, beautiful pond with boats…..oh I simply fall in love with this park 🙂

Parc de la Ciutadella

Parc de la Ciutadella

Not far from the park we can see Arc de Triomf, the Barcelona version of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. It’s like seeing its Paris sister painted with Catalan national colour of red and yellow. Afterall, this zone can absolutely be interesting choice for ticket-free tourist spot!

The Paris counterpart

The Paris counterpart

Montjuïc Hill

When I went to Edinburgh, I was fascinated by how the hilly contours of the city fits perfectly with its coastal line. Barcelona was, apparently, possess similar charm with the Scotland capital. This city was also surrounded by hills, and Montjuïc was one of them. This hill has actually been shaped with many enchanting buildings on it. My favourite was Palau Nacional (National Palace), in which you can watch fantastic Barcelona view from the top. Its design was simply fascinating; a palace on high place with gradual waterfall on the way up. Perfect photo spot 🙂


The National Palace, home of National Art Museum of Catalan. However the entrance ticket was EUR 12, quite expensive I think, considering that all museums and national galleries throughout UK are completely free.


Fabulous Barcelona from top

There were also many other interesting spots on Montjuïc Hill, such as the ex stadium for 1992 Olympic Games, a castle, Spanish village, parks etc. Walked around the hill can be quite exhausting but it’s totally worth it considering the wonderful spots–you can probably spend the whole day to explore each of them.

CosmoCaixa Science Museum

If it wasn’t because of Ramin’s idea, I wouldn’t probably end up in this place. Why would one go so far to such a romantic city like Barcelona only to visit science museum…? 😛 But apparently this museum was being underrated. It’s actually pretty impressive spot! Well, especially if you love science of course–like Ramin does. During the whole trip I’ve never seen him become sooo excited, so passionate as when he’s in CosmoCaixa. He enthusiastically explored those science models, and tried to explain to me how the model works………which made me look like an elementary kid tried to understand a professor’s lecture of Physics theory 😛 I was enjoying the moment though 🙂

Nevertheless, the museum was great and some of the models were really worth it. My favourite was the tropical rain forest imitation! It’s totally awesome, something you can’t find in other science museums (oh like I have visited so many :P) I just wonder how they brought up all the vegetations and well, eventhough I’m not sure if some of the fishes actually live in real rain forest river, afterall the whole design was fairly attractive. There are also aquarium and planetarium. CosmoCaixa is, I think, a perfect place for family recreation with kids. The entrance ticket was also quite cheap, like EUR 4.


Tropical rainforest imitation: top view


Tropical rainforest imitation: side view

Flamenco Dance

‘To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love’ (Jane Austen)

Under the dim light of Los Tarantos bar, three men were sitting on the chairs; a guitarist, a percussion player, and a clapper-vocalist. The audiences filled up the room, took their silence as the show was about to start. When the sound of guitar strings reached our ears, a slender woman entered the stage. Her frilly dress swayed beautifully as she moved her ankles. Loud applause soon filled in the air, welcomed the performers with excited feeling. This was it, a Spanish Flamenco 🙂

Flamenco was actually an Andalucian gypsy tradition. I have wondered about watching Flamenco since the Cordoba visit, but apparently the show was quite expensive (like EUR 25). Fortunately we found an affordable one here in Barcelona, only EUR 10 for around half hour performance. The seat was limited but luckily we came just in time to get one, eventhough it was in the back row. I was, uhm, quite short to look over other audiences’ heads on the front seats so I kept straining my back to be able to see the performance clearly.

Shot of stage

Shot of stage

The woman, she danced so brilliantly that I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Her ankles, her feet moved so fast; each slams fitted in harmony with the music beat. It’s like watching ‘ladylike’ version of  tap dance, which I believe took more effort since you have to do it with high heels and under long tight dress.

In contrast with typical red colour associated with flamenco, the dancer’s frilly dress was black with big yellow polkadot accent. She occasionally swayed the dress with her hand, revealed her agile skinny legs. As the show reaching its peak, the guitar and percussion beat got quicker, the vocalist shouted and clapped louder, and the dancer moves were getting incredibly vivacious. Her facial expression reflected her impressive effort as I can see the sweat streaming down her skin. We were so absorbed by the show, as if the whole energy was transferred and the room was heaten up. It was totally unforgettable moment!

The dance came up in two parts in which the woman dancer had duet with a man, and when she danced solo. She changed her dress between the parts and while waiting for her, the guitarist played an absolutely stunning piece of Spanish instrumental. Overall this show was very very good value performance, but still, I will not refuse the next chance to enjoy Andalucian Flamenco in Granada 😉

Barcelonetta Beach

Visiting Barcelona certainly isn’t complete without going to the beach. Unlike most of British beach, Spanish beach is of course that kind of ‘proper beach’: blue water, white sand and sunny sky. And rows of tanned bikini bodies. Barcelonetta were also completed by diverse range of restaurants and bars along the shores (eventhough the seafood ones were quite costly).


Breezy breezy beach

Plaza de Catalunya

It is the heart of Barcelona city so of course we must come here! 😉


Ola Senorita!

Barcelona was, after all, a bit like Spanish version of Edinburgh; only with a lot more lively atmosphere and of course a far better weather 😉 Stunning architectures, strong art and cultural nuance, also hills and beaches in-one. Three days were absolutely not enough to reveal all the beauty of this city. If I have a chance, definitely I’d be very willing to explore this wonderful city again and again! 😀


*) This post is part of my Euro Trip series. Barcelona, 8-11 September 2015.