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.


Plunge into Job Market Again

Plunge into Job Market Again

As I’m getting closer to the end of Summer Term, and definitely to the deadline of my dissertation’s submission, I feel like another worry start to catch me. Now I wonder where would I be in the next couple of months? Would I go back home and find a dream job? Would I stay here with casual job spending my visa time while thinking about the next step to do? Would I start building my own business and serve the community?

It’s funny that after all this time, somehow I have no clear clue about what’s going on next. These days I feel like I’m going back to the time of 3 years ago, when I was waiting for bachelor graduation, wandering around the library and writing a blog post like this. It’s pathetically funny that I haven’t moved forward from those younger days.

During my time of working in Surabaya, I found that the routines killed my brain. After 2 years drowning in a company business, I knew I had to do something with my life, re-fill it so it won’t be wasted away as a corporate robot. I decided to apply for scholarship, fulfilled my old dream of studying abroad, in the hope of re-fuel my mind and my soul. At that time, one of our clients from France questioned my decision to quit the job. He said that I was very brave to leave the good job position for the sake of going back to study.

In fact, now I feel the fear. Source of image:

Recently I’ve applied some casual job positions to fulfil several gap months until graduation. When I started re-writing my CV, I just realised that I’m getting old. I’m no more a fresh graduate with unlimited opportunity. Probably I won’t be considered as a priority for the role of Management Trainee in reputable companies. And I’ll be 25 by the end of this year. Somehow this reality strikes me. Almost 25 and soon to be unemployed (well unless I find a job before graduation).

I probably took a Master degree in the hope of escaping corporate life for a while, but now I know that inevitably I will have to go back. Income is the main concern. Now that I’ve used to get regular income for the past 3 years and the lifestyle followed, I feel a bit fear of going back to undergraduate life when I had to struggle between freelance jobs and maintain lower lifestyle. Besides, my family does have a high expectation of me. As the eldest of four daughters, I knew the burden is on my shoulder.

The jungle is there, yet to be explored. While many of my friends have settled down; getting married and having kids, I’m still in the middle of adventure. I’m partly worried–yet partly challenged.

Oh, and I’m going to write more about job market in UK. Check it out here.

Feminine, Feminist, and Things Between

Feminine, Feminist, and Things Between

Few weeks ago, a renowned multinational company visited Lancaster University for a talk show. They ran a session titled „Women in Business and Technology“, which was delivered by a female staff of IT division in the company. Out of curiosity, I attended the talkshow in the hope of getting more insight about this interesting topic.

The presenter opened her speech with a ‘TED talk’ video from Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and  former Vice President of Google. Sandberg is a well-known example of succesful female leader in male-dominated technology business, and yes, her TED talk was truly inspiring. There were some thought-provoking, self-reflecting bits in her speech that will make professional career women feel like, “me too!”

According to Sandberg, the biggest obstacle in women’s career advancement is actually their ownselves, not society. It is their own perception, their personal attitude, that pull them back from ‘climbing to the top’. Well I won’t talk much about Sandberg’s idea here (you can read her fenomenal book: “Lean In”), instead I want to highlight Sandberg’s portrayal as a woman that can “have both”: succesful family and career.

Sandberg, in my opinion, doesn’t respresent an image of ‘dominant-masculine woman’ one might associate when talking about female leaders. The way she talked and behaved (in her speech and interviews) look surprisingly feminine. I don’t know her daily routine as Facebook big boss of course, but looking into fact that she’s happily married with two children and still manage to reach the top of corporate ladder—that was incredibly outstanding achievement.

Sheryl Sandberg Time cover

Sheryl Sandberg Time cover

I have always admired those highly-achieved women who never forget their womanly nature. For me they are truly feminists: proponents of feminism that doesn’t neglect their femininity. These two terms, eventhough they are derived from the same root, seem to have been contrastly associated in the past decades.

Feminism initially emerged as an effort to bring women into equality with men. However, on its way it turned out to be something that try to change women into the exact-same creature as men. This so-called ‘third-wave feminism’, for instance, has been gone too far by trying to re-define gender role and promote queer theory. Perhaps this is what Soekarno, Indonesian founding father, stated as ‘excessive feminism’. Here is the quote from his book about women and feminism, Sarinah (1963).

“Lagipula, tidakkah kita melihat ekses (kelewat batasan) pergerakan feminisme di Eropa itu, yang mau menyamaratakan saja perempuan dengan laki-laki, dengan tak mengingati lagi, bahwa kodrat perempuan memang tidak sama dengan kodrat laki-laki? Maksud feminisme yang mula-mula baik, yakni persamaan hak antara perempuan dan laki-laki, maksud baik itu dilewati batasannya dengan mencari persamaan segala hal dengan kaum laki-laki: persamaan tingkah laku, persamaan cara hidup, persamaan bentuk pakaian, dan lain sebagainya. Kodrat perempuan diperkosa, dipaksa, disuruh menjadi sama dengan kodrat laki-laki.”

“Moreover, didn’t we see an excess in European feminist movement—that wanted to generalise women with men, without ever considering that women’s nature is indeed different with men’s? The initial decent purpose of feminism, which is equality of right between men and women, was being excessed by trying to emulate men: in behaviour, way of life, dressing, and so on. Women’s inherent nature is raped, forced, and demanded to be exactly the same with men.” (Soekarno, 1963)

In line with Soekarno’s argument, actually this wave of ‘excessive feminism’ is somewhat counterproductive. I mean, if to be a feminist you have to abandon all those femininity—then isn’t it the same with acknowledging that masculinity is way more superior? That femininity equals weakness? That to be regarded as ‘capable’ human being you must embrace manly behaviours?

Radical feminists act as if they feel so ashamed to be born as a woman, that they want to get rid all those feminine features and achieve full gender neutrality. Sorry, radical feminists. I’m not ashamed of being a woman. I’m proud that I have this tiny curvy figure, that I have privilege from God to give birth to a human’s soul, that I have this extra emotion and empathy, that I’m a complete female creature with all its plus and minus.

During two terms study in Lancaster University I have met many amazing professional-business women through various seminars, projects and interviews. Among them are female manager of top beverage company in UK, a mother and daughter who started their own online business, a pair of sisters that owned their woodcraft company—they are all great women entrepreneurs and I’m pretty sure they never feel the need of eliminating their femininity to reach those achievements.

Well, I know somehow it’s easier to be said than to be done. Gender bias in professional environment does still exist, especially in third-world countries like Indonesia. When I worked in electronic company and participated in trade shows, somehow the clients tend to be more convinced by my male colleague eventhough I knew and explained the product better (probably because it’s an electronic product that tend to be ’male-stuff’).

Even in developed countries, ‘glass-ceiling’ phenomenon still can be found. However, as Sandberg said, we should keep leaning in. And again, that doesn’t necessarily mean neglecting all of our feminine responsibility. We can, still, be a dedicated female leader in any area we choose without losing that ‘woman touch’.

You do not need to compromise your femininity in order to be a feminist. To be a strong and independent woman you don’t need to look or act manly, throw cursing words, smoke or drink, avoid cooking for your family, refuse to have a baby—even you don’t have to be a career-working woman if you don’t want to. Embrace your femininity. Celebrate it. For it is a precious gift from God. For it is a quality you don’t need to feel ashamed of. For being equal doesn’t necessarily mean to be exactly the same.

God created everything in pair. Day and night. Hot and cold. Land and sea. Yin and yang. Masculinity and femininity. They are different, yet they are equal, and they complement each other. Isn’t that beautiful?

I am proud that I’m a woman, that I’m different from man, and that it doesn’t make me any less than man.

Lancaster, 27 March 2015.

Originally written for PPI UK column ‘Dare to Dream, care to Share’. Article can be seen here: