Sometimes, women in the workplace feel the need to put on a tough “game face” to impress their coworkers and bosses. Women feel forced to walk the tightrope between acting too feminine, showing their emotions, and too masculine. Instead of playing to their relational strengths, they follow advice like “speak louder,” “don’t smile too much,” and “talk about your small children as little as possible.”
Most who know me would be quick to describe me as a nice person. I have taken a different approach to being myself and playing to my strengths in the workplace, ignoring typical business advice to act tougher to impress or intimidate my peers. But still, the question should be asked, “How nice is TOO nice?”
Research shows that maintaining a positive attitude and “being nice” in the workplace can contribute to not only our professional success, but also our personal happiness. Rick McNary says, “You have the ability to not only brighten someone’s day, you have the power to help them perform with greater passion and excellence” in the workplace. What if in trying to avoid being “too nice,” we missed the opportunity to encourage and inspire others?
Unfortunately, positive attitudes can be misunderstood in the workplace. In a culture of extreme competition and trying to get ahead at someone else’s expense, being positive or treating people with kindness can be perceived as weak. I remember a real estate deal I proposed in the early 1990s seemed so impossible to my colleagues that three male leasing counterparts said, “The moon and the stars will have to line up before that deal would ever happen!” Of course, they didn’t actually want it to happen, and saw my positive, can-do attitude as too much of a “Pollyanna” complex. But the deal did happen, and all of my team members were so proud that I proved the naysayers wrong. I hadn’t set out to make a point or make the leasing guys look bad – I truly believed the deal was possible, and enjoyed competing against myself more than others. I wanted to see this deal succeed, not just for my own satisfaction, but because I was the primary breadwinner for my family at the time. I was motivated by my own success, not by proving others wrong or seeing them fail. I hope my positive attitude and motives showed my team that a positive attitude can make a difference and motivate us all to greater success.
Christians in the workplace may feel that they have to always be positive to be a good witness to their coworkers. But I don’t think the Lord calls us to be positive all of the time. Even Jesus showed anger when He saw the money changers taking advantage of people at the temple, showing great emotion and anger (Matthew 21:12-13). Jesus was also frustrated when the Pharisees refused to answer His questions in the synagogue at Capernaum, with the Bible telling us that “He looked around at them in anger, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5).
As believers, we may try to avoid anger, thinking of it as a selfish and destructive emotion that we should completely eradicate from our lives, even at work. But Jesus’ own anger shows us that frustration and anger, in them, are not wrong. Instead, we are instructed to not sin when we are angry and to not let the sun go down before dealing with our anger (Ephesians 4:26). Jesus’ example teaches us a few important things about anger:
- Anger needs the proper motivation: We should avoid anger that arises from petty arguments or personal slights (which are bound to happen in the workplace). Instead, be angry for the right reasons – because there is injustice. This is not selfish anger, but righteous anger.
- Anger needs the proper focus: Jesus was not angry at God or at the weaknesses of others. His anger targeted sinful behavior and true injustice.
- Anger needs the proper supplement: Jesus’ anger had nothing to do with hatred or ill will. Instead, it stemmed from a love for people, even the self-righteous Pharisees, and His concern for their spiritual condition (Mark 3:5). Even in our anger we should have compassion for those far from the Lord in our workplaces, families, and communities.
- Anger needs proper control: Even when He got angry, Jesus was never out of control. He controlled His emotions; His emotions did not control Him. By taking the same approach to our own anger and frustration, we avoid sinning.
- Anger needs the proper duration: If we allow our anger to persist, it turns into bitterness. Like Jesus, we must deal with each situation properly and handle our anger as it arises, not holding grudges and letting our hearts grow bitter.
- Anger needs the proper result: Frustration and anger over an injustice at work should inspire us to Godly action. Just as Jesus’ anger, emotions and all, was held in check by God’s Word, so too should our response always be to do the will of God and treat others the way we’d like to be treated.
So we know that anger in itself is not wrong, and frustrations at work need to be dealt with through the lens of God’s Word, resolved quickly and not allowed to grow into a seed of bitterness.
But we still need to ask, “How nice is too nice?” You are being too nice when you stop being genuine. One of my Strengthsfinders 2.0 strengths is “Belief,” so I don’t dish out compliments when they aren’t genuine. People who are nice without authenticity come off like the annoying salesperson complimenting us with a selfish motive, turning us off instead of helping them close the sale. When we deal with our frustrations in a Godly manner and maintain a genuine positive attitude, encouraging and complimenting coworkers authentically, we can strike the perfect balance between “too tough” and “too nice.”
Ephesians 4 gives us great advice about how to approach the balance between too nice and too tough in all of our relationships. Ephesians 4:29 directs us to “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Verse 32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” If we pursue an attitude of grace at work, we will find we can encourage others while still striving for our own personal and corporate success.
Above all, we must remember that our purpose is not really about our work in and of itself. Yes, we are instructed to pursue excellence at work and in all areas of our life to glorify God and pass on the blessing we have been given. Our response to difficult situations at work, especially when the easiest thing to do would be to get angry and lash out, is to understand that righteous anger stems from a love for God’s people, and transforming that frustration into a positive attitude at work can be one of the greatest examples of the Gospel we can show our co-workers. Maybe we’ll be accused of being “too nice.” But if you focus on fulfilling the role God has given you in His creation, you will ultimately bring glory to your creator, and the impact you make on those around you will go far beyond closing a big sale or achieving the next milestone at work.