How to become (and stay) respected in business and life

Often we say “there’s no room for niceness in business” but what does that even mean? Nate Chai investigates.

If you guys have taken the quiz (I got “Property Professor”) then you’ve seen the lessons about niceness on the results page. I took issue with this idea of niceness as a negative trait and, though I don’t disagree with the principle, I feel that the idea needs to be explored in more detail.

Why we’re nice

Children playing, metaphor, wealth
It’s like this, except the sandpit is money, and neither of you look as stylish Image Credit: Wikipedia

Let’s start with exploring why we’re nice in the first place. At first glance, many would argue that we’re nice because it’s nice to be nice. Which is all well and good. If everyone was nice to everyone around them the world would be a better place.

However, when you’re entering into a business relationship with someone (whether that’s boss-employee, provider-customer, employee-employee) we are rarely nice for the sake of being nice. Often there is an element of coercion in our niceties whether; we want a better deal on a product, or when we want someone to buy our product, or even trying to figure out office relationships so you can get ahead faster.

The point is that often we’re not being nice for the sake of being nice, we’re looking to gain something from the other party. Most often what we’re trying to gain is an improved relationship, so how can we build a quality relationship without using our niceness to bribe people into working with us?

What are business relationships built on?

When people say that good business is built on good relationships they aren’t kidding. Having a vast network of people that respect and like you is a huge benefit to helping your friends and gives you a lot of knowledge to leverage into other areas.

No one has ever hired someone because they were “nice”, sure a pleasant, respectful personality goes some of the way, but the thing that we’re hired for is our skill. The reason people use our services, buy our products, and work with us is because we can deliver on what we say we can.

Freelancers prefer clients that pay on time, consumers prefer products that work well, and customers adore services that work the same every time. All this really boils down to is this:

Business relationships are built on respect.

How to generate respect

prop, sci-fi, personal development
Alternatively, you could simply buy one of these “respect generators”, but they’re very expensive…and fictional

Here we’re not talking about admiration or honouring yourself. What we’re talking about is a mutual set of boundaries that allow both parties to benefit with a minimal emotional expense. This means creating a relationship in which both people feel comfortable telling the other what’s going well, what’s not going well, how they can improve the experience, and how they can deliver on the task set.

Here’s how to build that level of respect:

  • Demonstrate your ability at your role (whether that’s customer, employee, landlord, builder etc)
  • Accurately tell whoever we’re interacting with exactly what you want
  • Trust in the other party’s ability to do what they’ve said they’ll do
  • Be consistent with your actions

If you’ve found someone that can reciprocate those actions then you’ve found a winner. Most will only demonstrate one or two of these traits consistently, but work toward personally embodying the traits and you’ll have more business opportunities than you’ll know what to do with.

Final thoughts

I’m reminded of a story from George Clason’s The Richest Man in Babylon (review here), in which he recounts a story about a Donkey and an Ox. It goes a little something like this:

An Ox and Donkey are talking, and the Ox complains to the Donkey that he plows the fields all day, whilst the Donkey relaxes doing a small amount of work. The Donkey gives the Ox some advice telling the Ox to pretend he’s ill.

The next morning when the farmer tried to attach the plow to the Ox the Ox bellowed, and bellowed until the farmer gave up. The farmer then attaches the plow to the Donkey instead, making the Donkey plow the fields.

In the evening the Donkey was furious, the Ox told the Donkey “You are my very good friend.  Because of your wise advice, I have enjoyed a day of rest.”

To which the Donkey repliedAnd I am like many another simple-hearted one who starts out to help a friend and ends up by doing his task for him. Hereafter you draw your own plow, for I did hear the master tell the slave to send for the butcher were you sick again. I wish he would, for you are a lazy fellow.”

And they never spoke to each other again.

Doing favours for people is all well and good, but in business, you may be handicapping yourself and end up resenting the person you’re interacting with simply by being “nice” to them. Instead of focusing on being their friend, focus on communicating to them what they can expect from you, and what you expect from them. Making someone like you may help you sell them something or mean that they’re more likely to work with you, but they’re far more likely to go with the person who offers them a better price, or whose demonstrated their skill already.

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