how much nice is too much?

How much nice is too much?

It has been quiet on this blog in recent months, because all the action is over on our Two Hills website where DrVu and I are busy building ideas around our new book, The agile Manager (small a), coming any month now.

We are creating a series of webinars, a body of knowledge around New Ways of Managing, a Facebook presence, and of course that bloody book, which has taken over our lives for a year now, as it grew from a quick handbook into something more substantial (300+ pages). There is so much to learn in this domain, and we are learning faster than we can write. Nevertheless the damn thing is almost done, the first edition anyway. I suspect there may be a second.

ImageWhy Facebook? Because the Vietnamese use Facebook more than other channels like Twitter, and the book will be in Vietnamese too. So Cherry is busy on FB sharing our ideas there too.

The point of this whole story - and I do have one - is that in those Vietnaese FB discussions, Dr Vu quoted

    “After years of intensive analysis Google found the key to good teamwork is being nice- Aamna Mohdin”

and Long Nguyen Huu asked (in English)

    "how much nice is enough? That's the problem! Trying to be nice to everybody is the fastest way to go to failure! Do you agree?

to which I replied (in English, I don't speak a word of Vietnamese)

It depends on the work. You can MAKE people do work, but you won't get productivity, quality, or innovation.
It's double hard to make knowledge workers do anything. They work inside their head.
To get good work, people must want to work. You can only invite them, motivate them, nurture them.
They are adults. You shouldn't treat them any different to other social contexts outside work. If you treat them like children you will get childish behaviour. If you treat them like adults, with courtesy and respect, you will get adult behaviour.

The challenge comes when we have a history of treating people badly. If we suddenly switch to being nice, there is a "culture debt": of anger and resentment, bad habits, learned helplessness, loss of trust.
We have to take time to restore trust and healthy behaviour, moving incrementally towards being nice. If we switch too fast we get bad behaviour. Set the ideal, but pursue it in agile way: iterate, increment (small steps), experiment, explore.
Yes you can have too much nice, but only if in the past you didn't.


Rules can be done in a nice way. If you set someone free, set bounds for their safety and yours. Because bounds are set in policy, and policy is set at a different time to when the action happens, we can do policy in a nice discussion.

Mistakes must be dealt with in a nice way. If people make a mistake, we must treat that in a nice way, so that all can learn from the mistake, not drive it underground.

Even bad behaviour can be dealt with in a nice way. When someone has not been nice, it is important to first look at the system they are in: does it drive them to bad behaviour? Unreasonable systems make unreasonable people.

When not to be nice. Only a small percentage of people are really bad: cheating, stealing, bullying, abusing... Get rid of them. This is when managers earn their pay: deal with the dysfunctional individuals and don't punish everybody else.


My Buddhist sister-in-law would say something like "We should not let anger into our heart. We must meet everything with laughter and love". Be nice.

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