The ruse of niceness in the workplace

The ruse of niceness in the workplace

I will warn you right here. This ain’t no happy go lucky narrative. It’s a bit downtrodden. You have been warned. Carry on.

As I grew in the ranks at work, I took my lumps on the chin and I fought many good honorable fights for the soul and integrity of our work. Yet, one key lesson passed onto me that I, in return, passed on was “when venom is thrown at you, just put on a smile and be nice.” Such a sentiment may sound to be the equivalent of turning the other cheek (which many perceive as noble) but it clearly is not. Indeed, the act of killing them with kindness is a pervasive disease nowadays.

Being nice is a weapon used to disarm your so-called opponent. I do not mean the fake compliments that often drive political debates. I mean putting on a “nice” mask so that no one really knows who you are or what you are thinking about.

I recall an incident where a colleague had a break down of sorts in the workplace. He was upset at another individual in the office who had just raised her voice at him. He just couldn’t shake off being yelled at. Especially being yelled at by the ostensibly nicest person in the office. Thereafter, I spoke with the “nice” girl and she went and apologized. After which she then came and told me she was not wrong but still apologized because it didn’t matter. Her apology was only words and had no bearing on her. She just apologized to shut the person up and she advised me that no matter what I think I should just apologize in any situation because you can get what you want thereafter. It was a very machiavellian perspective that I saw implemented many times in the coming years. I saw a whole other side that day and attained a new understanding to her niceness. I witnessed countless faux hugs, compliments and laughter. What saddens me is that people buy into those fake acts. At times, it seems that people want to be fooled. They want the shiny veneer. No wonder people can be hypnotized by following a shiny object.

On another occasion another colleague, that everyone respected as someone having integrity, filled me on on a secret. When he bought the team pizza for a meeting it was not because the team deserved some sustenance considering how hard they had worked. No, instead that person bought pizza “so that their mouths would be full and they wouldn’t be able to talk back.” He just wanted to shut their traps up. Makes me see brown bag lunches in a whole other light. Do you really care to argue a point when you are hungry and have some yummy food in front of you. You sit, listen and chew and don’t talk back.

Am I wrong for thinking that being nice is a ruse used by many in power? These individuals and many more appear to everyone else as genuinely nice people. The “nice” facade carries weight and lulls other into compliance or less pushback and resistance.

Beware of the shiny objects laid before you. They probably have a rusty thorn beneath.



Other word press thoughts

Prairie Views


10 replies »

  1. I read this and just nodded the whole way through, empathizing completely. I work in academia, so this sort of “ruse” is pervasive. It verges on sycophancy as well, which is something that I cannot tolerate when I witness it for myself. Anyway, thanks for sharing this.


  2. I guess it’s been a social survival technique since long. I had this girl in class. She was nice to everyone and helped people. But at the same time she’d also be saying bad stuff about them at some other gathering when that was convenient. She was pretty good at this. I mean she got… what could be the equivalent of prom queen… at our farewell. It looked like some sort of phycosis to me. She always had this ever increasing desire to reach out to more and more people and make her “angelic” presence felt. She was not even 10percent of what she claimed. But her adverts were so powerful… people talked about her… back her up… felt empowered and recognized and uplifted around… It was fake. But I guess that brand of people have been in existence and will continue to. I don’t even know if there is something skewed about them or me. Its just raw survival… some people take care of their image… some take care of their skill… money… I wish I was more like her in fact.


  3. I battle when people use so called niceness (and I would call it manipulation) to stop other people from speaking their freedom, and from being understood. I think it means questioning the emotions we cast out of favour. Eg being angry at somebody treating you badly, and having the hurt recognised, should be more important than respecting so called niceness (which is oppression in disguise in this instance).

    How can we understand each other if we won’t explore conflict, allow people to speak or be upset with us?

    Great post, I can feel it has evoked a lot.


  4. No don’t think you’re wrong at all…spot on for sure. How “nice” a person and the character he or she has is revealed best when their is no audience…those with power often have many eyes on them…


  5. I have someone like this in my life. He pretends to do good for others and goes behind their backs talking bad about them and what he did for them, while he smiles and is pleasant to their face. He volunteers for charities but constantly complains about how he never gets thanked for his help. I think it just takes more guts than some people have or are willing to show to actually be who they really are and to say what they are really thinking. It’s harder to let someone know you aren’t happy with something they did then to let it ride and just appear like it doesn’t bother you. It’s really the coward’s way out and one of the problems with our society today.


  6. I very much agree with you and empathize with most of your commenters, especially with regard to workplace situations. I quit my last job after 3 years because, over my final year there, it began to dawn on me that I’d been hired under false pretenses. I thought, and had been reassured in interviews, that my experience was valued by what, based on the experience I had with this company, should have been my dream employer. The final straw, or dagger if you will, came from the director whom I had taken to referring to by that time as “princess fairy dust”, which goes to the point made by aveline07. As I wrote to the friends I made during my employ there, I decided to quit when “princess fairy dust succeeded in getting her fair haired/bald headed boy selected as employee of the quarter.” I had nothing against my fellow employee, though I had not observed him doing anything extraordinary in comparison to my job performance and I knew he had much less experience than I did. Instead, this just proved to me that this director favored the employees that she had personally hired herself and expected less independent thought and action from them, rendering my experience moot and in fact something to be discounted. It’s funny, too, that when I mentioned “princess fairy dust” to some of her management colleagues, they knew exactly who I was talking about! Since I left that job, I have found out from some of my co-workers that the princess has continued to make commitments to customers on behalf of her employees and, as I experienced, has provided no support that would enable them go fulfill those commitments while, of course, throwing those employees she did not hire under the proverbial bus.


  7. Totally agree, Mimi. It is the very rare manager (boss, director, employer, etc.) that really, truly appreciates the work that the employees do. And, their faces almost always wear a mask. After all, if they gave away their “game plan,” they wouldn’t be sitting in the “high chair.” Bosses always have favorites, but it’s the smart boss that tries his/her darnedest to not reveal that. Woe is you, if you get onto the wrong side! Enjoyed your post. 🙂


  8. The curse of society is that been blunt and honest (best done with a small side of humbleness or after playing devil’s advocate) is never taken as it should, it insults when to honest a well packaged criticism worded to be helpful cuts a whole bunch of crap


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