The Myth of the Nice Girl
Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate
By Fran Hauser
In The Myth of the Nice Girl, Fran Hauser says the question she’s been asked most over the course of her career is, “How can you be so nice … and still be successful?” She explores this myth of the nice girl in her book, the tricky balance between being seen as a pushover and people-pleaser and being seen as an ambitious leader effective at their job (or perhaps veering too far into the “bitch” label territory). Fran says in her Author’s Note that even just the word “nice” is emotionally loaded for women, and she wants to rebrand the word to not mean a meek people pleaser but someone who uses “authentic kindness to sidestep regressive stereotypes about what a strong leader looks like. There is real power hidden in traits like empathy, kindness, and compassion that are undervalued in the business world When coupled with an appropriate dose of savvy and ambition, these overlooked superpowers can help launch your career to the top.”
Nice as a Superpower
In her early 20s, one of Fran’s bosses said she was “yessing” the client to death, and that only saying “yes” and “that’s interesting” in meetings makes her less interesting than sharing opinions. She had been waiting for someone to give her permission to share her opinions. She started adding her opinion and the client saw its value and eventually started asking her opinion. Another huge turning point was learning that a mentor’s advice may not always be right for
Five Ways to Respond When People Say you Are Too Nice
Ask a follow-up question such as “How do you think this is hurting me?” or try an answer below:
- I know, and it’s really served me well.
- Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.
- You say that as if it is something negative.
- I’ve come to realize that it is actually possible to be nice and strong. They are not mutually exclusive.
- It’s better than the alternative … who wants to deal with a jerk?
Be Ambitious and Likeable
Fran says you can have both qualities, starting by taking credit for your own accomplishments. Tell a story, nominate yourself, do it one-on-one, and be inclusive (share the credit when its deserved). Step up and accept higher positions because you aren’t expected to meet 100% of the qualifications, avoiding the “confidence gap” that often plagues women. Create opportunities for yourself, exploring area or topics your company is not yet handling and asking to take these on yourself (with buy-in from your colleagues that it could be a good idea, before asking the boss).
Speak Up Assertively and Nicely
Strategies to authentically speak up in meetings:
- Look at the agenda or ask the meeting convener about the topics of the meeting and prepare thoughts to discuss in advance.
- Make a commitment to make at least one valuable comment per meeting.
- Instead of waiting for an opening (as interrupting goes against the ingrained sense of being nice), speak first when a topic is opened for comments, using a stock phrase such as “I have a suggestion,” “I did some informal research and found…” or “Here’s what I’ve been thinking…”
- Have stock phrases to help jump into the middle of a conversation, such as, “I really like that perspective, and …” “That reminds me of…” or “Following on that, I wonder if we…”
Don’t fall into the trap of speech weakeners, such as over-apologizing, saying “I might be wrong about this but..” saying “I feel” instead of “I know” or asking it as a question (up-speak at the end of a sentence).
Disagreeing nicely can be tricky as well. Here are some of the phrases Fran uses:
- I completely respect where you are coming from on this, and…
- That’s a valid point, and… (notice using “and” instead of “but”)
- Let’s explore this together, tell me a little more about…
- It sounds to me like we both want…
- Let me share with you (not “Let me tell you”)
Phrases to use when dealing with a bully:
- Please don’t talk to me that way.
- Let’s try to get this conversation to a place where it can be productive.
- Let’s take a break and come back to this later
Give Feedback Directly and Kindly
Fran describes her first role managing people and how she was good at supporting her team until it came to giving negative feedback. “I did what any ‘nice girl’ would do … I completely avoided it!” Instead, she redid the weak teammates’
Additional Important Topics
Making decisions firmly and collaboratively using evidence-based confidence and pulling in the stakeholders, learning that failure is part of
About the Author
Fran Hauser is a media executive and startup investor who has held senior positions at companies such as People, InStyle, AOL, and