Why Nice Teams Finish Last

Photo: AdobeStock/Baronb

My brother-in-law recently got a job in retail sales of satellite TV.  Here’s a psychological trick he was taught – ask the nice young couple who has stepped into the big box store to follow you, and as you ask, turnaround and walk away with your back towards them.  Invariably they will follow you even if they have no interest in what you’re selling.


We’ve been taught the ultimate betrayal is abandonment.

We take pride in being “good people.”  We don’t consider ourselves to be the type of person who would just leave a nice young man to feel rejected and perplexed, that’s just mean.

We’re polite.  We show common courtesy.

We follow like sheep.  Though unlike sheep, inside we boil.  Unnerved and impatient as we “kindly” nod and listen to the spiel for something which we have no intention of purchasing.  Muttering non-niceties under our breath as we finally manage to tear away.

What would it look like to simply ask for what you need?  Yell after my brother-in-law, “Hey!”  Make eye contact and say, “Thanks man, I’ve gotta run.”  Or “Not interested.  Have a good one.”

This is civil and considerate.  This keeps the two of you from wasting time and lets him find someone who is interested.

What does this have to do with the workplace?  Everything. 

Work teams who can be kind and candid, straight and succinct, get more done and feel more camaraderie with their co-workers than the nicest of teams.  Those nice teams have an awkward suffocating tension as you walk on beautifully painted eggshells.  Everyone’s pretty uptight and nervous about offending one another.  No one really knows what each of the others is thinking.  There’s pretense and padding.  All of which causes the team to feel insecure.

Being straight: “You’re killing me smalls, we’ve got to hit this deadline and you’re dragging, what’s up?”

Being nice: “Hi Joe, hope you’re enjoying this nice weather.  How are the kids?   Oh, yeah, great.  Mine, yeah, they’re all good.”  Awkward pauses begin here. “Ah, yeah.  I was wondering.  That project – the one we’re supposed to have ready here soon.  Yeah, uh, not to rush you, but was just wondering where are you on that?  Oh, hmmm.  Well, if you could get that to me here soon, that’d be great.  Okay, well, thanks.”

When a team trusts one another to be “good people” and is a stand for the success of the team, it’s safe to be straight and to ask for both what you need and what the work needs.  This trust is created by being straight and asking for what you need.  No hidden agendas.  No muttered comments as you walk away.  No wondering what you’re really thinking.

So if you’re stuck on a really nice team, shake it up a bit.  Start being straight and succinct, kind and candid.   Also tell your fellow team members, “Don’t hesitate to just tell me what you need.”  When they start to go the long slow awkward route, try “Hey, can you just be straight with me?  How can I help?  What do you need from me to make this project a success?”

For more on kind and candid communication and how great workplace teams are built, don’t miss out – get your copy of Culture Works!


Kris Boesch is the CEO and Founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures, increases employee happiness and boosts the bottom-line. She is a nationally renowned speaker and workplace culture expert.  Boesch is also the author of Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace and developer of the Choose People 360° Culture Audit. Kris is also a proud mother, dancing diva and dog lover.

Kris Boesch is the CEO and Founder of Choose People, a company that transforms company cultures, increases employee happiness and boosts the bottom-line. She is a nationally renowned speaker and workplace culture expert. Kris is also a proud mother, dancing diva and dog lover. Check out Kris's book "Culture Works: How to Create Happiness in the Workplace" at https://www.CultureWorksBook.com, for more fabulous leadership tips and tools. Learn more about Kris's company at https://www.ChoosePeople.com or book Kris to speak at your next event at https://www.KrisBoesch.com!