The Power of Nice
For years, we have loved a particular security guard in our Manhattan
office building. In fact, most of us at The Kaplan Thaler Group think
the world of him. A large, jovial man in his mid-fifties, Frank
brightens people’s days by giving everyone who walks into our
building a huge, warm greeting. “Hello, Linda!”
“Hello, Robin!” he’ll say. “Happy Friday!”
Frank’s engaging banter changed the way we started work in the
morning. Instead of simply flashing our passes anonymously and making a
beeline for the elevator, we found ourselves seeking out Frank and
making sure to say hello. He set a positive tone for the entire day. But
we never considered how Frank might be helping our business, other than
preventing intruders from entering the premises.
That is, until the day Richard Davis, the president and COO of U.S.
Bank, the sixth-largest bank in the United States, came to see us. For
months, our entire team at The Kaplan Thaler Group had been working to
create a pitch that would wow Davis and win us the huge U.S. Bank
At the time of Davis’s visit, it was down to the wire. We were one
of two agencies still in the running for the account. Davis and his team
were flying in from their executive offices in Minneapolis to meet
personally with us. We didn’t realize it at the time, but in fact
Davis and his staff were a bit apprehensive about the kind of treatment
they’d get in New York City. The furious pace and hard-bitten
“out of my way” attitude of the Big Apple had become part of
the mythology of the city. They were afraid we would be too cold, too
But when Richard Davis and his team walked into our building, they
received a warm, enthusiastic greeting from Frank. When Davis reached
our offices a few minutes later, he was gushing about the friendly
security guard. “This guy gave me a huge hello!” he said.
“And all of a sudden, I thought how could I not want to
work with a company that has someone like Frank? How can I feel anything
but good about hiring an agency like that?” We won the account.
Of course, Davis wouldn’t have awarded us the job if he
wasn’t impressed with our work. But we’ve gotta give Frank
credit. With a multimillion-dollar account in the balance, it was
Frank’s warm hello that helped us cinch the deal.
That is the power of nice.
The security guard wins the heart of the COO. It might sound like a
Disney movie, but we can assure you it was no fantasy. We wrote The
Power of Nice because we completely disagreed with the conventional
wisdom that “Nice guys finish last” and “No good deed
goes unpunished.” Our culture has helped to propagate the myth of
social Darwinism–of survival of the fittest–that the
cutthroat “me vs. you” philosophy wins the day. One of the
biggest-selling career books in the past few years is called Nice
Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. Yet this completely
contradicts the way we have run our business and our lives. In less than
a decade, we built The Kaplan Thaler Group into a powerhouse in
advertising with close to $1 billion in billings, making it one of the
nation’s fastest-growing advertising agencies. Our success was won
not with pitchforks and spears, but with flowers and chocolates. Our
growth is the result not of fear and intimidation, but of smiles and
Time and time again, we have seen the extraordinary power of nice in our
business dealings and in our personal lives. It is the patient passenger
who politely asks the airline ticket agent to please check one more time
who gets the first-class upgrade, rather than the “I’m a
triple platinum member” blowhard. It is the driver who is polite
and apologetic to the police officer who sometimes is forgiven for
driving over the speed limit.
But nice has an image problem. Nice gets no respect. To be labeled
“nice” usually means the other person has little else
positive to say about you. To be nice is to be considered Pollyanna and
passive, wimpy, and Milquetoast. Let us be clear: Nice is not
naive. Nice does not mean smiling blandly while others walk all over
you. Nice does not mean being a doormat. In fact, we would argue that
nice is the toughest four-letter word you’ll ever hear. It
means moving forward with the clear-eyed confidence that comes from
knowing that being very nice and placing other people’s needs on
the same level as your own will get you everything you want. Think about
Nice is luckier in love. People who are low-key and congenial
have one-half the divorce rate of the general population, says a
University of Toronto study.(1)
Nice makes more money. According to Professor Daniel Goleman, who
conducted research on how emotions affect the workplace for his book
Primal Leadership, there is a direct correlation between employee
morale and the bottom line. One study found that every 2 percent
increase in the service climate–that is, the general cheerfulness
and helpfulness of the staff–saw a 1 percent increase in
Nice is healthier. A University of Michigan study found that
older Americans who provide support to others– either through
volunteer work or simply by being a good friend and neighbor–had a
60 percent lower rate of premature death than their unhelpful peers.
Nice spends less time in court. One study found that doctors who
had never been sued spoke to their patients for an average of three
minutes longer than physicians who had been sued twice or more, reports
Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without
It is often the small kindnesses–the smiles, gestures,
compliments, favors–that make our day and can even change our
lives. Whether you are leading your own company, running for president
of the PTA, or just trying to conduct a civil conversation with your
teenage daughter, the power of nice will help you break through the
misconceptions that keep you from achieving your goals. The power of
nice will help you to open doors, improve your relationships at work and
at home, and let you sleep a whole lot better. Nice not only finishes
first; those who use its nurturing power wind up happier, to boot!
In the chapters ahead, we’ll show you that being nice
doesn’t mean sacrificing what you want for someone else.
There’s always a second, third, or even fourth solution when you
apply the principles of nice.
Chapter 2 The Six Power of Nice Principles
The Power of Nice Principle #1
Positive impressions are like seeds. Every time you smile at a
messenger, laugh at a coworker’s joke, thank an assistant, or
treat a stranger with graciousness and respect, you throw off positive
energy. That energy makes an impression on the other person that, in
turn, is passed along to and imprinted on the myriad others he or she
meets. Such imprints have a multiplier effect. And ultimately, those
favorable impressions find their way back to you. That doesn’t
mean the waiter you tipped well will one day found a Fortune 100 company
and offer you stock options (unless it was one hell of a tip). The
results of the power of nice are rarely that direct. In fact, you may
not notice any impact on your life for years, apart from the warm glow
it gives you inside. Nonetheless, we have found that the power of nice
has a domino effect. You may not ever be able to trace your good fortune
back to a specific encounter, but it is a mathematical certainty that
the power of nice lays the groundwork for many opportunities down the
road. These positive impressions are like seeds. You plant them and
forget about them, but underneath the surface, they’re growing and
expanding, often exponentially.
Here’s an example of how the power of nice has worked for us. Not
long ago, we featured Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, in an Aflac
commercial, at the suggestion of Aflac chairman and CEO Daniel Amos. We
gave Mrs. Trump, as one of the stars of the commercial, her own trailer
and made sure she was comfortable and had everything she needed. Our
team treated her nicely not because she was married to a famous person,
but because we have a policy of being polite and respectful to all the
talent on our advertising shoots.
Months later, the producers of The Apprentice asked Linda to be a
judge on one of the shows, in which the apprentice hopefuls were
required to create a car advertisement:
Before the first segment was shot, I introduced myself to Donald
Trump, mentioning that we were the agency that had used his wife in an
Aflac duck commercial. Well, Trump clearly remembered his wife’s
experience, because right before the shooting started, he leaned over
and said, “You were so nice to my wife. Watch how I return the
Then he got on and described The Kaplan Thaler Group as one of the
hottest ad agencies in the country–on network television! He then
went out of his way to include me in the on-camera discussions. All
because we were nice to his wife.
The Power of Nice Principle #2
You never know. OK, you’re thinking. So it pays to be nice
to Donald Trump’s wife. But we’re all smart enough to
cooperate with the important people in our lives–the people we
interact with often, like neighbors and coworkers, and the people
involved in important transactions, such as mortgage brokers and
prospective employers. We’re much less likely, however, to worry
about, say, a stranger whom we’ll never see again. Too often, our
thinking is “What does it matter?”
Diane Karnett certainly never thought the young woman she met on a train
home to New York City would transform her life. The woman was visiting
her grandmother, who happened to live in Diane’s neighborhood, so
they split a cab ride. When they arrived at the grandmother’s
apartment, the woman asked Diane if she’d help her carry her bags
up to the fifth-floor walk-up.
“I figured why not?” But by the time they reached the fourth
floor, she could think of many reasons why not.
The woman’s eighty-five-year-old grandmother turned out to be an
ex-Ziegfeld showgirl named Millie Darling, who befriended Diane and
showed her New York as she had never known it. “Through the years,
I was treated like royalty at her favorite jazz clubs and
saloons,” says Diane.
That would have been more than enough reward for lugging a few bags up
several flights of stairs. But it turns out Millie was the mother of
Chan Parker, widow of the legendary jazz great Charlie Parker. When
Diane was unemployed, Chan invited Diane to live with her in her
farmhouse outside of Paris. Diane accepted and told her former employer
about her move. They said that since she was moving to Paris anyway, why
not set up shop and run a co-venture for them there? Diane remained in
Paris for four glorious years, spending weekends at Chan Parker’s
farmhouse, socializing with Chan’s fabulous and fascinating
visitors–jazz legends, journalists, even Clint Eastwood. “I
could have let that stranger on the train carry her own bags up. And
missed it all,” says Diane.
When we meet strangers on the street, we usually assume they
aren’t important to us. Unlike our friend Diane, we often avoid
contact with the woman sitting next to us on the train or maybe even
race ahead to beat her to a cab as we exit the station. The thinking is,
“She’s just some woman who has nothing to do with my life.
Getting the cab is more important than being nice to her.”
But how do you know that? This woman could be the sister of your boss.
Or a real estate agent who knows of a home in your dream neighborhood.
Or the head of a foundation that could give your fledgling charity the
backing it desperately needs. The bottom line is, this woman is
important to many people. You have to treat everyone you meet as if they
are the most important person in the world– because they are. If
not to you, then to someone; and if not today, then perhaps tomorrow.
Excerpted from "The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness" by Linda Kaplan Thaler. Copyright © 2006 by Linda Kaplan Thaler. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.