Do You Suffer From Nice Girl Syndrome?
Ten years ago, Dr. Lois Frankel wrote Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. At the time, it had quite the impact. Frankel helped women understand that the societal pressure they’d received to be nice, and their desire to be liked by their co-workers, was negatively affecting their success.
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I did a workshop with a group of college seniors, recently — 450 women. And I asked the question, ‘What messages did you get in childhood that your brothers didn’t get?’ So now, we’re talking about 20, 21-year-olds here; maybe even a couple of 19-year-olds in there. And they said all the things that I heard 40-year-old women saying 10 years ago: ‘Be nice, be kind, be careful. You’ll always have to look nice. You can’t be as smart as a boy.’ And then, I said, ‘But I also know there are some of you who got different messages.’ And then, a lot of women raised their hands and said, ‘Yeah, I was told I can do anything I want. I was told I’m every bit as good as a boy. I was told the sky’s the limit for me.’ And I said, ‘Yeah! But then, what happened?’ And then they said, ‘Yeah, but then, you get out into society, and you realize, just because mom and dad say it’s true, doesn’t make it true.’
It’s not just millennial women who could benefit from considering some of Frankel’s points. Many women still struggle with some of the beliefs and behaviors Frankel warned about, and they are still being held back professionally as a result.
Also, women are still perceived differently both in and outside of the workplace. Understanding these assumptions, and working to right them, is a process in which both genders must participate.
“They’ve been doing some studies now, comparing men and women who negotiate — and who negotiate to win,” says Frankel. “And they do find that the men who negotiate to win are seen as hard drivers, successful negotiators, aggressive — all kinds of words that are really very positive — to apply to a man. But they see the woman as greedy. Or unrealistic, or a number of other things. So women really are between a rock and a hard place. Because the fact is, we do have different rules in the workplace for men and women.”
No matter the height of the obstacles, women should spend some time thinking about their own nice girl tendencies and how they could be holding them back professionally.
Here are a few signs you might be suffering from nice girl syndrome.
Women in our culture are given the message that making people around them feel comfortable is important. A smile puts others at ease and makes them feel liked. But, this isn’t always the best tactic professionally. Women should remind themselves to stand in the power of their convictions and not be afraid to believe strongly in something they’re saying or doing. A smile tempers that fire. Your ideas might be taken more seriously, and your passion and expertise might be more easily perceived by others, if your facial expression matches your true emotions.
2. You care a lot about what your co-workers think of you.
Everyone wants to be liked. The difference is that women are told from a young age that being nice is the way to get them there. However, your intelligence, creativity, experience, capabilities, and even your honesty, will make an even stronger impression on others than showing a tremendous amount of kindness. Being overly concerned with what others think of you derails your primary professional objectives. You’ll earn more respect from others through being less concerned what they think and more concerned with doing excellent work.
3. You have a hard time saying no.
Saying no to a request is difficult for a lot of women. Even when they do turn down an additional responsibility or project, or deny someone time or support that they ask for, many women tend to apologize or give a lengthy explanation for why they aren’t able to do the task, sometimes even pledging to help the next time around. If you’re too busy to do something, or it doesn’t interest you, or you don’t want to do it for any reason, simply saying “no” is fine. If you must elaborate, just use a short and simple phrase like, “not today,” or, “I can’t make that work.” There is no need to explain beyond that. It really is the best way to ensure that you don’t spend hours each day working toward someone else’s goals and agenda rather than your own.
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Gina Belli works as a teacher, freelance writer, and educational consultant, and lives in her beloved home state, Connecticut. She likes to write about education, work-life balance, and the economy. Given her arresting capacity to over-analyze anything interpersonal, her writing often tends to focus on some of the more emotional aspects of workplace connections and disconnections, as they relate to partnerships and teams, personality and communication styles, and leadership. In her free time, she likes to putter around her renovated one-room schoolhouse home, take walks in the woods, and eat as much guacamole as she can get her hands on.