Issues,  Legal Practice

You Don’t Have to be Nice

I recently finished Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and aside from being super funny, one comment caught my attention right away.  In the pilot, one of the Indiana Mole Women says that they followed the Rev to his car because she didn’t want to be rude.  Matt Lauer casually comments that he’s always amazed at the lengths women will go through to not be seen as rude. I definitely laughed, but it was such a true statement.

nice vs. being a bitch at work


Too often, we are trained to be nice and polite above even our own comfort. Little girls are always told to be nice, to be polite, or to not make waves. We apologize for our opinions (prefacing almost all statements with an apology: “I’m sorry but when is the meeting?”); we apologize for our presence (someone bumps into me and I used to automatically apologize).  We put up with “casual” sexism to not be seen as trouble-makers or as someone with thin skin. We are trained to be good girls, and then when we become women those standards and behaviors don’t help us progress in our careers. Maybe we’re seen as amiable or a great team-player, but we’re not seen as leaders.

As Latinas, it’s also an impacted problem because we tend to be even more aware of the stereotypes placed upon us and may try to avoid showing emotions so that we aren’t negatively labeled.  We may think, “I’ll just put up with it and not say anything because if I admit I’m upset or offended, they may say I’m being  loud or overly emotional.”

When we fear being seen as rude or strive to always be nice, we lose our voice to call out inappropriate behavior. We put up with unfairness and harassment because that’s what is expected of us.  In short, we lose our power.

So what are our options? Are we doomed to have to decide between being nice versus being seen as a bitch? Maybe. Hopefully not. Perhaps we can start small,  and regain some of the power lost by becoming comfortable with sharing our opinions without fear of displeasing others.

Of course, doing so is not easy:

One. Learn to be OK with discomfort. One of the biggest mistakes we make when we are calling out problematic behavior is to soften our message with smiles. I totally get why! Telling someone to stop saying certain things or behaving certain ways is tough. It’s totally understandable to want to soften the blow with a smile. But the problem is that when you give an inch, they take a mile. To the offender, smile or even nervous laughter looks like permission to keep doing what they’re doing. I remember a really horrible and awkward experience I had as an intern and one of the things I wish I had changed was when I finally got the courage to tell the harasser to stop, that I tried to do it nicely.  Why did I care what this person thought about me?  They obviously didn’t care about my comfort. But I wanted to be nice. I wanted to seem reasonable, like a team player, etc etc.  If you can learn to deal with the discomfort that comes when you initially tell someone to stop their problematic behavior without smiling then you will make huge strides in your ability to stand up and advocate for yourself in all other endeavors.

Two. Practice stating your opinion. When you’re supposed to be a team player you try to never disagree. Often we may not present opposing opinions for fear that we will be viewed as uncooperative. However, if you have a perspective that could add value to your work–even if it goes against the current status quo, try sharing it anyway. One of my favorites quotes is: Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.  Now, of course in most day-to-day business meetings we’re not necessarily speaking truth to power. You may have just a difference of opinion in something very minor, because obviously not everything is life and death. Yet, if we practice presenting ourselves in an assertive and confident manner for the small stuff–it will make the big stuff a little bit easier to handle.

Three. Validate others. If you see bad behavior, inappropriate comments, questionable ethical practices happening to others, be willing and able to say: that’s not okay. I had another experience as a college student where there was really odd behavior coming from a professor towards one student. Finally, this fellow student asked a few of us if we noticed this behavior or was she just “being crazy?”   She wasn’t crazy and that’s what she needed to hear in order to have her discomfort validated and feel secure enough to file a complaint. You are not crazy. We’re so often taught that we have to put up with anything and if we don’t like it, then we’re the ones with the problem. That’s not how it should work and you should consider supporting coworkers and colleagues when they decide to call out problematic behavior.  Because if we really want to be nice and kind we should be nice and kind where it matters.

Do you find yourself being overly nice and apologetic or do you have the opposite problem?