Can You Be Nice AND Competent?

October 7, 2019

Who likes being put in a box?

I don’t.

Nobody puts Baby in a box!

OK, the actual movie quote says “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” but I wouldn’t want to be in a box either.

Boxed in is perhaps even worse than cornered in. At least you can watch the dance number from the corner.

How do we get boxed in? By allowing people to put us into a box based on a single characteristic.

A recent article from Quartz at Work revisits that oft-visited question, “Can nice women get ahead at work?

The article expresses the concern that being branded as “nice” or a “team-player” means being seen as less competent or able to lead. Conversely, being seen as a competent leader who is a woman conjures up images of a cold-hearted, calculating b-tch.

Two extremes, due to the double-bind and likability penalty placed on professional women that doesn’t seem to plague their male colleagues.

I’m tired of the Either/Or scenario.

Of having to check only one of those boxes.

Of being put in a box.

Like you can’t be one AND be the other.

You can be both nice AND competent!

I can be nice and a great team-player.

I am also competent and can lead.

Occasionally, when necessary because, say, someone is cheating on an expense report- or sometimes when I’m stressed and having a bad day or am super hangry and I need of a cookie – I can also be a little, well, bitchy…

Sorry. Stop cheating on your expense reports. Bring me a chocolate chip cookie. I promise it will be fine.

Yes, you can be “nice” AND competent! You know how I know this?

Because you can be more than one thing. Duh.

You can be nicely competent.

You can be competently nice.

Here’s what else you can be:

You can be firm but also kind, ambitious without being self-serving, both big-picture and detail-oriented. You can be “helpful” without being a pushover. You can be a leader and still care about the little people. You can be smart and also sexy or attractive and also intelligent. Heck, you can even be an introverted extrovert or extroverted introvert!

You can be WHO YOU ARE without being PUT INTO A SINGLE BOX by someone’s limited view or need to categorize you.

Did I suggest that nicely / competently enough?

Or, was that, you know, a little bitchy?

I’m not even hungry right now. Just irritated.

By being asked to fill a box. By being told to be confident, but not too confident. (Hello, Confidence Conundrum!)

By being told to speak up, but not so loudly or so often.

By being told to smile more but not too much lest you seem not serious enough.

Instead of trying to categorize us as who you’d like us to be, why not just let us be who we are?

That’s the box I help women check off.

The freedom to be YOU box.

Bust out of the box

It’s a box of competencies and contradictions and complexities, of nice and gee-I-probably-could’ve-been-nicer moments.

Just be you.

Don’t stifle your ambition. Don’t judge yourself as harshly as the world would lead you to believe is necessary.

Don’t let anybody put you in a box. Or in the corner.

Bust out and hit the dance floor. And go have the time of your life.

Valerie Gordon is the founder of career and communication strategy firm, Commander-in-She. She helps high-achieving women with the storytelling tools necessary to nail the interview, land the job, get the promotion, close the sale, perfect the presentation and anything else that involves the power of words and how to use them for impact and influence. 

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