It’s Business Not Personal: Redefining Nice Girls in the Workplace

Illustration of Marlon Brando in "The Godfather"

It’s 1972 and Marlon Brando is screen pursing his lips to utter the four words that will launch a million shady deals, back stabbings and acts of piracy. Acts justified by the four words that have become part of the the unwritten capitalism bible: ” It’s Business Not Personal”.  This phrase along with Gordon Gekko’s unfortunate line ” Greed is Good” in the 1987 movie Wall Street ,have subverted a million young hopefuls into believing that the way to truly get ahead in lie is to cut the competition at the knees….while wearing an impeccably tailored italian suit.

This way of doing business is not only unhealthy and unnatural but it rams headlong into all of the values that your average woman has been taught since early childhood. Being the ‘nice-girl’ may not have been hard wired into every woman’s DNA, but it most definitely had been programmed somewhere along the way between the ages of 3 and death.

So here’s the kicker: The Godfather may have been onto something with that line. How was he to know that his words would be immortalized forever and be fastened to imagery of men being chained to bricks and tossed over into the sea at midnight. Or that the echo of his words would play out in boardrooms, where sweaty palmed men and women do their level-best to undercut their peers  and land the corner office. But, what does that term really mean? And how do you become a hard-nosed businessman while maintaining your identity as a woman?  The answer is you don’t. Leave the hard noses in the 80s and dust your skirt off. 2014 ushers in a new year with the largest number of women business owners in history. You can be a successful and effective business woman and still be ‘nice’. The trick is to redefine the term. Here are a few tips to help us to it the way we do it best:

1) Be ‘Nice’ to Yourself. Truly learn to value yourself and your ability. You were put on this earth to contribute the very best of you, you should truly believe that your contribution is just as valuable as any other’s. The next time you under-cut your rates, or suffer for someone else’s benefit, ask yourself “how nice was I being to me?” Not positioning yourself for that raise you needed was a total mean-girl tactic!

2) Know when to turn the best parts of you OFF. As a brand designer my emotions help to lead my creativity, my ability to see the big picture helps me sell a project and my charisma, and desire to please help me make my clients feel comfortable. I know this and I value my talents, but all of those things add up to a giant goose egg when it comes to price negotiations, and managing my YTD total. It is here that I have to turn those parts of me ‘off’ and flip the switch ‘on’ my focus and my ability to analyze. When it is  time to decide whether to buy that new piece of machinery or what rate to stick to when hiring a new photographer its all business; nothing personal.

3) Re-identify Your ‘Bottom Line’. We’ve come to recognize the ‘bottom line’ as your money, but money is just a tool to get to the things we really want. I find that imagining my actual goals helps me to focus and become bolder in my pursuit.  I have an emotional attachment to the things that I really want that makes me strive even harder. My need to provide for my family or to have enough money for the vacation I’ve been longing for supersedes my need to please others.

4) Remember Why You Go to Work. You go to work to do your job. It’s not your job to make someone else feel warm and fuzzy, the give someone else a break, to marginalize yourself for the sake of someone else’s insecurity. It’s not your job to pass out baked goods or pick up the slack. Your job is to do your job; to the best of your ability and (hopefully) with joy and enthusiasm.

Once you understand that, and can lead with that foot you have my full permission to bake a plate of cookies and bring them to work. You can always be nice to others once you have been nice to yourself. And, after all it’s those personal touches in business that make you who you are, right?

-Khia Jackson

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