When our Director of Brand Partnerships approached me about this opportunity, I jumped at the chance to read The Myth of the Nice Girl. Based on the title alone, I KNEW this book would speak to my soul. I have been called “too nice” so many times it is no longer even remotely funny. What does “too nice” even mean? Is it good? Bad? It’s like when someone tells you that you “look tired.” What on earth was that statement supposed to do for me?
In the introduction and first chapter, Fran Hauser — a former media executive, start-up investor, and kind person — confronts “too nice” head on and gives concrete responses to whip out the next time someone hits you with a “too nice.” As the book goes on, she delves into topics like negotiating, the confidence gap, body language, and so much more in an effort to prove that kindness and ambition are not mutually exclusive. The best recommendation I can give for this book is that immediately after finishing it, I texted my sister-in-law: “You HAVE to read this.”
It’s an invaluable tool for navigating the workplace as a woman and as a person who desperately wants to be authentic in a world that just loves to bandy about words like “ruthless” and “cutting” as the harbingers of ambition and strength. Here are five of the powerful lessons I took away from this book:
1. Kindness is your professional superpower
Reading this book was a huge lightbulb moment for me — I’ve never heard or seen kindness expressed as a professional strength in quite the same way before. It is CRAZY empowering to hear — from a badass professional woman — that you don’t have to change your values to succeed in the business world.
As a “nice girl,” I often get labeled as kind when the person doing the labeling actually means that I’m easily taken advantage of; in essence, a pushover. It can also be delivered in an unnecessarily condescending way, i.e, “aww, isn’t that so sweet, she’s so kind.” Both have the effect of making me feel kindness is a hindrance or somehow incompatible with being an ambitious woman. That Hauser turns this condescension on its head and highlights how kindness can communicate strength, power, and capability in the boardroom is pretty liberating.
2. Being “nice” does not mean being weak, ineffectual, or a people pleaser
HALLELU can I get a slow clap for Fran Hauser because it is past time this was said. In The Myth of the Nice Girl, Hauser is careful to highlight that authentic kindness can be used to sidestep regressive stereotypes of what a strong leader can be, rather than bowing to them. There are practical steps to own your niceness and use it intentionally and powerfully.
Part of this is setting boundaries for yourself, being conscious of the reason you’re doing something, and working to separate negative feedback from a personal investment. Hauser notes that this can be a hard line to tread, especially (and unfortunately) for women in the workplace. She says, “Often, nice girls carry around a tiny seed of doubt that a conflict is somehow our fault. When a bully spots that doubt, they will very likely prey on it.”
So often in my professional life, I’ve held onto this seed of doubt — no matter the circumstance. While I was reading this book, I was highlighting like crazy because every proactive point Hauser makes about overcoming this doubt felt like a building block to a better, more balanced career. If you’re dealing with an intense emotional investment in your work — or if you’re feeling you are being taken advantage of because of your willingness to go the extra mile — it’s important to set personal boundaries and notice how you’re being treated in comparison to your peers. Establish your priorities and proactively work to reach them and make sure they are not being pushed to the wayside by an unhealthy work-life balance.
3. The key to longevity in your career is cultivating trust
Part of the reason this book made such an impact on me was the many examples it highlights of kindness paying off in the workplace — for strong, professional, successful women. Hauser notes that cultivating someone’s trust (which you do by being a kind, warm, trustworthy person) can be the key to a sustainable working relationship. This is a huge factor that supports a kindness-forward demeanor and shows that you don’t have to do things that don’t feel authentic to you in order to exemplify the urban legend that people only get ahead by being unnecessarily aggressive.
BOOM, take that stereotypes! The proof is in the pudding — you actually shouldn’t cut others down thinking it will get you ahead.
4. Don’t undermine yourself
I knew before reading this book that I struggle with undermining myself, but I certainly wasn’t aware of the extent to which I was undervaluing my own thoughts and ideas. Such a waste because I truly believe in them!
After finishing the book, I realized how often I use the word “sorry” every day in the most inappropriate of times. I was apologizing in basically every email I sent — “I’m sorry for my delayed response,” “I’m sorry I didn’t understand,” “I’m SORRY I EXIST AHHH SOMEONE HALP.” Okay, the last one was an exaggeration, but it was very revealing to just go through some old emails I had sent. The same can be said for the way you speak in and inhabit the workplace — Hauser notes how important it is to just be aware of what you’re saying and doing.
Be careful about accidentally putting yourself in a weak position, when you want to come from a position of strength and confidence. Hauser encourages readers that we can make room for others AND take up an appropriate amount of space ourselves. As women, we need to stop inadvertently camouflaging ourselves.
5. Be purposeful about expanding your network
The last thing that Hauser said that really stood out to me was a point about looking up from your current position — whatever it may be — and expanding your network outside of that company. She notes that you may need to work at finding opportunities to “show up,” whether that is at industry events, reaching out to new people through social media, etc. I will admit that I am very bad at leveraging opportunities like this — I can be really shy around people that I don’t know, which makes it hard for me to get up the confidence to even go to these events, let alone speak to anyone. Hauser has inspired me and really brought to light the importance of a professional network — I should really update that LinkedIn profile — and that working to cultivate one is a productive use of your time.
As part of this conversation, Hauser delves into the importance of finding a mentor, or several mentors, that can help you on your career journey. Their first-hand experience and advice can prove invaluable as you work through problems in your career. After reading the book, I was immediately like “How can I get Fran Hauser to be my mentor she is so wise.” The next best thing? Buy the book.
This post was in partnership with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl editorial board.