We have often heard these pearls of wisdom during our formative years:  “Play nice. If you don’t play nice, no one will want to play with you.” “You have to be nice.” “Be a nice girl.”

Unfortunately, many of us (myself included) suffer from what I’m calling the “Nice Syndrome.” Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nice as pleasing and agreeable. Nice was rewarded, reinforced and subsequently internalized, leading to:

  • Putting other’s needs before your own
  • Over apologizing
  • Consistently asking for permission
  • Denying your own power
  • Not asking for what you want or need
  • Tolerating too much negativity
  • Being overly patient

In the workplace, we continue to be nice. We don’t rock the boat. We play nice even when it means denying one’s self. We sacrifice self and wait for our reward. Unfortunately, the rules we learned as girls no longer apply as women in the workplace. We instead work extra hard, do the work of others, deny ourselves lunch or breaks. We put work first, our families second, and ourselves last.

How then can we break this nice cycle without being labeled a witch or worse? How can we vanquish our misplaced guilt when we no longer play nice? We do this through:  1) language; 2) prioritization; and 3) building our brand.

Never Underestimate the Power of Words
Words create our reality and give us and others a blueprint for interacting with us. Women often use touchy-feely language that lacks self-confidence. These phrases include:  “Maybe we could…”; “I was thinking we might…”; “How about…” Instead use more assertive language:  “I believe it would be best to…”; “I propose that we…”; “It is my understanding that …”

Stop Putting Work Ahead of Everything Else
Many women of my era are referred to as the “sandwich” generation. We juggle careers, families and caring for elderly family members. We put ourselves so far down the list that we do not recognize our own needs. By playing nice, women put their needs on hold or lower their expectations. They deny their own power. Let go of the beliefs that you are powerless and that standing up for yourself is selfish. Rethink what power means. You have more power than you allow yourself to use. To reclaim your power, start by saying “no” to unreasonable requests. Express yourself in more empowered ways by stating, “I choose to…” which ties back to creating your reality. Take small steps for yourself, such as:

  • Taking lunch breaks
  • Taking short walks outside
  • Establishing set start/stop times, and sticking to them
  • Taking time for exercise
  • Taking meditation or yoga classes
  • Getting regular massages or facials

Build Your Brand
We all know brands that are synonymous with a product, such as Coke or Kleenex. What is your name synonymous with? Once you determine that it will inform you of your brand. It is what sets you apart from others. What is your unique story? It is said that “If you don’t build your image (brand), someone else will.” What are you really good at? Build your unique story.

Appearance is also a big part of your brand. The saying goes, “Never dress for the job you have; dress for the job you want.” Look at successful women. What style of clothes, hair, make-up and jewelry do they favor? I am not advocating a complete makeover, but maybe wear a blazer to important meetings or dress up your blouse and slacks with a scarf.

Also, observe how successful women speak. Do they use a lot of touchy-feely language? What is the pitch of their voice? Your presentation skills communicate your brand. Are you confident in front of a group? Do you talk at an acceptable rate or speak rapidly? Do you use crutch words like “ah,” “um,” and “you know?” Do you over explain or apologize when presenting? Do you use words to minimize importance or ask for permission? Do you speak too softly or at too high of a pitch? Does your voice pitch up at the end of a statement? If you struggle in any one of these areas, I suggest Toastmasters International, which offers a cost-effective communication development course that moves at your own pace.

Do you, like me, suffer from Nice Syndrome? How have you broken through this syndrome? Share your success and struggles in the comments section below.

Today, 28 April, just happens to be International Girls in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) Day. The goal of the event is to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider careers in the growing field of ICTs. For more information click here.

Pam Nigro, MBA, CISA, CGEIT, CRISC, CRMA, DTM; Senior Manager, Internal Controls and Risk Management; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois; Vice President, ISACA Chicago Chapter

[ISACA Now Blog]

By Philip Hung Cao

Philip Hung Cao (aka #tekfarmer), MSCS, ZTX-I, CCISO, CISM, CCSP, CCSK, CASP, GICSP, PCNSE is a Strategist, Advisor, Contributor, Educator and Motivator. He has 20 years' experience in IT/Cybersecurity industry in various sectors & positions.

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