When Being Nice Is a Bad Move

Knowing when to be compassionate, and when to be competitive, can make all the difference at work.

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Lois Frankel, author of See Jane Lead: 99 Ways for Women to Take Charge and Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, offers the kind of tough, constructive advice that I wish women would hear more often. The following—a recent entry from her shared blog The Thin Pink Line—is a perfect example (emphasis is mine):

I have such mixed feelings about this true story. Two college women's softball teams were competing this week in Oregon when one player hit the ball out of the park but couldn't make it around the bases. Apparently her leg gave out from under her and she couldn't run. It's against the rules for one of her teammates to run for her. When a member of the opposing team realized what was happening she opted to carry the young woman around the bases so that her run would count (and as it turned out it was the winning run). When asked why she did such a generous thing, she said she always learned it wasn't about winning or losing but about how you play the game. On the one hand, I love the fact that the young woman who came to the rescue showed compassion for her opponent. On the other hand, I know that this exact same behavior in the workplace causes adult women to miss out on their fair share of pay, benefits, opportunities, etc. As women, we must differentiate when compassion is called for and when it's OK to compete to win. Relying only on behaviors taught in childhood to the exclusion of having other "tricks up your sleeve" is a recipe for ultimate failure. Be compassionate. Be generous of spirit. But also know when—and how—to play hardball.

working women
corporate culture

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