Agony Aunt: Should we follow Donna Imperato's example and not 'have time to be nice'?

The chairman of Cathcart Consulting gives her verdict on this and other professional conundrums.

Being nice doesn’t take extra time, says PRWeek's Agony Aunt (©ThinkstockPhotos)
Being nice doesn’t take extra time, says PRWeek's Agony Aunt (©ThinkstockPhotos)

No need to be nasty about niceness

In our office we’ve been talking about whether it is good policy to not "have time to be nice", as Burson Cohn & Wolfe CEO Donna Imperato has said about her management style. Most of us here respect and like the group boss; ditto the rest of our colleagues. Are we wimps?

The opposite of ‘nice’ is not ‘wimp’, it’s ‘nasty’, and I believe Ms Imperato was referring to the pressures of merging two businesses rather than day-to-day office life. But it doesn’t bode well.

Being nice (a word that is often belittled, but benefits from a clear meaning) doesn’t take extra time, nor does it mean being weak. It involves considering the feelings and dignity of others and paying them the respect that any fellow human being merits. At work, you can fire people nicely or nastily.

The former leaves them without a job but thinking about the future positively; the latter is a bitter experience that leaves both sides hating each other.

One of the world’s largest and most successful consulting firms is now hiring for EQ rather than IQ, and the experience suggests that the qualities associated with emotional intelligence and judgement give better, more innovative thinking and deeper, more successful client relationships than the ‘lunch is for wimps’ style of earlier decades.

The other point to make, I suppose, is that if the culture of your company has bred success and happiness, why would you want to change it for success and unhappiness?

Ivy League evidence

Every time I ask our agency to help me prove the value of media relations, it launches into a passionate declamation about Barcelona and what feels like the Ten Commandments. Is there something simple I can use with my CEO?

Try Harvard instead – UK CEOs usually fall like ninepins if you mention that. Late last year the results of a study carried out between 2014 and 2016 by Gary King (university professor and director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University) were published. I found the evidence that media coverage resulted in increased favourability, and approval for the position taken by a particular outlet, something of a ‘Hallelujah moment’.

The research deals with issues of public debate, not products and services, but those who believe that social journalism is now more valuable than mainstream media should think again: traditional press comment not only raises the intensity of the social media debate, it also not­iceably increases support for the point of view expressed in the story. Click here for a fuller explanation.

Open communication, open minds

University students are increasingly insisting on having ‘safe spaces’ – do you think there is a case to have them in offices as well?

No. As interpreters and open, ethical communicators of many different ideas and issues, we especially should keep our minds as wide open as possible. Listening to things you disagree with is an important part of that – and one of the few ways to discover what you disagree with.

Without freedom of knowledge, there will be no informed debate. Remember "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it"? We are the ones who very often do the "saying", so make sure you defend its vital importance.

Got a problem? Contact Jackie at jackie.elliot@cathcartconsulting.com


Read next: Agony Aunt – Jackie Elliott on unequal pay, speechwriting and some CV advice

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