The difference between how men and women operate in business seems to be eternally debated. Much of the argument is around approach – namely that men aggressively go after what they want and are therefore more successful than women, who tend to sit back and wait for things to happen.
This argument tends to lead to a generalization where women get put into one of two camps: either you’re nice and you get left behind, or you essentially need to be aggressive in order to get what you want. From my own experiences, I strongly disagree with these stereotypes, and fully believe that you can be nice and still get what you want.
I opted out of the education system after finishing primary school. I was not privy to the pains of high-school, and possibly this lack of exposure to what I hear can be fairly torturous years for teenage girls in regards to unspoken popularity contents, cliques, and ‘mean girl’ behavior could well have shaped my view that there’s no need to be nasty in order to achieve your goals. Having said that, I have lived through a great many business situations that have involved what I can only imagine to be similar mean girl behavior, and I am still a firm believer that kindness gets you a lot further than aggression – in every aspect of life.
As a female in business, one of the problems we seem to face is this notion that showing kindness or being nice is a sign of weakness.
Sometimes I think the absolute opposite is true – being nice in the face of adversity, failure, or other people’s bad behavior takes a great deal more strength than being nasty about it. I learned the hard way through my work internationally that sometimes people just don’t do what they say they are going to do – and it’s me who has been left in the lurch as a result.
When I have to work overseas, I am usually operating on very limited turnaround time and I can be in a country for literally 48 hours, so I always send a list of my equipment requirements before I go. Despite this, I often arrive to find they have nothing has been prepared as promised. I have worked in kitchens that don’t use soap – just water. I have worked in kitchens that have such a build-up of food on their mixers that I gag while I’m cleaning it off with a trowel. Turning into a she-devil doesn’t fix these situations, and it doesn’t endear you to anyone. So, I just smile as I clean, and I learned very quickly to take my own box cleaning of products and sanitizer.
Taking control of a situation does not mean you have to be aggressive or nasty – there is a big difference between being strong and tough to being rude and disrespectful.
I’ve learned a few things along the way in my career in regards to how to be nice and still get what you want – and here are my top three.
Be nice, but be persistent.
A lot of women are afraid to ask for what they want. This is one difference to men that I see as being very true. Men will often ask for what they want – or request a conversation about why they’re not getting what they want. Women tend to sit back and wait. Don’t. If you want to try something, have access to an opportunity, meet someone – ask for it, and keep asking. You can be nice and persistent at the same time. You don’t need to be demanding, and you don’t need to be aggressive – but you don’t need to be afraid to ask for what you want, either.
Learn how to stand up for yourself.
Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean getting into an argument or jamming your opinion down an unsuspecting person’s throat. Learning to communicate how you feel without getting angry or emotional can be difficult for a lot of women, but it’s imperative. It is totally possible to tell someone what you want, or that you disagree with them without being rude – and being nice about it is often a great way to get your opinion heard.
Accept that some people just aren’t nice.
No matter how nice you may be, you will encounter others who just can’t do the same. Some people are just mean. Learning to accept that, and learning not take it personally, helps prevent you from meeting them on their level. Don’t try to change them, and don’t let their attitude change yours. Keep being nice, and move on.
I truly believe that being nice has helped my career, and I am proud to have a reputation as a nice person to work with. And as the mother to a young son, I am also very aware that my behavior, as well as the behavior I accept from others, is shaping his view of females and how he should in turn treat women. I have a responsibility not only to myself, but to him, and to other women, to treat people the way I wish to be treated – and to fly the flag for being a nice person that can also achieve success by being so.
Kirsten Tibbals, proclaimed by MasterChef Australia as ‘the Queen of Chocolate’, is one of Australia’s most celebrated and respected pastry chefs and chocolatiers. Her awards include best handmade chocolates in the world at the World Pastry Team Championships in Las Vegas, and Gold and Bronze at the Pastry Olympics in Germany. In 2002, Kirsten established Savour Chocolate and Patisserie School in Melbourne, and she is also the author of two cookbooks.