Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Do Nice Guys Finish Last?

A few years ago, while perusing one of those craft fair/boutique things at a open-air city festival, I found someone selling plaques with catchy sayings on them. One of them caught my eye, and really struck me. I asked the vendor about it.

“Oh, that?” He said, “That’s some good advice for parents.”

That’s true. Where was the quote from?

“Oh, that’s in the New Testament somewhere…”

So, I looked it up, and sure enough in the tenth chapter of Matthew, in verse sixteen. Now normally, I don’t like to quote Bible verses in a business-oriented article, nor do I intend to get all preachy and give a sermon. But what this verse says has such a universal application, and especially appeals to the business world, that I want to share it with you.

The verse says, “…Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

What amazing advice! Think of the words we often use to describe the business world. They include such scary images as: Cutthroat, dog-eat-dog, every man for himself, swimming with sharks, and lots of other things. Why is that? Because business is competitive. And we’re all trying to get a slice of the pie. And if my slice is bigger, then it must mean that yours is smaller. The best way to grow your business is to crush the others like the slimy bugs they are.

And while that approach helps some companies survive, ultimately it leads to a closed off, distrusting industry, in ways that hinder progress and overall growth.

The other side of the coin is disparaged, though. If you’re kind and helpful, then people take advantage of you, and then turn around and squash you like a bug. And that’s not helpful either. That’s why you’ve got to be tough and take the world by the throat and drive to your goals, no matter who you have to trample on the way, right?

I keep remembering something I learned a long time ago about the win-win negotiation. It’s not easy to achieve, but it is possible. It’s all about understanding the people you’re working with and trying to arrive at a settling point that is beneficial to both of you. That’s not the same as compromise. In that situation, you want something (A), and I want something (B), so we both settle on something neither of us wants (C). More often than we think, we can arrive at what we both want (A+B), and both be happy.

“But,” some people say, “If I try to help my competitors achieve their goals, then I lose. How is that a win-win?”

It’s not. That’s a win-lose, and you just lost. The idea is to help them get their goals while holding fast to your goals as well. If you ignore what you want and need out of a deal, then you’re setting yourself up for attack. If you’re only “as harmless as a dove”, you’ll get your goose cooked. But the verse also tells you to be “as wise as a serpent.”

How can you do that? Well, first of all, keep your eyes and ears open, and don’t go naively into a situation you don’t understand. Research as much as possible and know about all of your options. Listen for deception or misinformation. Listen also, to understand the things others want. How can you help them get to their goals if you don’t care what those goals are? At the same time, you need to know clearly what your own wants and needs are, or you won’t be able to stand up for them.

It’s a delicate balance, at times, but with time and experience you can be both strong and easygoing, both assertive and generous, both protective and open, all at the same time.

Wise as serpents, harmless as doves…

1 comment:

  1. Nice guys always finish last, unfortunatly. It's a good wake up call for the wussies, though. The problem with nice guys is that they can be walked all over. They are predictable. With business, with women, and with life, spontaneity is an important element. Always being the nice guy isn't always the best choice. People write papers. They dedicate books and sites to this. It's a widely debated issue.

    I actually wrote an article on men who have to fess up and get better with women. Basically, grow some balls.