by Kati Csoman, Dean of International Programs
I often hear this from people, which may seem like a compliment at first. However, my experience is that “You are so nice!” is sometimes a veiled assertion about my abilities as a woman in a position of leadership. “So nice” is code language for the perception that I may not possess the wherewithal to make tough decisions or to have difficult conversations.
Throughout our lives, many women are socialized to be nuanced and respectful in our interactions with others. We are often expected to be indirect in our speech so as to not appear to be too forceful, too opinionated or too discomforting. We are taught to play nice. But being genuinely nice is not a gender-specific attribute, nor should it be perceived as coming from a place of weakness. My idea of the concept of being nice is that one is authentic and strives in all interactions to understand the authenticity of others. Simply put, know who you are and how it is that you can interact with others as they are.
Practicing emotional intelligence in the workplace appears to be vastly undervalued. Too often, the inability to engage in honest conversation acknowledging someone else’s feelings or perceptions is misappropriated under the guise of “professionalism.” It does not make us less effective in our work if we acknowledge the humanity of someone else.
The most influential practitioner of emotional intelligence was Mr. Fred Rogers, the renowned and respected child psychologist and famed television host of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” And one of the best examples of Mr. Rogers in action was his ability within six minutes to recover $20 million dollars in funding for public television at a U.S. Senate hearing in 1969: https://youtu.be/yXEuEUQIP3Q.
Among the many profound ideas that Mr. Rogers expressed in his testimony was the idea that “feelings are mentionable and manageable.” Emotional intelligence requires great discipline as we overcome our own egos to become deeply introspective and to be in control of our thoughts, feelings and reactions as we interact with others. You can be steadfast in your convictions. You can be persistent in achieving your goals. At the same time, you can acknowledge someone else’s opinions or way of wanting to do something.
Too often, strength is perceived as loudness and forcefulness. Strength can also be expressed through calm and measured action and interaction. I believe deeply that if we could engage in more open dialogue in professional settings about how we feel about behavior, actions, and decisions, we might more readily address interpersonal conflicts that are often at the root of ineffective relationships in the workplace. It is naïve to think that emotional intelligence should and can be dismissed from our professional lives. We are human.
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has–or ever will have–something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” (The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember)