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Paul Coughlin Christian Blog and Commentary

Christian Nice Girls: How Nice Cripples Your Work

If you're considering skipping this article because you don't work outside the home, don't touch that dial!  There's helpful information here for all women who have an occupation, so whether you are occupied with paid work or unpaid work, keep reading.  We'll show you how to work and compete more successfully in a variety of settings.


Did somebody just mention the word compete?  That's not always an easy word for Christian Nice Girls to hear.  In fact, words like competition can trip up a CNG quicker than four-inch stilettos.


Before revealing what makes CNGs, in particular, stumble at work, let's look quickly at the factors that make navigating the work world challenging for most women, in chapter 2, you saw how god divinely created women's brains and hormones for connections with other people.  All women bring with them to work their affinity for relationships.  Females tend to see the workplace as a network of connections where friendships are established as people cooperate to produce work.  Nothing is wrong with that viewpoint, until you realize that, by and large, the work world was created by men—males who tend to see the workplace as a field for competition where winners and losers emerge as people compete and cooperate to produce work.


And while more girls are now getting team and leadership experiences from sports and extracurricular activities, many women still feel more uncomfortable than men do with open competition and direct leadership.  Oh, and the pressure women experience from the Nice Girl culture to be unrelentingly sweet, compliant, and cooperative doesn't let up at work or in volunteer settings either.


All women experience these challenges at work, but CNGs carry the extra burden of a strong need for approval.  Yes, they want to be successful, but their people-pleasing part wants something else: to make everyone happy.  Their conflicting desires of "I want to succeed" and "I want to be liked by everyone" drag them in two different directions.  Given this relentless tug-of-war, it's no surprise that work environments, paid and volunteer, often exhaust CNGs and leave them feeling confused, taken advantage of, and passed over.  They want to perform well, but they also fear being socially rejected if they perform too well.  What's a girl to do?


The first thing to do is to acknowledge that competition isn't a bad thing; in fact, it can be a very positive force that, when handled well, helps women grow as they realize that they are stronger and more capable than they ever imagined.  God can use competition to help you mature and become more like the 360-degree Jesus.


We hpe you agree that competition can be a good thing because, guess what?  All work involves competition because jobs are limited resources—there's only so much to go around.  Even if you are cleaning septic tanks for a living, there is someone else who would like to have your job, so you are competing against other applicants to be the person hired.  You also compete for consumers because you will only have a job if people choose to come to your particular store, office, bank, restaurant, hospital, school, etc., and "buy" what you produce.  Because these situations require competing against unknown people (i.e., the other job applicants, professionals in other offices offering the same services, etc.), most Christian Nice Girls can tolerate this type of remote competition.  It's easier for them to personally succeed when they can't see the whites of their competitors' eyes.  The trouble starts when CNGs have to compete against people they know: their co-workers. 


If you are thinking, "My co-workers and I don't compete, we are one big happy family," brace yourself for a cold splash of reality.  You can establish friendships in the work place, but work at times will be a game with winners and losers, and if you don't realize that, you are being naïve, and you are going to get hurt and taken advantage of.  Now don't get paranoid—you don't have to become cutthroat and sabotage people in order to succeed, but you do need to be informed and wise in the ways of the work world.  Jesus wanted his disciples to be savvy in their work, which is why he told them in Matthew 10:16 "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."


Sadly, Christian Nice Girls often realize far too late that they have squandered immeasurable time and energy at work worshiping at the altar of other people's approval instead of investing their resources in advancing their careers.  For years, they watch with confusion and resentment as co-workers (whom they judge to be far less nice and thus less deserving) receive "their" promotions, raises, and accolades, never realizing that the 360-degree Jesus could provide a much-needed, courageous, truth-speaking example of how to succeed at work by being both gracious and firm.


In order to become the savvy, shrewd woman Jesus had in mind, you may need to practice this infamous phrase: "You're fired!"  Don't worry, you won't be passing out pink slips to people—what needs firing are the behaviors that are holding you back from being God's Good Working Woman.  Here are some passive, self-defeating workplace behaviors that limit the success of CNGs.  Which of these do you need to fire?


Remaining silent in meetings, particularly mixed meetings.  The Nice Girl culture teaches females not to interrupt other people and to wait to speak until called upon.  Unfortunately, these are little girl behaviors that do not translate into the modern world of work.  Women tend to be quieter in meetings where men are present.  When they let the men do most of the talking, the men will naturally get most of the credit.  Because men interrupt more often than women do, you need to learn to handle being interrupted rather than allowing the interruption to silence you.  Think of an interruption not as a period in a sentence that ends a thought, but as a comma that merely pauses the thought.  Your job is to complete the rest of the sentence.  Here's an example:


Susan: "Our website isn't bringing in as much traffic as we hoped.  I suggest that we…"

Bill: "Our website is boring, that's the problem.  And it's hard to navigate.  We should blah, blah, blah…"

Susan: (sits in silence, fuming)

Or Susan could interrupt Bill so that she could finish her thought after the comma created by Bill.

Susan: "Our website isn't bringing in as much traffic as we hoped.  I suggest that we…"

Bill: "Our website is boring, that's the problem.  And it's hard to navigate.  We should…"

Susan: "Excuse me, Bill, I wasn't through speaking.  Because our website isn't bringing in as much traffic as we want, I suggest we consult with another webhosting company and get their perspective.  Now Bill, I heard your concern about our website.  Specifically, how is our website boring, and what would you do to fix this perceived problem?"


Contrary to what the Nice Girl culture teaches, Susan is not being rude by interrupting Bill.  She had the floor, he took the floor by interrupting her, and now she is simply taking back what was hers, that is, the floor.  When you are speaking in a meeting, it's helpful to imagine that you are holding an actual piece of the floor, and that whoever interrupts you has snatched the floor from your hands.  This imagery may help you recognize what just happened, and that you need to graciously but firmly take the floor back.


Also, from a boss's perspective, your failure to speak up in such a meeting can be irritating.  If the supervisor running the meeting is a true leader who wants to hear several perspectives before making an informed decision, then that person will want to hear from everyone—including you, the Christian Nice Girl.  If you continue to be Switzerland—neutral on everything important—you will actually frustrate your boss by not being honest about your opinions because sharing your opinion is part of your job.  You get paid to speak up.


You may also frustrate your boss if she or he knows, from past experience, that the "nice" women in the office/restaurant/school/store/hospital will be among the first to have "the meeting after the meeting."  That's when they finally speak up, only to mainly criticize what others said and decided.  They had their chance to effect change, but they refused to participate and instead chose to feed the Nice Girl culture of unproductive cattiness.


Rescuing incompetent co-workers by doing their work.  Most people grow up watching mothers pick up after their children, finish the last of the dishes, etc.  Women like to help, and it is hard to stop this rescuing behavior in the workplace.  But it's a big mistake to rescue incompetent co-workers by doing their work for them.  Everyone needs a helping hand now and again, but there is a difference between giving someone a helping hand and enabling them to be a perpetual slacker.  Look around and ask yourself: Is anyone else helping this person out?  Am I the only one who seems to think this person needs rescuing?  Continuing to rescue someone in the workplace is usually a sign that the person is in the wrong position and needs to evolve as an employee.  Unless the other person is willing to change for the better, your efforts are prolonging the inevitable termination and wasting your time and energy.  Follow the example of the 360-degree Jesus and point out where they need to improve their performance without shaming them as a person.


Trying too hard not to be offensive.  If your primary goal is to be well-liked at work, you will probably end up trying too hard to not offend anyone, ever.  But the nature of competition, of supply and demand, requires change and change inevitably makes waves.  It's built into the system.


CNGs believe that creating waves is offensive, and that only "bad" people make waves at work.  Yes, it's true that there are people who are unwilling to control their tongues and inordinate ambitions, and who love to create tumultuous waves of useless drama.  But God's Good Working Women make the right kind of waves, the kind that benefit themselves and their organizations, even if those waves bring changes that don't feel comfortable at first.  Remember: a wave-free existence is the state of a person's life just before drowning.  So ask yourself: Do I occasionally make waves at work, and what effect do my waves have?


And keep in mind that Jesus was offensive at times, even to his co-workers, the disciples.  If you aren't offending someone occasionally by speaking the truth at work, you are likely too wishy-washy and are coming across as lacking depth or backbone.  We aren't suggesting that you should start telling offensive jokes or doing things that would be immoral, illegal, or unethical.  Just be willing to voice your opinion without backing away, apologizing, or otherwise negating what you've said.


CNGs who won't say no for fear of offending someone will be taken advantage of and possibly even led into sin by spiritually immature colleagues, clients, and customers.  For example, you might be serving on a church's building committee and seeking sealed construction bids when a fellow church member asks you to reveal the secret bid amounts so that his construction company can submit the winning lowest bid.  When someone asks God's Good Working Women to bend the rules like this, they say no, without apology, even if the other person gets offended and threatens to make a stink.  The same applies when you are working with customers and they try to get you to ignore company policies or negotiate a shady deal.  Just keep saying no, graciously but firmly, even if they threaten to take their business elsewhere.


I have worked for a chamber of commerce for many years that is not afraid to take strong political stances on behalf of business.  It's a big part of the purpose of the organization, and it has strained some of my friendships.  If my organization shied away from political battles in order to retain popularity, it would not be serving its members well.  And if this fact caused me to back down, then I wouldn't be fulfilling the organization's mission.  I wouldn't be serving the membership who need me to fight on their behalf.  Chances are you have similar decisions to make in your job.


Polling prior to making any decision.  Although Proverbs says that there is wisdom found in many counselors, CNGs tend to ask far too many people for their opinion prior to making a decision.  Repeatedly seeking wise counsel is a good thing; repeatedly seeking stamps of approval is a sad thing.  Why do CNGs go from person to person asking, "Do you think I should do this?"  Answer: Because they want other people's approval and/or their permission.  This is little girl behavior, and it makes women look uncertain, weak, and incompetent at work.  If you could benefit from someone's wise counsel about a decision, rather than approach them with "What do you think I should do?" try saying, "I've got a situation I'd like to run past you and get your input on."  That way you are consulting with someone, adult to adult.  If the person you're talking with is above you in management, this consultative approach could also help you get potential "buy in" with your idea before you unfold it.


Next time: More passive, self-defeating, success-limiting behaviors!


Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous FaithNo More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the values-based and faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for public schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals who want to diminish child-based bullying. 

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Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: