If you want to give someone at work a back-handed compliment, try telling them they’re nice.
As a generally sunny person whose niceness gets commented on by colleagues quite a bit, I wouldn’t say the “nice” label is objectively insulting. But it concerns me. Mainly, I worry that in the professional world, getting branded as nice makes me less likely to receive recognition for being good at my job.
Unfortunately, this is a perfectly rational fear. Studies show that women who act friendly and warm in the workplace are often viewed as less competent, regardless of their actual abilities. “For women who conform in certain ways to the expectation that women are friendly and warm, the consequence for them is that their skills can be overlooked,” notes Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at the VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab at Stanford University and the lead researcher for Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller Lean In.