Can Nice People Survive in the Corporate or Business World?

Nice People Survive

Can nice people survive in the corporate or business world? This is a question that we often ask ourselves while working in the corporate or the increasingly challenging business world. More often than not, it’s a common situation faced or brought up by executives and business owners that we coach today.

One of my favourite reality TV series is the Amazing Race (AR). If you have not watched this series before, it’s a game show in which teams of two people race around the world competing with each other for the ultimate million dollar prize. Contestant strives to arrive first at each “Pit Stop” of the race to win prizes, and avoid being the last for each stage so as not to be eliminated from the race. In every series, there are all kinds of teams from the “mean and win-at-all-cost” to the “nice and supportive” teams. What’s amazing about the show is series after series, we see the final million dollar winner happen to be the “Nice” team! Yes, some of the “pit-stop” winners were from the “win-at-all-cost” type of team, but the ultimate and most important final leg have turned out to be our favourites.

Amazing Race

The Amazing Race is similar in many ways to our daily work/life, whether you are working for an organisation or running your own business. At different times in your life, you may face challenges that no one else seem to be able to help you (AR Game: Roadblock); or having to make decisions as to which path to take (Detour); having to go back to redesign your product because the competitor came out with a similar product with better features (U-Turn); external factors that can affect you without much of your control (getting a taxi driver that doesn’t know the way); or just pure good luck!

Before we go any further, let us define what we mean by “Nice” people. Being nice does not mean you let others take advantage of you, or that you have no goals in life. Nice people are intelligent, driven, objective, have clear goals and possess high emotional intelligence that allow them to interact well and respect others. They hold strong personal values like honesty, sincerity and hard work but do not condone unethical practices like lying to bosses to get what they want, sabotaging their colleagues or competitors to be in the lead or disregard others who do not have immediate value to them.

At the workplace, you may have encountered bosses and colleagues who are overly-competitive and self-centred. Their goal in life is to rise up the ranks, make lots of money and demand respect from everyone else below them. They seem to say the things that bosses like to hear, though it may only be half-truth. They commit on behalf of others to get the deal, without much consideration of others’ opinion. And more often than not, they seem to take credit for important and successful projects that they were not supposed to be involved in originally! Yes, they win at some phases of their work life, just like some of the Amazing Race teams win at certain pit-stops. The question is can they continue their behaviour and work practices to last through the entire race?

So “Nice” people, be confident of yourself. We have seen many nice executives and business leaders who have succeeded in their career and businesses. Here are some traits that they have demonstrated.


Be Authentic – Don’t deceive others just to get what you want. Eventually others will see through you and you will start to lose the support from many. Building trust with others can only be developed through genuine sincerity, honesty and integrity. People can sense when one is pretentious. Eventually, an authentic person whose actions are aligned to his/her life principles and values will get the true support from the team around them through good and challenging times.

Respect Others – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Respect is earned and not something you demand. Do we treat people as people or as objects (just to provide your needs)? How many times have we come across people who treat you like an object? How did that feel? Nice people respect others around them, even their competitors. When you are over confident, that’s when you start to lose to your competition.

Setting Goals

Set Measurable Goals – The world around us is in continuous change. We have to keep improving ourselves and to set goals that are clearly defined and measurable. Perhaps you are already familiar with the business goals set by your company. Do you set your own personal development goals? Successful people did not become a star overnight. They build up their skills, values and vision over time.

Keep Calm

Stay Calm and Objective – One of the biggest lessons about the Amazing Race is when a team makes a rash decision or panic in the midst of trying to outwit a competing team, that’s when many of them fail. Likewise when we encounter difficult situations in our work life, don’t let emotions get the better of you. Focus on solving the problem one step at a time. Who knows, that overbearing colleague of yours who’s spending his effort thinking of ways to outwit you instead of solving the problem may find himself running out of luck!

Remain Positive – Just like the proverb “When life gives you lemon, make lemonade”. It happens to all of us. The key is to believe in yourself and stay confident. I remember a time when I was still a sales executive in the corporate world. There was the usual change of management, which was quite normal at that time. The new management felt that I was too authentic to be a sales person and that I wasn’t saying things that they wanted to hear (only wanting to hear positive untruths! – sounds familiar?). Rather than getting emotional about the situation, I remained focused on providing the best value for my customers, building great relationship with my other team mates and delivering the sales commitment. As a result, I went on to achieve Top Sales Awards for the region in subsequent years, and eventually move up to take their positions.

positive thinking

In summary, nice people can succeed in this tough and challenging environment, as we have seen in the Amazing Race and our own personal experiences. It can be disheartening when you see that high-handed, pretentious colleague of yours getting the promotion or credit from the bosses. But if you stay true to yourself and persevere to provide the best value, you have a substantially higher chance of crossing the Winning line, ahead of the rest. What are your experiences or thoughts?

Laurence Tan, Founder/Executive Coach of BP Coach Training Pte Ltd (

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