There is a problem with your team. It’s niceness. I’m not referring to treating people with civility and kindness. I’m referring to an inauthentic politeness that involves withholding important critical feedback and avoiding difficult conversations.

Niceness in the way I’ve defined it above gets in the way of your team’s learning, improving, and building true long-term cohesiveness. Niceness maintains blind spots, enables bad behavior and perpetuates poor performance. The opposite of being nice is not being mean. It’s being TRUE – true to yourself and your team. Being TRUE means that you are a consistently honest broker with those around you – even when it causes temporary discomfort in the recipient or within your team.

Teams often justify a culture of niceness saying, “we are committed to getting along with one another.” In this case, more often than not, the actual commitment is to staying comfortable – to not having to initiate or to hear anything that might elicit unease, embarrassment, or defensiveness.

Think about the culture of your team along four dimensions using the acronym TRUE.

T – Truthful
Team members are honest and complete in sharing information with one another, especially relative to uncomfortable topics.

R – Receptive
Team members actively seek out and are genuinely open to what others think and say. They are not defensive when receiving critical feedback.

U – Undaunted
Team members communicate with courage and authenticity. They are willing to express their needs and emotions, to challenge others, and speak a difficult truth to help others.

E – Empathetic
Team members show consideration for and seek to understand others’ feelings. They care about and actively support one another’s personal well-being and professional growth.

Keeping TRUE in mind, ask yourself: In what ways does “niceness” perpetuate blind spots and undermine learning on the teams you’ve observed?

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