Radical Candor Podcast

Podcast Season 5, Episode 27: Your ‘Nice’ Workplace Culture is Fraught With False Harmony

Can a “nice” workplace culture be as toxic as an abusive one? This past summer, our content intern Katie Bartlett (hi Katie!) wrote a piece about the workplace culture trend toward “niceness” investigating whether or not prioritizing “nice” feedback that’s full of vague platitudes over specific and sincere feedback that could make people uncomfortable is harmful. Is toxic positivity Ruinous Empathy or Manipulative Insincerity? Perhaps it’s both.

Listen to the episode:

Radical Candor Podcast Episode At a Glance: Toxic Positivity

Toxic Positivity

In Radical Candor Kim writes: “When bosses are too invested in everyone getting along they also fail to encourage the people on their team to criticize one another for fear of sowing discord. They create the kind of work environment where being ‘nice’ is prioritized at the expense of critiquing and therefore improving actual performance.”

This is what we call Ruinous Empathy. Tessa West, a psychology professor at NYU, calls this an acute “culture of niceness” and cites it as a red flag when it comes to identifying toxic workplace cultures.

In 2022, MIT Sloan Management Review defined what they call the “Toxic Five attributes — disrespectful, noninclusive, unethical, cutthroat and abusive.” Niceness is not on the list.

Radical Candor Podcast Checklist: Toxic Positivity

  1. If your desire to be ‘nice’ is getting in the way of telling someone something they’d be better off knowing, flip the script and put yourself in that person’s shoes. Doing what makes you feel good in the moment if it harms the other person in the long run, isn’t nice or kind.
  2. You are not a cruise director or a game show host or a cheerleader. When your intention to be nice has the impact of making others feel hurt or betrayed, you’re perpetuating false harmony. It’s important to focus not only on your intention but the impact it has on other people. If those two things don’t align, your niceness is harmful.
  3. If you’re the leader, it’s important to make it safe for everyone on your team to speak truth to power.  Enforcing a culture of niceness also perpetuates a culture of silence where people will be fearful to tell you things you need to know and instead tell you what they think you want to hear.
  4. Make sure you’re not spreading a thin layer of politeness over a thick layer of fear.

Radical Candor Podcast Resources: Toxic Positivity

@courageousleadership Toxic positivity destroys workplace culture #toxicpositivity #toxicculture #corporateculture #workplaceculture #toxicworkplace #toxicworkenvironment ♬ original sound – Robyn L Garrett

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Radical Candor podcast
The Radical Candor Podcast is based on the book Radical Candor: Be A Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott.

Episodes are written and produced by Brandi Neal with script editing by Amy Sandler. The show features Radical Candor co-founders Kim Scott and Jason Rosoff and is hosted by Amy Sandler. Nick Carissimi is our audio engineer.

The Radical Candor Podcast theme music was composed by Cliff Goldmacher. Order his book: The Reason For The Rhymes: Mastering the Seven Essential Skills of Innovation by Learning to Write Songs.

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