Can Niceness and Firmness Coexist?

Posted on March 20, 2014 by Robert Ringer


Tony Dungy has always fascinated me, so I’m looking forward to reading his new book, Uncommon Marriage: Learning about Lasting Love and Overcoming Life’s Obstacles.  As you are probably aware, Dungy gained national attention when he became the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl — in 2007, with the Indianapolis Colts.

Rarely does a coach in professional sports have the majority of fans rooting more for him than for his team, but there’s no question that that was the case with Dungy when he was the head coach at Tampa Bay, then Indianapolis. You don’t have to meet Dungy personally to know that he’s a genuinely nice person. You know it just by watching how he conducts himself as an analyst for NBC’s Football Night In America.

As a coach, Dungy was soft-spoken, respectful, and gracious in both victory and defeat. He summed up his nice-guy philosophy by saying, “If you’re prepared, you don’t have to yell and scream.” Refreshing, to say the least.

Now, compare Dungy’s philosophy to that of the late and legendary Leo Durocher, who was the in-your-face manager of the New York Giants when Bobby Thompson hit his “shot-heard-round-the-world” pennant-winning home run against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was one of the most quotable characters in baseball history, and will always be remembered as the manager who said, “Nice guys finish last.”

It’s a quote that has become part of the American lexicon, because many people believe it to be true. But is it? Is Tony Dungy an anomaly? Are nice guys destined to fare poorly in life? Does it take a boorish personality to succeed?

There’s no question that some of the most successful people in our culture have been bombastic, egotistical, cold-hearted, or just plain nasty, and many coaches are notorious examples of this. But here’s the good news: Being nasty is not mandatory to success. We know this to be true, because plenty of nice guys have succeeded on a major scale.

One that comes quickly to mind is Hugh Downs, who, at ninety-three, is still living life to the fullest. In my dealings with Downs, I have always found him to be a gracious, polite, and thoughtful person. It’s no wonder he has appeared on television more than anyone else in history. His viewer-friendly personality is obvious to everyone who has watched him over the years.

Again, I won’t deny that many obnoxious people find a way to become successful. But don’t be misled into believing that their turnoff personalities are responsible for their success. More likely, they have succeeded in spite of their personalities.

What determines your degree of success is how well you execute the basics — like being prepared … your willingness to stick your neck out and take action … paying attention to details … and the ability to find opportunities in perceived problems … to name but a few examples.

The primary reason for embracing positive personality traits such as self-control, graciousness, humility, and kindness is to enjoy the mental rewards of such intangibles as peace of mind, self-esteem, and self-respect. If you’re going to succeed, why not feel good about yourself in the process? And, as a bonus, you might just experience less stress and live a longer and healthier life.

We should always keep in mind that we tend to attract people who are most like us. And surrounding yourself with a cadre of Tony Dungys makes life a whole lot more enjoyable than having to deal with a bunch of Leo Durochers day in and day out. Thus, the reality is that attracting decent people into your life begins with you.

One last point on this subject: Being nice does not mean that you have to let people take advantage of you. On the contrary, the ideal is a combination of niceness and firmness. I bring this up because I believe, based on many conversations over the years, that many people are under the impression that they have to be pushovers in their business and personal lives in order to be liked.

Nothing could be further from the truth. People will like you if you’re thoughtful and gracious, which is a good thing for both you and them. But, at the same time, they will also respect you if you are firm when it comes to doing what is in your best interest and sticking with your decisions.

In other words, being a good guy and being tough are not mutually exclusive objectives. It’s just as easy to say no in a calm way, with a smile on your face, than it is to say it with a scowl and an abrasive tone. Why make life harder than it has to be?

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.