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Being nice is a valid business strategy

If you were jotting down a list of qualities associated with successful companies and business leaders, terms like aggressive, ambitious, hard-driving and powerful are likely to turn up.

Business world icons like Jack Welch, Donald Trump and Martha Stewart come to mind as examples of leadership based on "take no prisoners" and "dog eat dog" philosophies. But what if you followed a success strategy that was more in keeping with advice your mom and kindergarten teacher gave you and were just plain nice?

Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, whose New York-based ad agency is ranked the fastest-growing in the country, advocate exactly that in their book "The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness."

"We've always believed that you don't have to be mean and cutthroat to get ahead. You don't have to eat your young. We're living proof that the nice guy doesn't finish last," Koval said.
il,1.43i,7p From her vantage point as president of Kaplan Thaler Group, which bills over$1 billion annually through such clients as Aflac, Continental Airlines, Outback Steakhouse and Office Depot, nice is a valid business strategy.

Koval, and agency CEO Kaplan Thaler, didn't consciously build their business on the premise of "nice." It was more of an organic development that was born out of their own personalities and fostered as a staff trait.

"Clients brought it to our attention as a reason we won an account," Koval recalled.

She said clients noted that while their work was good and they came off as smart and creative, the thing that made them different is that they seemed to really like each other, and liked the client.

"We were really surprised. We didn't think it was very novel to be nice," she said.

There's nothing particularly startling about the observations and recommendations the authors offer in their barely 125-page book. Its 10 chapters carry simple titles such as "Sweeten the Deal," "Help Your Enemies," "Shut Up and Listen," and "Tell the Truth."

But according to the authors, there's power in those friendly, warm, and yes, nice, ideas.

Increased niceness also contributes to better health, longer life span and increased productivity, according to the authors who say it uses up less energy than being overly aggressive and edgy.

Another plus is that nice behavior is less likely to draw backlash from an increasing small world where even slight missteps become the stuff of Internet legend.

"You can't be mean anymore because somebody is going to post it on the Web and it will live on the Internet for an eternity," Koval added.

Koval is quick to point out that you don't need to be Mother Teresa to get results.

"It's a matter of exercising your nice muscle. It's like starting a running program or other activity, at first you have to remind yourself to do it, then it becomes second nature."

Here's a few suggestions to get started:

Do five nice things each day that have no immediate payoff, say "thank you," and ask people how they are.

Complete this sentence: "If I were a better person I would . . ."

"Zip your lips" and ask others for their opinions and reactions and really listen.

For an instant assessment of your "nice" quotient, take an online test at


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