A Culture of Nice Doesn’t Work

There’s always a connection between a culture of nice and poor business performance. Try a culture of candor instead.


A culture of “nice” doesn’t work. It’s fraught with conflict avoidance and artificial harmony.

Today’s business environment requires a different flavor of leadership. It requires intentional or “OnPurpose™” individuals, teams and organizations that are agile, people-focused and driven to innovate.

Organizations that foster a culture of nice lose what they need most. They lose the direct, honest and respectful conversations that have consequential impact. People lack clarity of expectations and strategic direction. Teams drown in swirl and take longer to make decisions as people nod in agreement during meetings, conduct the dreaded meeting-after-the-meeting, and revisit decisions over and over again.

There’s always a connection between a culture of nice and poor business performance.

Take, for example, a Denver-based, high-tech company. With 200 employees, they scaled the business in the early 2000s and stayed ahead of the digital curve. Their timing was just right. But they didn’t continue to innovate. Their once cutting-edge technology became outdated. More driven and well-funded competitors began to take market share. While many employees enjoyed almost daily socials, beer on tap, and the fun work environment, their high-performing employees got frustrated with the lack of direct feedback and focus on results. Eventually, the organization had to sell to a private equity firm to survive. Less than 100 of the original 200 team members remain employed there today.

The Difference: A Culture of Nice vs. a Culture of Candor

Instead of a culture of nice, try a culture of candor where people are rewarded for being direct, honest and respectful. They share their opinions freely, especially when those opinions diverge from others; they advocate for their own perspectives, while also inquiring about what others have to say; and they remain coachable at all times.

Culture of Nice vs. Culture of Candor

Culture of Nice Culture of Candor
Conflict avoidance Productive conflict
Artificial harmony Authentic environment
Unclear about performance Coachability – open and willingness to accept and provide feedback
Ambiguous expectations Clarity of vision, strategic direction and goals
Unspoken needs The truth is heard and discussed
Passive aggressiveness Direct, honest and respectful dialogue
Toleration of poor performance Expectation of outstanding performance
Negative (derailing) behaviors allowed Behaviors aligned around core values

How Do You Create a Culture of Candor?

Use the CANDOR model below to help shift from a culture of nice to a culture of candor.

Clarify your organization’s values. OnPurpose organizations are clear about why they exist and how they expect people to behave.

Accept feedback openly. Be receptive to what others have to say and willing to do something about it.

Nurture an environment that allows people to share differences of opinions and ideas. Innovation and creativity stem from our ability to think differently.

Demonstrate candor by engaging in difficult conversations, providing feedback and being coachable.

Orient people through clear vision, goals, strategy and expectations.

Repeat all of the above every day.

Get Your Productive Conflict Resources Here

The intent of our Productive Conflict Series is to help you make the last quarter of this year better than the first three. If you haven’t done so already, check out the resources below to help you and your team get started.

Conflict Toolkit: Download our in-depth, 11-page Productive Conflict Toolkit to reflect on questions that help you explore and identify your own conflict style and how that impacts your teams and organization.

Productive Conflict Masterclasses: Access these two masterclasses – From Destructive to Productive Conflict and our upcoming Beyond a Culture of Nice. Direct from our executive coaching team, these masterclasses offer actionable tools to enable you and your team to see elements of conflict that you may not see right now and to assess their impact on team dynamics.

Productive Conflict Workshop: Beyond a Culture of Nice. Interested in a more guided approach with your team? Ask us about out our half-day workshop to help you create a culture of candor…faster.