Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


Are You Too Polite? Learn the Three Faces of Communication

Can you be too nice?

A woman in one of my seminars asked if it were possible for her to be “too nice” when interacting with her employees. She told me that she often felt invisible with them. Since I teach etiquette, some of you may be surprised that I answered “Yes, you can be too nice.” Let me explain.

A few years ago I created The Three Faces of Communication model to help people understand their communication style. Everyone falls somewhere along the spectrum of Too Nice, Polite and Powerful, and The Tough One. 

Do you know where you are on this continuum?
Discovering your style of communicating with others can help you gain awareness of your behavior, and encourage you to move towards the “polite and powerful” middle. As you review the descriptions below, you probably won’t identify with all of the characteristics of any one style, but you most likely have more of one style than another. (Although I discuss boss-employee relationships throughout this blog, the styles outlined apply to all types of interactions.)

Too Nice: Much like the woman in my seminar, you are overly friendly with your employees, and as a result they don’t take you as seriously as they should. You find it difficult to reprimand others when their performance is unacceptable, so you postpone any discussion, sugarcoat it, or pretend there is no problem. Since you are so friendly and unassertive, you have to ask again and again to get things done. You have a tendency to smile too much, beat around the bush, use passive language (I was just wondering… Would you perhaps...), and apologize for things that aren't your fault, such as “I’m so sorry that you had a difficult time with the project.”

The Tough One: You are not friendly at all with your employees, and seldom socialize or make any small talk with them. You rarely bother to say “hello” or “goodbye.” You’re incredibly demanding, and problems can go unresolved because your employees avoid talking to you or telling you the truth. You rarely smile, yet you interrupt others, speak loudly, and curse when angry. You’re aggressive in your language, and say such things as, “Don’t bother me with your questions!” or “Find a way to do it, damn it!” (Learn the power of greetings in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.)

Polite and Powerful: You are polite – you don’t yell or swear. You’re powerful – you speak clearly, calmly and directly. You don’t love conflict, but you know how to handle and resolve it. You are available to your employees, and spend some time getting to know them. You are not wishy-washy with your language, and will use assertive statements when appropriate, such as, “I need this by 3 p.m.” You want your employees to work hard, yet you are fair, and will recognize them for a job well done.

Spend some time reviewing your interactions with others. Knowing how to communicate successfully is key to your career success. Additional information can be found in my book, The Power of Positive Confrontation. Other actions to take if you want to adapt your style include taking an assertiveness class, and listening to the messages you leave on others’ voicemail (before you send them) to learn your word choices.

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on assertive communication and conflict. Contact Joyce Hoff for more information: ( or 856.751.6141)


  1. Anonymous6/25/2014

    From a reader:
    Good points, Barbara, and very valid views! As a small business owner myself I have learnt to be firm, strict and go straight to the point in order to get things going or getting things right. Being firm & polite is an excellent cocktail of power doing and sometimes mix there a little humour spices it all up. When having a bad day, a grin instead of a smile is a message itself.

  2. Anonymous6/25/2014

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Anonymous6/27/2014

    From a reader:
    I think the good thing about leaders is that they come in all 'shapes and sizes'. What is a good leader for one might not be good for someone else. The most interesting leader I ever met was a company owner and my first impression was that he was not leading at all. He acted rather incompetent and all over the place, but the way his employees functioned as a team was amazing. After a while I worked out that his behaviour triggered some sort of protection complex in his workers and got them more involved, self thinking and working harder. Leading doesn't mean shouting orders, it is all about getting the most of the people you are working with.

  4. Anonymous6/27/2014

    From a reader:
    Most people are polite as long as they are getting their way or being successful. Most successful people get aggressive and lose some of their charm/manners when they feel at risk of failure. Successful people act accordingly to whatever their success requires.

  5. Anonymous6/27/2014

    From a reader:
    Great distinction between polite and too polite!

    It's important to be aware of whether you are appropriately polite or disempowering yourself with extreme politeness. Being too nice not only affects the way others see you, it affects the way you feel about yourself and impacts your ability to lead.

    Also, pay attention to what behaviors you are encouraging in others. Most people want to support leadership in their children, their students, their friends. Yet, they may inadvertently encourage behaviors that do exactly the opposite, weakening their ability to be powerful and successful leaders.

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