In a university setting, the exchange of ideas, and being critical of ideas is part and parcel of academic life. For ideas to develop and grow, a robust and productive atmosphere of addressing differences is needed and necessary. Yet when there are differences of opinion, this can sometimes turn to personal attacks. Additionally, we don’t always know when it “really” will pay to be civil, polite, and dare we say “nice” ?
Here’s a story I heard in October 2015 from an Army Special Forces Veteran with experience across the globe about his team Sergeant to highlight the importance of being nice.
In the mid 1980’s the Sergeant was serving as a military advisor in El Salvador. This was in the middle of fighting between government forces and FMLN forces. One day the Sergeant was driving down a fairly remote dirt road when he saw a women up ahead walking along the side of the road and carrying a bundle of sticks for firewood.
He slowed his vehicle down because that’s what you do on a dirt road when someone is walking so you don’t stir up the dust. He stopped when he got near the woman and asked if she wanted a ride. She did, got in the vehicle, and they headed up the road. He dropped her off with hardly a word spoken along the way and he quickly forgot about the event.
About 4 months later, the Sergeant is sitting in a restaurant/bar in San Salvador. The spot is know as a “neutral” location where people and military from all sides could gather without fear of violence. As the Sergeant sat, a man approached and asked if he could join the table. The man said – “Do you know who I am?” The Sergeant did indeed know as this was one of the rebel commanders that was being sought.
The FMLN commander sat down, looked to the Sergeant and said: “I just want to let you know that you will get out of this country alive . . . and, my mother says thanks for the ride.”
Thus, the “Be Nice Campaign” – Be hard on problems and soft on people. You never know when it pays to be nice!
Resources for Being Nice
Consider the concept of being “principled” from Roger Fisher and William Ury – Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
Interviewing to explore collegiality – Be Nice – Interview Questions
Check out the Consortium on Abrasive Conduct in Higher Education
Need to make an apology? Here are six elements identified by faculty at The Ohio State University and Eastern Kentucky University (see Apology Research).
- Express regret
- Explain what went wrong
- Acknowledge responsibility
- Declare repentance
- Offer repair
- Request forgiveness
Note: acknowledging responsibility is most important, followed by offering repair.
Contacting the NC State Faculty & Staff Ombuds Office or the Faculty & Staff Ombuds is not notice to NC State of any issue, complaint, grievance or claim.