Proof that Nice Guys Finish First

Could you sell your mother for a penny? If not, you’ll fail in business.

This was the advice I received from an incredibly successful businessman at a tender age of 13. I believed that starting my own business would be the only way I could merge creativity with effective problem solving. But, when I heard this advice, I thought:

  1. Business people are not nice.
  2. I am nice.
  3. Therefore, I will absolutely fail as a business person….

So, I went to law school instead. As it turns out, lawyers aren’t so nice either. And that’s true in any profession.

For years I decided to ignore what I really wanted to do because I’m a nice person and I thought that I wouldn’t be able to “cut it” as an entrepreneur. Even after I decided to launch my company, grew my clientele and got some great feedback, this nagging thought persisted: will I ultimately fail, along with my nice entrepreneurial friends, because I cannot take advantage of people, sell people garbage or “screw” partners, employees, suppliers etc. etc.?

This thought can now be put to rest because, as it turns out, being nice has actually worked to my advantage. I base my answer not on my own anecdotal experience, but on some interesting studies. Read on to find out how you can use your niceness to succeed.

Reduce Your Stress, Close More Deals

Taking the nicer “I’m putting your interests first” sales approach, rather than the “I’m going to beat you with my product until you buy”  approach, does two things for you:

  • First, it reduces your stress; and
  • Second, it increases your deal-closing rate


Supporting the needs of others (i.e. others = your prospect) has interesting positive effects on parts of your brain, particularly the stress and reward part. Those who put other people’s interests first and seek to solve other people’s problems before their own have less activation in regions of the brain related to stress.

What this means is that by focusing on your prospect’s problems, understanding their perspective and getting to know how they feel, you’ll reduce your own stress levels when your prospect starts peppering you with difficult objections.

Reducing your stress levels when facing stressful situations is really beneficial not only for your health, but also for the success of the sale. This is because we’re very poor at hiding our true feelings of stress and anxiousness. It takes only a slightly sweaty palm or a 0.5 second twitch to turn off your prospect because your stress makes you seem desperate for a sale. Your desperation then raises the deal-killing question: do you need this sale because your product sucks and no one is buying?

Another added bonus: those who seek to put others first also experience higher activation in parts of the brain related to rewards. So, when you close the sale, you won’t just feel good – you’ll feel REALLY good. It gets better; focusing on how you can support someone also makes good business sense. And here’s why…

The Strategic Sale

The art of closing a deal is fundamentally preceded by the art of qualifying your prospect. If you have something that doesn’t support or help the prospect – i.e. something they don’t need or doesn’t satisfy one of their problems – you shouldn’t be trying to sell them. The first reason is because it’s unethical. The second is that it’s a waste of your time.

Empathy is Essential to Closing a Deal

Psychologist Adam Galinsky from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University asked the question: “What approach should one take to achieve such an understanding of one’s opponent in everyday negotiations?”

As any researcher should, he followed up on question with studies some academic probing and studies that uncovered something interesting: those who understood the prospect’s perspective scored the highest success rates in closing a deal. In fact, they scored much higher than those who only cared about their own feelings and perspective and still higher than those who made the effort to understand how the prospect feels.

The difference is not significant:

It’s clear: figuring out what someone else wants first = closing more deals = making more money = good business sense. Irrespective of this “business outcome”, I much rather be a nice because this means I get to talk to the right people, create the right products and services and sleep better at night. And I like to sleep.

In a nutshell…

If you want to be a little less stressed, have the capacity to truly enjoy the fruits of your labour and make more money, then don’t be a jerk. Be nice, be caring and look to help others before you help yourself.

Plus…karma does suck…

Remember that successful businessman who gave me that sage advice? He got caught doing some very bad things, was arrested and had to close his business. Putting his own interests first made him many enemies, all of which helped bring him down. If the above doesn’t compel you to be nice, then his outcome should.

Our lawyers believe in the Groundworks philosophy of working with you, understanding your perspective and supporting you through the legal process. We’ve helped numerous tenants, landlords and real estate agents protect their interests because of our genuine desire to support you first. For more information about the author or leases visit