Linda Kaplan Thaler: The Nice Factor

Ad agency chief and the creative force behind the Aflac duck campaign says that not only can nice guys finish first they’re more likely to do so.

March 1, 2007

How do you define being nice?

THALER: It’s the simple gestures and acts of kindness that people should be doing 24/7. It could be as easy as getting someone a more comfortable chair to sit in or smiling at people. We’re primates and mimic one another. If you smile at people, they’ll smile back.What Robin Koval and I write about in our book The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness (Currency, 2006) is the way you should sell. For real estate professionals, for example, it’s not enough to have a great listing. It’s how you interact with buyers and sellers.

Advertising, like real estate, is a highly competitive business. Can you be nice and not lose your competitive edge?

THALER: Nice is a word that gets bandied about to mean doormat. In fact, it’s a power tool, a secret weapon. Being nice doesn’t dull your competitive edge it is your competitive edge.

How can a company or broker encourage sales associates to be nice?

THALER: A fish smells from the head down. Creating an environment has less to do with what you say than with what you do. If your associates see you yell at an assistant, some might think it’s OK to yell at their assistant, too. You have a very parental role when you run a company. Tell your associates that they never know how an encounter might come back to them. A few years back, a woman who had worked for a sister company that fell apart came to see me. I thought she was looking for a job. Turns out, she had two huge accounts that she wanted to bring to my agency. When I asked her why, she told me that 20 years earlier she had worked for me as a junior account assistant. She said I was the only one who had treated her with any respect. She’d been waiting for a chance to thank me. That was $40 million worth of business. That’s the power of nice.

Does being nice mean the customer is always right?

THALER: There’s always a way to say yes, even when what you’re really saying is no. If you’ve shown clients 25 homes and there’s always something else they don’t like, you get frustrated. They might ask to keep looking. Instead of saying no, you could say, “Looking at property must be overwhelming and exhausting for you. I want to make it easier for you. Let’s try to narrow down what you’re looking for.”

Don’t most people think they’re nice?

THALER: You can always improve your niceness quotient. There are practitioners who believe they’re really nice, but who don’t realize they’re giving negative cues to prospective buyers or sellers they don’t have enough money, they’re not worth the practitioner’s time, they’re too picky that make them feel inferior. I actually had a practitioner chide me once for wearing jeans to see a property.

Real estate professionals are a community unto themselves. They’re very interesting and bright people. But some of the practitioners I’ve met have been challenged in social etiquette. Being nice is paramount in real estate because of the importance of making personal connections.

For more about Kaplan Thaler, visit or

Chuck Paustian is a former REALTOR® Magazine senior editor.