Q & A with Winn Claybaugh

Winn, how did you become nice?
Well, it didn't happen overnight for me, and I am continually challenging myself. One of the most important things you can do to be nice to yourself is to eliminate things in your life that block or blur your perception of what being nice is all about. Divorcing yourself from the people, beliefs, and experiences that cause you to be mean, unfeeling, and insensitive. Divorce yourself from even the subtleties of negative training. Once you've ditched the drama, you will need to replace the negative garbage with positive programming. This can be different for every person, so you'll need to create the plan that works for you. Discover what makes you happy. Lastly, ask yourself: Where do I predominantly choose to focus: on the road ahead or on my rearview mirror, filled with the past? If you focus on the past, you may notice that you tend to worry about the future because your focus carries the negative experiences from your past into your present.

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Can anyone learn to be nice -- or are you just born that way?
You can practice being nice; it's a learned trait. You have to consciously decide to learn and develop the necessary skills to being nice. Being nice is not a physical trait passed on from your parents. It's not in your genes. It's within you. Being nice is an ongoing, lifelong course. You never get to stop learning what it means and what it takes to be nice, but it's well worth the effort because being nice can bring you rewards you never imagined.

What keeps people from being nice?
Mostly, it's attitude and simply making a decision to be nice -- or not. But many people find it easier to whine, complain, or only be selectively nice. Too many people simply have bad manners, show no respect for others, fail to honor commitments or be on time for anything. They fear their needs won't be met or that nice behavior towards others won't be reciprocated. Many of us are critical of others, competitive, egotistical. We're stressed out and always in a hurry. But no one should be exempt from being nice. It doesn't matter if you're rich, religious, intelligent, funny or beautiful. We all need to BE NICE!

Even nice people like yourself can suffer an off day. How do you go about fixing it when you've blown it?
You don't want to justify your meanness and tell yourself that the person you weren't nice to somehow deserved it. You also don't want to apologize in a way that makes an excuse and places blame for why you weren't nice. You should sincerely apologize and ask if you can start over.

You suggest ways to be nice to numerous people, including people who are not so nice to you. Isn't that an unreasonable expectation?
It's easy to be nice when someone is nice to you, or when you're happy or on vacation. But when someone is mean, you don't appreciate being yelled at, called a name, criticized harshly or flipped the bird. When someone isn't nice, you want to put them in their place. You want the last word and you want them to fully know of their infractions. There is nothing wrong with clearing things with an individual whom you believe has wronged you. But there's another way to handle the situation so that you don’t feel victimized and so you can preserve your peace of mind. How do you do that? By not even allowing the offensive comment or action to get at you. You can do that by immediately changing your perception of the experience. The thing to realize is that you choose your attitude in every situation.

Do people take being nice to their family for granted?
Yes, but it's a mistake to do so. Because family relationships are lifetime relationships; you must constantly seek to improve and grow them. Unless you interject new beliefs, habits, or practices into your relationships, they become old, boring or stagnant.

So, how should we be nice at home?
First, don't allow little battles or arguments to interrupt the sanctity of your important relationships. Focus on your desired end result. It's never too late to be nice. See challenges as gifts -- they remind you to stop, take inventory of what's important, and renew your love and appreciation for your own family. Remember, if you want a better relationship with a spouse or significant other, if you want a better relationship with friends, co-workers, family members, or neighbors, then you need to practice all day, every day, with total strangers. Be nice to those you don't know or interact with in a passing way.

You also suggest writing a gratitude letter to address unresolved issues. How does one go about doing that?
There are things that happened to you in the past that you may wish to forget. Even if you're void of the pain of those experiences, you can go back to and turn them into benchmarks -- make your proclamation of what they meant to you, what you learned, what you lost, what you gained, and how you will be different. I'm not saying that you have to relive the pain and emotion attached to the experience, but you can relive the experience in order to extract the gift. One way to turn experiences into benchmarks is through letter writing or journaling. By writing it all down, it's almost as if you've proclaimed: This event will not be in vain.

Winn, a terrific suggestion in your new book calls for each of us to find a "bitch buddy." Can you explain who that is?
When you have a bad day it is important that you don't pollute others with a toxic attitude. In such cases, you need help. You need a bitch buddy. This is someone you can gripe to -- like a therapist -- who is nonjudgmental, keeps things confidential, and helps you manage your rage, depression or bad attitude. When you feel bitter, nasty, mean and ugly, talk to your bitch buddy.

Why is it important to implement a BE NICE community in the workplace?
It's vitally important that every workplace become nicer. It can be done in a three-stage process: create one, train people for it, and sustain it. Because most people spend a great amount of their time and energy at work, they long to belong to a company that makes them feel better about themselves. They want to feel that they do more than just earn a paycheck -- they want to feel like they have a purpose and make a difference. In addition to the lives they have at home and in their communities, people want to feel and believe that they belong to a community at work.

Is there a real payoff to this?
Yes, absolutely. You'll attract positive employees to your company and business by building an environment and culture that acknowledges, supports, appreciates, develops, and retains that type of person. Build it and they will come. A company that does not build it will eventually lose wonderful, positive employees.

What was your business like before it adopted a BE NICE culture?
Prior to creating a culture in my company -- which meant that all systems and beliefs had to be written down and discussed over and over again -- we had hundreds of infractions every single day and never knew about them. We had insubord-ination, we had people subtly but perhaps not consciously sabotaging someone else's career, we had demoralizing comments regarding co-workers -- and we never knew about these infractions. We never knew that our culture was under attack, simply because we didn't know what our culture was. How was our culture defined? What did we believe in? What was our purpose together outside of making the cash register ring? All we knew was that it oftentimes wasn't fun at work, that we had high staff turnover, that we were attracting the wrong people, and that decent individuals were having a difficult time supporting and loving each other. We now have a culture of being nice in our workplace and it's great!

You implore companies to hang the Golden Rules in a public place -- and to honor them. Can you give us a few examples of what these are?
Yes, it's important that a company's mission statement and the Golden Rules be visible and supported, to serve as reminders to each of us. Some of the rules: Ban all gossip -- it's destructive. Personal relationships with client have no place in the office. Be on time. Come to work prepared to perform -- be alert. Always be in a great mood -- fake it when necessary.

You also created guidelines for how employees should gather for the ultimate staff meeting. Tell us what that would be like?
Everyone would sit in a circle. It would be an open meeting where there are no problems -- only challenges and opportunities to be discussed. There's no such thing as a complaint -- only suggestion, each of which comes with at least two solutions. There will be no teasing, put-downs or sarcasm. It would be okay to simply say "I don't know" or "I changed my mind." You can disagree, and should say so, but explain your thoughts. There will be no such thing as a dumb question, dumb answer or dumb idea. Keep asking questions until you understand. Assume that failure is not fatal.

Winn, you tell us to first be nice to ourselves before we can be nice to others. Isn't that a tough task?
Yes. Simply put, you cannot give what you don't have. It is difficult to be nice to others when you are not nice yourself. And it's difficult to be nice to yourself if you don't feel good about yourself. If you think this sounds simple, harsh, complex, and like a lot of work, you are right. Working on yourself and cultivating your own self-esteem is a lot of work. It's a full-time job. Many individuals who have a difficult time being nice to others often come from a place of ego or a lack of self-esteem. Good self-esteem has nothing to do with ego; ego is a sign of insecurity.

So, how do you give it if you don't have it? And how do you have it if you don't give it?
You simply start being nice to yourself, whether you think you deserve it or not. You fake it until you begin to believe. Here's a radical challenge: make it a goal to fall back in love with yourself. My challenge for you and myself is to just go through the motions. Tonight, you might be sitting in bed, thinking: What the hell am I doing here? That's okay. Eventually, actions become habits, and habits become part of your personality, which builds your character and turns you into the type of person you were always meant to be, filled with blissful happiness and purpose.

You tell us to expand our "circle of nice." Can you explain?
Your circle of nice includes only those you've decided to be ice to. Our circle of influence -- those we come in contact with -- is a larger circle, but I'd like to see the two of them mirror each other. In a BE NICE world, the ultimate ambition for each of us is to be nice to strangers, family, friends, and every one we can see, touch or know. Being nice requires study, application, practice, and other people. Without practice and interaction with real, live human beings, no amount of studying will make you a nice person. Cultivate a wider, more diverse circle of friends. Life is meant to be colorful, diverse, and dramatic.

One of the more interesting suggestions you have in BE NICE (Or Else!) is how to be nice in rush-hour traffic. How does one avoid building road rage?
First, I'd suggest you drive a clean car. You'll feel better about yourself. Listen to motivational CDs in your car to get relaxed and focused on positive things. Or listen to music that puts you in a good mood. Drive a different route every once in a while, just to break up the monotony. Place a photograph of your kids, your spouse, or your partner next to your steering wheel. Lean on the love you have for each other. Find fun and interesting ways to be nice to your fellow drivers, such as paying for someone's toll.

Why do you say every contact is a relationship?
Every person you come in contact with is a relationship and therefore an opportunity for you to grow, learn, and balance yourself emotionally. If you just assume that everyone is doing the best that they know how to do -- just as you are -- and choose to give people a break, you'll find yourself achieving the emotional balance you desire.

In BE NICE (Or Else!) you call for a BE NICE revolution. How do you propose it should happen?
It happens with you and me and others. There are many things you can do to be nice, and in turn, this contributes to the cause. On a larger scale, one can get the revolution in motion by only doing business with companies that are nice. If a company has a record of treating its employees poorly or its products destroy the environment or erode the values of society, simply don't support them as a consumer or business partner. You should also support charities in general, and specifically, those that support being nice, such as The Pay It Forward Foundation, which educates young students to realize that they can change the world and provides them with opportunities to do so.

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