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Home » The Problem With Being “Too Nice” at Work: Tessa West (Transcript)

The Problem With Being “Too Nice” at Work: Tessa West (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of social psychologist Tessa West’s talk titled “The Problem With Being “Too Nice” at Work” at TED 2024 conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


The Science of Uncomfortable Social Interactions

So why is it the case that when we are feeling the most anxious, uncomfortable, socially awkward versions of ourselves, when our hearts are pounding and our palms are sweating and we feel like crawling out of our skin, are we also the most nice and often generic to the people around us? I’m a social psychologist, and I’ve been studying the science of uncomfortable social interactions for over 20 years.

So everything from new roommate relationships, negotiations, upward feedback with your boss to doctor-patient interactions, those moments where you need to break in and say, “Yeah, for the last 20 minutes, I actually have no idea what you were talking about. Can we maybe rewind a bit?”

And to study these things, I look at three main outcomes. First, I look at what people say, the things we can control, how friendly we are, how much we complement one another, how much we give gracious feedback. Second, I look at the things that are tougher for us to control, our nonverbal behaviors, things like fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, playing with our hair, doodling even, even our tone of voice.

And then I look at the things that are impossible for us to control our under-the-skin responses, our physiology, our cardiovascular reactivity, things like blood pressure, heart rate, these types of things that we often don’t even really realize that we’re feeling. And the way I do this is by having people come into the lab and interact with each other in a bunch of different settings, and I have them negotiate with each other, I have them get acquainted with each other.

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And often it’s the case that in these interactions, people are required to give some form of feedback to their partner. Tell them honestly what they’re thinking or feeling, come in with an offer for a negotiation, tell them what they could have done better next time. And I think we all kind of know what it feels like to be in one of these studies.

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