Last week, the Christian Science Monitor’s Marilyn Gardner broke the news (and it came as news to us) that, “At Work, ‘Nice’ is On the Rise.” (Seems it also came as news — or at least seemed newsworthy — to ABCNEWS.com and CBSNEWS.com, which both picked up the story).


Specifically, reported Gardner, “Today, in a competitive age that sometimes takes a ‘nice guys finish last’ approach to business, a quiet cultural change appears to be under way.”


How does a reporter pick up on a “cultural change…under way” — particularly when it is a “quiet” one?


For starters, the resourceful Gardner appears to have scanned the overstocked “business books” section of her local book store — always a herald of “cultural change” — and observed there such titles as “The Kindness Revolution: The Company-wide Culture Shift That Inspires Phenomenal Customer Service,” by Ed Horrell; “The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness,” by Robin Koval and Linda Kaplan Thaler; and, “The Anatomy of Peace,” by Duane Boyce. Such works, Gardner writes, “stand in sharp contrast to the 1980s, when…business books carried titles such as ‘Corporate Combat’ and ‘Office Warfare.’”


Moreover, “workplace observers” — presumably the above authors, all of whom are cited in Gardner’s piece, along with two guys from a consultancy called Nice Guy Strategies — tell Gardner (more or less) that they, too, have observed a distinct up-tick in workplace niceness. Author Robin Koval explains to Gardner that, “Meanness is so last millennium. Niceness is the future.” And Duane Boyce warns against “false niceness” — “If I’m not focused on results, I’m just expecting my friendliness, my politeness to get me by. That’s not nice.” And surely, remarks one of the Nice Guy consultants, we’ve all been acting a little nicer since 9/11.


Next, all Gardner had to do was find the obligatory anecdotal evidence of her “quiet cultural change.” Enter a worker bee named Patrick Morris who, in the story’s lead, recalls the surprisingly kind treatment he received at the hands of his superiors at his first job out of college. But as becomes clear later in the story, that was at least two jobs ago for Morris — hardly evidence of a “cultural change under way” today.


Perhaps workplace “cultural changes” are in the eye of the beholder.


Here is what some other reporters have beheld lately:


“Type A Workers Get More Leeway,” Baltimore Sun, September 6, 2006 (“Dali Wiederhoft, a longtime publicist, is a high-maintenance employee. She’s aggressive, demanding and even a little pushy with her clients or colleagues. But her boss would not have it any other way…”)


“Bosses from Hell,” San Antonio Express-News, August 7, 2006 (“Nasty, insensitive bosses… have always been out there, but in the past several years, stories about them, fictional and real, have reached a kind of critical mass in the media, as more and more working people vent about maltreatment in the workplace and nail their grievances, if not their supervisors, to the wall.”)


“A Battle Cry For the Rank and File: ‘Dignitarian’ Cause Gives Voice to Principle That Every Worker Deserves Respect,” Boston Globe, August 6, 2006 (…”[R]ankism is never acceptable. And Robert Fuller, the man who devised the word, is on a mission to end the behavior. His big idea is that people have a right to be treated with dignity no matter where they are in the pecking order…”)


But not if they’re nice.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.