I was introduced to audiobooks in 2006. I had been reading business books about strategy and marketing, but I picked up “The Power of Nice” as one of my first audiobooks because it seemed like an easy one.

It changed my life.

And this year, the lesson came back to me in a huge way.

 

A Dark Road at 4 a.m. in Winter

 

I was working 16-hour days, opening my doors at 5 a.m. after an hour commute, then closing them at 9 p.m. and driving home again. Most of those drives happened in the dark and cold because I’m in Canada. And at the time, I was broke and pretty depressed.

The first lesson I ever learned from Linda Kaplan Thaler was this: Everything flowed from my behaviors and personality.

The cover of the book "The Power of Nice."I think I’d been giving myself a bit of license to be cranky or impatient with my staff and clients, but “The Power of Nice” helped me realize that my real job as a leader wasn’t to be the first to arrive and the last to leave; it was to be nice and to set the tone for everyone else.

There’s a lot more to it—from the way Linda tells stories (and she has some pretty amazing ones) to the way she makes her listeners feel.

Her second book, “The Power of Small,” was a solid follow-up. I was studying behavior change a lot at the same time, so I started to implement these little “extras” into my gym business. Over time, I realized the “extras” weren’t extra at all—they were really the things that made the difference. It didn’t really matter if the garbage cans were overflowing in the change rooms; what mattered was whether people would forgive me for little oversights or whether they’d quit over the minor details that were overwhelming me.

Now our program is worldwide, with over 800 gyms. We pride ourselves on being leaders in the industry and sticking to the high road. And a lot of Linda’s early lessons helped to shape that value system.

 

Nice in Practice

 

Here’s how “The Power of Nice” helped me in 2019.

Late in the spring, we found ourselves attacked on Instagram. Some coach wanted to attract attention to his program and figured the easiest way to do it was to slander us. I was surprised, but I’d been warned: Back in 2000, Mel Siff told me, “As soon as you plant a flag, people are going to start shooting.”

But because I know that attacking another brand to build your own is a really dumb strategy, and because the coach clearly didn’t know anything about us, I didn’t expect the attacks to continue. But I was thinking about the problem logically, instead of emotionally.

His real strategy was to engage us. If we’d argued or rallied our media team to talk about him, he’d have gained a huge audience and platform. We would have made his program something worth talking about. We really had nothing to gain by giving him any attention—but still, it’s always tempting to get down in the dirt and wrestle, isn’t it? Because a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is getting its boots on, as Ben Franklin famously said. Emotion overwhelms logic pretty quickly.

Instead, we stuck to the value I learned from Linda over a decade ago. We just kept publishing the truth. We stayed happy. We stayed nice.

What happened was incredible.

First, our community galvanized around our values. Some of them argued with the troll, but most just ignored him. He lost a lot of potential clients for his program (hundreds, possibly thousands), and we gained a ton of followers. This wasn’t the first time: Most “consultants” in the gym industry either copy us or criticize us instead of building their own platform. And every time that happens, we add a few hundred people to our audience.

It works because people are smart. Happy people want to be around happy people. Nice people avoid jerks. And despite what you say, you can’t fake nice.

Practicing “nice” also has a massive effect on me. Just as smiling makes you happy, playing nice actually makes you a kinder person.

When I questioned the time and financial commitments I was making to a local hockey program, Chef Mary told me this:

“Chris, you gotta remember that some of the people you’re doing this for are assholes. And then you gotta do it anyway.”

So I forced myself to be nice to the parents who complained about ice time. I made myself practice kindness to the disruptive kids on the ice. And the result? I’m a kinder person for it. I’m more patient with my own kids and kinder to people who are unkind to me.

 

Start 2020 With a Smile

 

When we decided to upgrade our Tinker Mastermind for 2020, I went through my Audible library to find the writers who really made a difference on my journey. I picked Seth Godin and Linda Kaplan Thaler out of the pile right away (there were hundreds). Our other speakers this year will be Chris Voss, Todd Herman and Mike Michalowicz—each of them has more of a tactical appeal to our audience (negotiator, alter-ego salesman and client-selection specialist). But Linda’s message really serves as a tone setter for everything else.

If you want to kick 2020 off right, a quick trip back to 2006 for “The Power of Nice” will help.