Is “West Michigan Nice” Hurting Your Business?

And How To Pivot

“West Michigan Nice.” 

It’s one of the phrases you understand well if you live in West Michigan. It’s this strange cultural loophole around issues where you can’t seem to get full honesty from your closest neighbor, your coworker, and sometimes even your family. You’ll find this topic is a comfort for some and a pain point for others. 

I’ll share an example I experienced recently at a networking event to help those of you who haven’t experienced “West Michigan Nice”. I met a woman, Charlotte, who was raised in Chicago. She had recently moved to Grand Rapids and had been experiencing West Michigan nice ever since. 

When Nice Isn’t Nice

One day, Charlotte was picking her child up from school when she ran into Hannah (another mom at the school and a long time West Michigan native). Hannah asked how the family was settling in and said how glad she was that their boys were getting along so well. Her friendliness was gushing. But within the same week, Hannah had filed a complaint with the principal about a behavioral issue involving Charlotte’s son. Hannah had never given the slightest inclination that there were any issues between the two boys, instead choosing to be fake with Charlotte. 

I could tell that this scenario left Charlotte in disbelief, leaving a bitter taste in her mouth. She wondered aloud to me whether Hannah had a hidden agenda that whole time and why wouldn’t she simply be honest. I chuckled because I knew precisely what she meant. 

West Michigan nice, for Hannah, is a comfortable reality where we hide from direct conflict, avoiding disruption of social niceties. West Michigan nice, for Charlotte, is a suburban nightmare. 

The West Michigan Nice Problem in Your Business

Our own West Michigan culture has kept us from possessing the courage to go into uncomfortable conversations and be honest, relationally and professionally. We keep our interactions and relationships shallow. If we do dive deep, we might have to work through conflict—something that West Michigan nice avoids.

West Michigan nice goes much deeper than this social example. It plays a role in our children’s lives, politics, race, and so much more. I won’t break down our cultural issues, but I can speak to my experience in the business world. I’ve seen the destruction that West Michigan nice causes in the board room and team meetings. I can tell you with certainty that it can rip companies apart—especially when leadership is involved.

Nice Will Destroy Your Business

Our fear and avoidance of openness and honesty leads to an abundance of distrust. Our mistrust leads to a lack of loyalty, which paves the way to disorder. Having shallow conversations and avoiding conflict for the sake of unity is a Band-Aid to an unhealable wound. 

Leadership requires the courage to “go there.” It requires the deep dive to uncover the areas of our businesses that bleed and be intimately aware of our true condition. Our West Michigan nice culture is ripe with avoidance, and it may require shaking each other until we understand the reality of our condition. 

Is West Michigan nice engrained in your business? If so, avoiding conflict has been damaging your business all along. That conflict will not disappear, no matter how hard we ignore it. Tackling the real issues is directly correlated to your ability to succeed. When leaders can flex their muscles of communication, that’s when business moves so much faster. You must have the courage to be honest. 

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