American Way sits down for a friendly chat with Linda Kaplan Thaler, advertising powerhouse (her clients include Aflac, Procter & Gamble, and Liz Claiborne) and coauthor of the recently released The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness (Doubleday, $18). — C.T.

“Nice” has an image problem, right?
In business, being nice has been underrated. We tell young people they need to step on somebody else to survive. But business doesn’t work that way anymore; “mean” is so last millennium. Growing up in the Bronx, I learned a lot of four-letter words, but the most powerful one is nice.

Many see business and life as a zero-sum game: one winner, one loser. Is that wrong?
A lot of male-oriented teaching compares business to sports. But if I take a slice away from your pie, that doesn’t necessarily enrich me. We need to bake bigger pies. Look at Sony and Samsung — big competitors, but they got together to create flat-screen TVs. If we collaborate, we can build a bigger, more profitable universe for all of us.

Does the power of nice work with rivals and enemies?
Yes. Look at the way George Washington ordered his soldiers to treat British prisoners with kindness. He knew they were among the future citizens of the country. You can use your energy to tear a rival down, or you can take your competitive spirit and channel it into the best meeting, the best ideas, and the best presentation you can create.

What if you have to fire someone? Can you do it nicely?
There’s always a way to do it with dignity and kindness. You have to be honest in showing where they fell short. And being honest is one of the nicest things you can do for people.