How Being Nice Harms You

nice1We all know that ‘nice’ is an overworked word, one we use when we are unable to or can’t be bothered to come up with something more precise.

But we need to watch out if ‘nice’ is often applied to us by ourselves or other people.

The word is usually used to convey the idea that someone or something is pleasant and pleasing as opposed to unpleasant or displeasing. Other uses of ‘nice’ refer to concepts of subtlety and exactness, as when we speak of a nice distinction or a nice debating point.

Those less familiar uses of the word still have a lot of traction and are most satisfying to apply, unlike the more widespread usage, which is so often a bit of a cop-out.

In the workplace, family or social circles, being identified as the nice one can have negative implications. If this quality is one that is always automatically associated with you, and is rarely expanded on or modified, it’s possible that your ‘niceness’ has diminished your status in others’ eyes, and perhaps in your own.

If you have a strong need to feel liked, and if you worry a lot about what other people think of you, you might have difficulty in the following situations:

  • disagreeing with someone

  • dealing with criticism

  • asking for a pay rise

  • stating your opinion or preference

  • saying no

  • making requests

  • making an unpopular decision

Of course you want to be liked — who doesn’t? But if this desire is your main driving force you place yourself in a position of weakness and encourage others to take advantage of you.

The script which runs through your mind is something like, ‘If I do or say this particular thing, that person won’t like me any more/will think less of me/will think that I’m a nasty person.’

And so you back away from asking for more pay, and you say of course you would love to go kayaking or to the opera, and you support every sponsored event which pops up, and you don’t tell your team members they need to sharpen up, and you lie awake worrying you offended someone at the party or the meeting or the bus stop or in the shopping queue…

like1Here are some ways to help you sort out the ‘like’ thing in your head.

Start by determining what you mean by the word, because it won’t be the same in every circumstance.

Liking sometimes implies warmth and affection.

Sometimes it implies a less involved but pleasant relationship.

Liking can be associated with respect and appreciation.

So don’t start by fighting your urge to be liked, but ask yourself just what being liked means with the different people in your life.

Now, think about your circle of people in terms of their closeness to you.

To help you gauge people’s place in your life, ask yourself:

  • How much does this person’s good opinion matter to me?
  • Is this someone I respect?
  • Is this someone whose values I share?
  • How much would it matter to me if I never saw this person again in my life?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is this person’s place in my life?

You could write a list or make a diagram placing yourself in the centre of a circle. Close to the centre, or at the top of the list, note the people whose opinion of you really matters. It’s likely that you will begin with family and very close friends, and spread outwards to include work colleagues, neighbours, casual friends, acquaintances, people you encounter in shops and cafes.

Does it matter if the people on the outer fringes positively like you? Is it even realistic to think they should have more than a fleeting impression of you?

Situations which involve the outer fringes of your daily activities are good places to start. Maybe you hold back from telling a waiter your food is cold because you think they will take against you as a result. Perhaps you buy something you don’t want because you don’t want to offend the salesperson.

Just start by recognising that by behaving in this way you are confusing personal issues with impersonal and transactional encounters.

You are making life difficult for yourself for the sake of people who will probably never give you another thought — unless your life is like a romcom, of course.

It’s good to have people think well of us. It’s good to have harmonious relationships with our fellow human beings. However, you can behave in assertive, decisive, proactive, demanding, critical ways and still retain the qualities of courtesy and consideration and personableness which are associated with ‘nice’ people.

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