When Being Nice Gets You Into Trouble

There is nothing wrong with being nice, unless it gets in the way of being honest and respectful.

There is nothing wrong with being nice, unless we are using it to hide behind a deeper message. Being nice should not get in the way of being honest and respectful in our communications. Sometimes we avoid or sugar coat messages in order to be nice, but that isn’t helping anyone.

Twice this week I had conversations with intelligent, seasoned managers who were struggling with a decision. In both cases, they were torn about the right way to handle a “very nice” employee who wasn’t performing.

Personalities often muddy the waters on how we sort through our business decisions. We can pull the trigger too fast on someone that irritates us, and likewise, we tend to tolerate the actions from someone who we enjoy as a person. These two managers were avoiding honest conversations about performance because they didn’t want to hurt the employee’s feelings. Nice and kind people were trying to help each other, but that can get you in trouble real fast. 

Our animal friends provide a mirror to help us see this clearly. We all know someone (perhaps even ourselves!) who have repeatedly tolerated unwanted behavior from furry family members. Raided trashcans and chewed shoes from a bored dog or ruined upholstery from an active cat could easily put someone over the deep end, but instead, we’re likely to hear refrains of “Oh, how can I get mad when she’s so cute?!”

Emotional attachments are built upon the foundations of our relationships, so when someone is nice (or adorable in the case of many animals), there is an unconscious reaction to be nice in return. Nice has its place and I wouldn’t advocate its demise in any situation — except where it impedes two more important factors in healthy communications. Those two factors include an equal balance of honesty and respect when we are interacting with others. 

The good news is that you can still be “nice” as you bring honesty and respect into the conversation. Think of it as ‘nice’ on steroids, because it has more depth and meaning. It takes some courage and a bit of finesse to say what you mean in a way that isn’t offensive to others, especially when the receiver isn’t too keen on hearing the message, but it’s possible, and I would argue, it’s critical for healthy relationships. 

When you put a priority of being supportive and respectful into your delivery, it becomes much easier to move through the discussion. When respect is genuine, the other person recognizes our motive to help them, making it much more likely for them to work with us versus against us.

The next time the dog eats your homework — be nice to her — but let her know in a honest and respectful way that isn’t meeting your expectations for acceptable behavior!

In what ways have you balanced being nice and effective in your communications? 

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  1. Karen Johnson on April 1, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    So important and much easier to talk about than do!

    • Robin on April 1, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      Yes, that is very true, Karen! I have certainly struggled with this over the years, but as I practice it more, it becomes easier. Having good models helps in my opinion; the more people who provide honest and respectful input, the easier it gets for all of us. Glad you are one of those people!

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