We all want to be liked. What’s wrong with that? When ‘Sorry’ is your favourite word and you find yourself constantly apologising for the misdemeanours of others, it’s time to revisit ‘nice.’ Here’s why being too nice is bad for you.
Years ago, as a student I worked in a pub situated next to a cattle market (make of that what you will). One busy day, as the market was in full flow, a regular customer, stretched her arm across the bar to return her half of lager. Instead, of her straight up and down vessel, she requested, “A ladies glass.”
Now, until that point, I hadn’t realised that certain glasses were considered appropriate receptacles for women. Even now I wonder what makes a glass male or female.
As she passed the glass back to me, the woman smiled. “It’s nice to be nice” she explained. The notion of ‘nice’ being the desired state has left an indelible imprint upon me. Years have passed and I’m still not sure that I agree with the sentiment of that sentence. In fact, sometimes it’s decidedly not nice to be nice.
In my work as a business psychologist I’ve come to realise that being nice can sometimes be problematic. We can be ‘too nice’ because we don’t want to rock the boat. The result? An uneasy pushing down of our feelings, ignoring what’s important to us. At times, we allow our boundaries to be breached and that’s never good, for us or the one crossing the (often unspoken) line. Nope, wanting to be thought of as being nice all the time is a trap. Too nice = avoidance of confrontation. It’s up there in the top three of things people want to tackle when I coach.
When we think we’re being nice, we’re usually avoiding conflict or potential confrontation. We want to be liked. We don’t want to be seen as uncooperative, demanding, diva like or a reluctant team player. Worst still, and a common myth, we don’t want to be thought of as the ‘b word’, and no, I don’t mean bossy.
Being too nice keeps us stuck. It prevents us from moving forwards, from becoming all that we can be. Sometimes it’s in our own best interests to be decidedly not nice.
Don’t confuse nice with kindness or compassion. We need both of those traits in abundance. Especially if we’re to be authentically assertive. I’m talking about the pseudo nice that shuts you down. That imaginary inner voice that reminds you nice people don’t…….say no, don’t assert themselves or say what they really want.
Fake nice is just scared. It won’t ask for a raise or a promotion, just fill in the gaps for the confrontation you’ve been avoiding with your own false narrative of nice. Being thought of as nice means you will do anything to avoid conflict. You’ll even apologise when you’ve done nothing wrong, making ‘Sorry’ your favourite word.
Avoiding confrontation works in the short term, but long term? Not so good. In fact, avoidance will only store up problems for you at work and at home. Not asking for what you need stores up resentment. Internalising those negative emotions has been linked to
- low mood
- poor mental health
- poor physical health
Four truly excellent reasons not to be nice.
So how can you say what you really want without going nuclear?
- Focus on your feelings. If you’re used to dampening down your emotions it will take time to identify what you’re really feeling. Time for a shot of mindfulness. Notice what’s going on for you when you feel the temptation to automatically say ‘yes’.
Connect with your breath. Create some space to breath deeply and identify your true feelings. What’s here? Anger? Resentment? Passive acceptance? Fear? See what emerges without judging it as good or bad and use it as information. Once you’ve identified how you’re feeling, you can begin to articulate it calmly and confidently.
2. Monitor your inner critic. You’ll hear your old self trying to pull you back into the habit of saying ‘yes’ to everything. Let’s call that voice the ‘Yes Monster’. Sure, you’ll feel resistance the first few times you say no. There’ll be guilt and a nagging voice warning you about how your new found assertiveness will be perceived. Recognise that those thoughts aren’t facts. They’re just thoughts and you can master them by changing your self talk to a more positive script “It’s ok to say no” “Not everyone has to like me” “It’s important I say what I think.”.
3. Learn to say ‘No.’ Practice with small things that aren’t emotionally loaded. Yes, it might feel uncomfortable the first few times, but you’ll get over that discomfort the more you practice. It’s the fear of rejection and confrontation creeping in again. It’s important that you speak your truth and you can do that in a compassionate, kind way whilst still respecting others.
4. Let go of people who try to pull you back into being too nice (at your own expense). If someone can’t respect your boundaries once you’ve explained them, it’s time to let them go. People who continuously take advantage of your desire to please others are toxic. No one who truly cares will object to you expressing your needs and opinions.
4. Still, wondering if you’re the one being unreasonable? Flip the situation. If your roles were reversed, would you expect your own needs to be met at their expense? Thought not. Flipping the scene can unveil some truly ugly behaviour on the part of the person demanding that you meet their needs each and every time they want you to. Time to audit those relationships. If you can’t let go completely, limit the amount of time that you spend with them, you’ll feel better for it.
We also run international mindfulness courses, Assertiveness at work training as well as wellbeing and resilience masterclass training programmes.