A friend recently told me that he was passed up for a juicy position because he was not assertive enough. In other words, he was too nice.
I am not hindered by nice. Nice is waaayyyy overrated.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with being nice per se. And I’m as nice as the next gal.
Well, maybe I’m not. You might say that I’m unequivocally, inarguably not-nice (and I believe others have, in fact, said that). Here’s what I mean:
- I self advocate – If someone is mistreating or ignoring me, I don’t just let it slide, with “Oh they’re doing their best,” or “He didn’t mean it.” Nope. Not that those things aren’t necessarily true, and indeed, I give them the benefit of the doubt, but it doesn’t mean that person isn’t going to hear from me. I don’t mean I’m going to make a scene or be nasty, but they will understand that they’ve crossed a boundary. I will also say what I want or believe while trying to make decisions with others. In this area, nice people are so easy to get along with: “Whatever you want to do!” That’s not my style – I’d rather we find something we both like, rather than always doing what I want. I want to be influenced and learn from others. We can’t do that if we’re always doing it one person’s way.
- I advocate for others – There are certain people and things that I am responsible for. Therefore, it is my duty to advocate for and protect them. So if those people or things are not being treated or handled properly, someone will hear from me. I refuse, for example, to tell my kids to suck it up because I don’t want to have a necessary conversation with the teacher or principal. I won’t let the program or the students I direct suffer because I might seem too pushy with an administrator. Tough toenails, as they say. Just because someone isn’t doing their job doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do mine either.
- I adhere to my principles – It’s sometimes difficult to adhere to principles and avoid conflict at the same time. Sometimes your principles need an advocate and they are more important than being nice. For example, if someone makes a sexist, abusive or racist comment, it is important to say, “That’s not funny. In fact, that’s pretty offensive,” rather than risk hurting someone’s feelings. Failing to speak up implies assent and that’s a much worse infraction than telling someone how you feel.
- I don’t get resentful or smug – Resentment is the enemy of nice but the inevitable result of not self-advocating or sticking to principles. Yes, I may have pleased someone by avoiding a possible confrontation, but at what cost? If I am too nice/selfless then I’m not being true to my Self. Like the budget deficit, I have essentially kicked that de-Self problem down the road, and the interest is a growing resentment or being smug/superior/martyr. That resentment comes out eventually in other ways – stonewalling, being overly emotional, “forgetting” to do things, sharp tones, slips of the tongue, and so forth. Resentment leaks out like toxic waste, polluting everything in shooting range. I’d rather just say what I think, get it out and over with, rather than expecting someone to guess what I need. Maybe my needs are obvious to me, but they’re not written on my forehead.
The other main way that being too nice can manifest is in being a martyr or acting smug. So, I’ll do what you want because you’re a needy, irrational child, and I’m the wise, in-control adult who is selfless and virtuous. Like resentment, martyrdom and smugness also leak out, but as condescension, self-pity, arrogance or superiority. Again, I’d rather just say what I need rather than have to deal with those emotions.
To me, those emotions of resentment and martyrdom are like lies. When you tell a lie, then you have to tell more lies to maintain that façade. To cultivate the mantle of resentment or martyrdom requires more resentment and martyrdom (“What’s wrong?,” “Oh, nothing REALLY (you’re just demanding, selfish and inconsiderate)”), and maintaining those mistresses is expensive psychologically, emotionally, and energy-wise.
- I prefer relationships that have a partnership dynamic – All of the above simply result in an unspoken power play. Again, this is just too much work and energy. It’s easier for two people to say what they want, what they think, negotiate and follow up if necessary, and assume each is acting in good faith. By being nice and avoiding conflict, I am not trusting the other to engage in an adult, open communication process. I am writing them off before even giving them a chance to show they can act in a mature and fair manner. That’s not fair to them, and it’s bad news for healthy relationships, for it’s impossible to be in an intimate relationship when the participants lack authenticity. There’s the irony: conflict avoidance is believed to preserve relationships but in fact, it undermines relationships. Perhaps conflict avoidance maintains superficial relationships rather than fostering relationships based on authenticity.
- I am not going to be liked by some people no matter what I do – There are some people with whom I have gone out of my way to help, accommodate, affirm, support and sought to understand, and they still hate/dislike me. I don’t use the word “hate” readily, but for instance there is one person who has said that he believes I’m incompetent and should be fired despite all of the above. Fortunately for me, that is a (I hope, hugely) minority opinion where I work.
I have learned over the years and have written about previously* that sometimes a person’s feelings are more a reflection of their own emotional world rather than having anything to do with me. It’s not all about me! Therefore, they may approach the world with negativity, judgment, criticism, self-hate, self-loathing and anger, and those feelings may be projected upon others. No amount of niceness will change that, so I don’t really feel any need to try to please that person. They’ll hate me for trying to please them. So I don’t try but I also don’t take it personally. I wish them peace and healing on their emotional journey as they are managing much internal pain.
So find your inner byotch/SOB, temper her/him with forgiveness and compassion, and go bravely forth navigating your complex world leading with your authentic self. People will still like and even love you if you are not overly nice. In fact, you may be surprised that they may like you more, in some ways.