Being ‘nice’ is a behavior we teach our children, and as adults, we like it when people are nice to us, so what is so wrong with being nice?
If you value being, considerate, pleasant, friendly, and well-mannered then by all means behave that way and encourage others to do the same. But it may surprise you that being nice does not mean these things.
I have painful memories of learning the true meaning of ‘nice’.
At school in the U.K, my English teacher detested the inexactitude of the adjective ‘nice’. He thought its use was lazy and sought to expunge it from my vocabulary with a smack across the back of the hand, with a steel ruler, if I ever used it. This left a lasting memory on a 9-year old boy and to this day, I cringe when I hear it.
As barbaric as this education sounds, my English teacher was correct in his understanding of the etymology of the word ‘nice’. Its origins are from Latin nescius ‘ignorant’, Old French, nescire ‘not know’ and in Middle English nice meant stupid.
The ignorance of being nice is not knowing how to be disagreeable without causing offense. The harm this does to you, and your career is the inability to be honest and critical. It's natural to want to be liked, but being nice can get in the way of communicating important challenges and opportunities.
I have long held the belief that the English invented politeness so that they could tell you to, "Go to Hell" and have you thank them for giving you directions.
Politeness, being ‘nice’, is a set of behaviors we use with strangers to avoid conflict in a social setting. But in fact, politeness can be used as a devastating weapon, and often hides a person’s true intent.
With your friends and trusted acquaintances, do you prefer them to tell you what you want to hear or be real and tell you as it is?
I believe that the best compliment we can pay anyone is to turn up and be present as our authentic selves. That means being real and being real creates trust.
Being real doesn't mean you have to give up on being considerate, pleasant, friendly, well-mannered, and other synonyms for the modern understanding of ‘nice’. But being real does mean offering your insights and respecting that others can handle the truth.
It is a maxim that ‘nice guys finish last’. Why is this?
Being ‘nice’ and agreeable means focusing on others. What’s wrong with this?
If a person is agreeable, they are open to being exploited, because they avoid conflict, they want to 'smooth the waters'.
You don’t get ahead by smoothing waters and always being agreeable; you get ahead by effective conflict.
Effective conflict means knowing what you want and negotiating for that by understanding what others want. Effective conflict means being able to speak the truth, even if unpleasant so that growth is possible.
Nice guys, and girls, finish last because to avoid conflict they appease and therefore fail to create win-win solutions.
If being nice isn’t the solution, what is?
The solution is to understand that our choices are not limited to agreeable or aggressive. There is a third alternative, and that is assertiveness.
Assertiveness is communicating what you need, want, and believe in ways that encourage others to communicate what they need, want, and believe.
Assertiveness means you behave like an adult and treat others like adults, rather than being ‘nice’ to others as if they are a delicate child that might be hurt.
To get ahead in life and business, it is important to develop your self-leadership, so that you know what you need, want, and believe, and your social skills so that you can ‘read’ other people and communicate in ways that they can hear you.
This is much more complicated than just being ‘nice’, but it is a lot more effective.
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