The pros and cons of excessive niceness

“We’ve got a problem with our hiring policy and it’s going to bite us in the butt.” This conversation sounded a lot more interesting than the one I’d been absent-mindedly overhearing: a young lady planning her wedding reception where the emcee would communicate with guests via text messaging. I had been waiting for a couple friends in my favourite coffee shop when the two gentlemen sat down in the booth behind me. Obviously, the hiring comment was a continuation of an existing conversation.

“Being too nice might not gain you enemies, but it will surely gain you users and abusers.”

– Author unknown

“We’ve got a problem with our hiring policy and it’s going to bite us in the butt.”

This conversation sounded a lot more interesting than the one I’d been absent-mindedly overhearing: a young lady planning her wedding reception where the emcee would communicate with guests via text messaging. I had been waiting for a couple friends in my favourite coffee shop when the two gentlemen sat down in the booth behind me. Obviously, the hiring comment was a continuation of an existing conversation.

“We have a lot of overly nice people working for us,” said the one, “and that’s not good.”

“What’s wrong with nice?” replied the other. “It’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?”

I was hooked. Most of my life I had been accused of being too nice. In fact, I had spent a great deal of time trying to curb my “nice guy” tendency with only moderate success.

“Nice people are fine,” declared the one. “Overly nice people are a problem.”

Genuinely nice people are fine but people-pleasing, ever deferring, self-effacing employees who constant seeks validation and over-commit to the point of martyrdom are another story. There’s a subtle yet meaningful distinction between being nice and being kind. Being kind is a successful interpersonal style while being overly nice is often laced with unhealthy undertones. Overly nice people are often mistreated and taken advantage of in the workplace.

There was a time when I found it crushing to have someone disappointed with me so I often took on more work and responsibility than was necessary or healthy. I became overly focused on doing things for others, to the detriment of my own projects. I desperately wanted to be appreciated so was always putting my hand up to volunteer when volunteering was the last thing I wanted to do. Looking back, it was my poor self-esteem that prompted my behaviour.

People who are overly nice tend to be overly accommodating. Unlike many nice folk, people with healthy self-esteem are not looking to please others nor garner acceptance or validation from every corner. Feeling confident and comfortable in their own skin, they’re able to express kindness and compassion from a place of power. Overly nice people may be suffering from poor self-esteem and trying desperately to avoid conflict and please others in order to feel worthy and deserving – two states-of-being that come naturally to the high self-esteemer.

Looking back, I seldom asked for what I wanted yet, oddly enough, I would often ask for allowances on behalf of others. I remember one manager taking me aside and telling me that my need for approval was making me appear weak in the eyes of my colleagues. I often felt disrespected, exploited and even bullied by colleagues and managers. One incident in particular comes to mind. It was decades ago but I can still remember a rather plainspoken mother of two young sons telling me that she hoped her boys “didn’t grow up to be anything like me.” It was my first job and I was trying so hard to please everyone that I had become a virtual doormat.

Kind and confident people expect to be treated with respect at work. They assert themselves when necessary and pick their battles carefully. Healthy self-esteemers know how to set healthy and appropriate boundaries. Many overly nice people unconsciously create stress and unhappiness for themselves. Their great need for approval sets them up for failure. Think about it. Where is your power when you place the fulfillment of a need in the hands of another?

A sure-fire way to break the niceness cycle is to build your self-esteem. The better you feel about yourself, the better able you’ll be to shift your thinking and behaviour. More able to be kind, rather than nice. That said, here are some strategies that may help with the process.

Think about why you’re being so nice. Whether at work or at home, being overly nice may be just another mask you’re wearing to hide your true self from the world. If you’re living in a place of fear, you may think that revealing “the real you” will only lead to rejection.

Stop agreeing with everyone on everything. I’m not suggesting you become disagreeable, but that you take time to honour your opinions and preferences. Not everyone will agree with you and that is as it should be. A difference of opinion will often lead to greater understanding.

Curb your people-pleasing tendencies. You don’t need to accommodate everyone. When you do, you leave yourself out of the equation. If you’re a pleaser, you probably like to help others. That’s OK but remember, it’s healthy and appropriate to meet your own needs and goals too.

Learn to set healthy boundaries. When asked to do something you’d rather not do, it’s OK to say no. Sure, we like to be available to our friends and assist where needed but you simply can’t say yes to everyone and everything. No one has the energy for that. Learning to set boundaries can be challenging but is vital. Keep in mind, there are manipulative people in the world who will take advantage of your giving nature. Stand up for yourself. You’re not a doormat.

Remember, you don’t need anyone else to be happy. Stop basing your worth on the opinions and comments of others. Base your worth on your own heartfelt actions and efforts. Remember, not everyone is going to like you and not everyone is going to accept you. That’s life and that’s fine. A big part of happiness is self-respect which comes from healthy self-esteem.

I remember my mother telling me, “When you say yes to others, make sure you’re not saying no to yourself.” I was never quite sure what that meant until recently. If I’m overly nice to you out of fear of rejection, then I’m saying no to my potential for happiness and fulfillment.

Empathy, compassion and kindness spring forth from a well-grounded sense of self. Whether at work or at home, try practising kindness instead of niceness and watch what happens.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreem Esteem: the four factors. For more information on self esteem, check the Extreem Esteem website at www.extreemesteem.ca

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