I used to get very excited whenever someone would tell me: “you’re a really nice guy”. I thought it was a fantastic compliment to receive.
Then I started noticing in my own life and the life of other “really nice” people that this label often came with less than favourable consequences. The more I noticed the patterns unveiling, the more being seen as “nice” began to trouble me and shock me.
So I began to change some of my nice guy persona and get more of an edge. It was one of the best moves I have ever made.
Eventually, as a communication coach, I also began teaching others how to be less nice.
Today, my close friends and I have an insiders joke about this. Whenever we say about a person “he’s a really nice guy” or “she’s a really nice girl”, what we actually mean is “this person gets used and abused in all imaginable ways for being a people pleaser”.
What Does “Nice” Mean, Anyway?
To be fair, I think that when someone calls you a “nice guy”, “nice girl” or “nice person”, there are two different meanings.
Sometimes an individual can’t find the more accurate positive word they want to use to describe you, so they use a conventional positive word. They want to say that you’re interesting, or funny, or kind, or a good conversationalist, but it comes out as nice, cool or OK.
If this is the case, you have nothing to worry about. The word nice is a poor choice to describe an overall positive trait you have. Embrace it and forgive people for their vagueness in communication.
However, I came to the conclusion that more often than not, the label “nice” reflects something that might appear positive initially, but it will in fact work against you. Here’s the thing:
People will frequently refer to a person who is very accommodating and focused on pleasing others as being “nice”.
So the word may sound, well, nice, but it’s a dangerous label to have because it reflects the presence of personal attitudes and behaviours that in the long run will sabotage you.
The Perils of Being a “Nice” Person
Most of us have learned that it’s good to be nice, that we should put others first, that we should always help them and have a reputable image in front of others. If you’re frequently seen as a nice person, this is probably the sign that you’ve internalized this way of thinking a bit too well.
I’m not against helping others or being kind. I do think however that many people take this too far and end up sacrificing their own needs in order to please others, thinking that this will solve everything in their lives. And unfortunately, that’s very far from the truth.
This topic has recently started receiving serious attention in the world of psychology, where phenomena such as the nice girl or nice guy syndrome are now being studied vigilantly.
And the perils of being seen as the nice person are becoming apparent. Here are some of the key ones:
1. Exhausting Yourself Trying to Please Others.
As almost any nice guy or nice girl is fully aware, trying to please everybody and hold on to that nice reputation is a huge burden. Most nice people dedicate huge amounts of time, energy and resources to helping and accommodating others.
2. Ignoring Your Self.
Obviously, if your focus is on others all the time, you have little time or energy to take care of yourself and enjoy yourself. This probably explains why the nicest persons I know are out of shape, stressed out and bordering multiple illnesses.
3. Getting Manipulated by Others.
Most of us have believed a dangerous lie: that if we’re nice to others, others will also be nice to use. In practice, this only happens on and off. Many times, niceness invites people to use you, demand increasingly more from you without giving back and take everything for granted.
4. Getting stuck in this frame.
Whenever as a coach, I work with a nice person and they turn more assertive, others are typically shocked by their new behaviour. They’ve become so used with this person pleasing them all the time that when they start putting their foot in the door, it seems like pure treachery.
Fortunately, a nice person reputation can be changed, and the best way to do so is by changing how nice and compliant you really are.
There are three specific action steps to keep in mind:
1. Get in Touch with your Needs.
The first step to putting your needs forward is to become more aware of them. Although people who tend to be very nice often think their only need is to help others and be liked, they actually have a lot of more self-centered needs. They just lost touch with them and need to re-connect.
2. Boost your Confidence.
In my coaching practice, I often find that nice guys or girls struggle with self-esteem and self-confidence issues. They need to weed out their limiting beliefs and sometimes to master overcoming shyness or anxiety. If this is your case as well, definitely give a lot of attention to the inner change process.
3. Put your Needs Forward More.
This can imply spending more time doing what you enjoy, asking more for what you want, saying no to others, being more spontaneous, expressing unpopular opinions or ending toxic relationships. It may not be easy at first, but this is the crucial behavioural step.
As you move from people pleasing to an assertive approach to life, people will see you differently and treat you differently.
You may not be told that you’re “really nice” anymore; you may sometimes be told that you’re “rude” or “selfish”, but you know what? Beyond those labels, you will have healthy relationships with people and a fulfilling life.
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This is a guest post from Eduard Ezeanu, who is a communication coach with an attitude-based approach. If you enjoyed this article, then you will also enjoy low self esteem and how to make friends on his People Skills Decoded blog.
image courtesy of andreasnilsson1976