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!
That’s 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.
But in reality, 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 Own Needs
The first step to putting your needs forward is to become more aware of them.
Although people who tend to be very nice people 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 now 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.
The Way Forward
As you move from people pleasing to an assertive approach to life, people will see you differently and treat you differently.
They will no longer see you as the nice person they used to know and take advantage of.
So you may no longer be told that you’re “really nice” anymore. Instead, you may sometimes even be told that you’re “rude” or “selfish”!
But you know what?
Beyond those labels, you will have healthy relationships with people and a more fulfilling life.
It’s time to jump with joy!
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Every Retweet and Facebook share helps me grow my blog. I look forward to seeing you here again soon. Thank you for reading! – Arvind
This is a guest post from Eduard Ezeanu, who is a communication coach with an attitude-based approach
Excellent post, great points. There must be something in the air–I just got a book a few weeks ago called “Being Genuine: Stop being nice and get real.” It’s not that I’m very “nice.” lol Quite the opposite, and I sometimes feel I might do well to move toward the “nice” end of the spectrum. But I see this sort of thing all the time, and I much prefer the people in my life who are straight up rather than being “nice.” Over the years it has caused conflicts because it’s so transparent, it’s not honest, and it never works out in the end for either side. I’ve had friends, for example, agree sweetly to do this or that, and I can tell there’s no real sincerity there, but I certainly didn’t want to challenge it….it doesn’t work out. I’ve had to learn some discernment. For me, I enjoy real people, not nice people.
And yes, some people (like family and some old friends) think I’m rude and selfish. Over the years some have seen that’s not so. Others, not so much. And that’s OK. At least they always know where they stand with me, whether they like it or not.
Glad to see this.
I particularly like your point about conflicts, because I’ve noticed that nice people are typically huge conflict avoiders. They try to sweep everything under the rug and in the long run, that never works. Sometimes, conflict just needs to be dealt with.
Leah, I wanted to disagree with what you said above, but I didn’t want any conflict:-)
So I will just say thanks for visiting and for your valuable input.
Be well and good to know the real you and not just the “nice” you.
LOL Arvind! Well, as someone who is not afraid of conflict–but who hasn’t always handled it in the best, most tactful way but has learned a lot–I can conflict on just about anything these days with good results. Throw it at me anytime 🙂
Thing is, I really am a nice person–in the vague sense of the term, as your guest poster put it so aptly–just honest. And if I can’t be honest, I try to keep my mouth shut 🙂
Honesty with compassion and love and empathy and all that stuff is my goal 🙂
Leah, I love your goal to be honest with compassion, love and empathy. Amen!
Eduard, thanks for sharing a great guest post and telling us, especially me, why being “nice” is not really good for me and my reputation.
Over the years I have learnt to let go of this nice guy – and your recent coaching really helped in this area.
Keep up the great work – but don’t overdo it as there are enough “nasty” guys in the world already:-)
My pleasure Arvind. You know I enjoy this topic 😉
I dun think there’s anything wrong with being nice, but when it centers around a need to win the attention and favor of others, it can be a detriment. I dun suggest being a jerk, of course, but be nice because it’s the right way to treat others, not because of egotistical reasons
I does depend on how you read the word nice. Is this context, we’re talking about being nice all the time, in a people pleasing manner, about being the so called ‘nice guy’ or ‘nice girl’. That is slippery territory.
So, do I have to stop referring to you as nice now Arvind? I’m OK with you saying “no” sometimes. Make sure you take care of your own needs as well as helping others. I’ll try to do the same.
Alison, absolutely! No more Mr Nice Guy:-)
I am going to follow Leah’s example above and just be honest with compassion, love and empathy.
As you say, I have to take care of my own needs first. I invite you to do the same.
And remember this quote from Yoda – “Do or do not… there is no try.”
Great observations Eduard. I agree that being nice ALL the time can lead to a host of unexpected “issues”. I used to pride myself on being the most easygoing person in the room and someone who everybody got along with; although I think that being easygoing is a good trait to have, it’s good to really check in with ourselves regularly to make sure that we’re getting our own needs met. I recently committed to being more forthcoming with how I really feel about things rather than always “going along to get along” just to be nice and I have to say it’s been kind of like a big weight off my shoulders. Being honest, instead of perpetually nice feels really, really good.
The key word here is ALL. Nothing wrong with helping people; in fact it’s part of the fabric of social bonding. But when you always put others first, it works against you.
LOL! Yeah! I always thought do unto others as you would have them do to you. I was lucky for most of my life that I was around like mineded people. But, the job I am on now….. Oh my! Talk about being taken advantage of! Not any more 🙂 TY!
Two words for you Ranay: boundary setting 😉
Arvind, you have hit upon the conundrum, that is the word “nice” and all its associated interpretations. It would seem that most of us seem to have two occasions when we use the the term to describe different people we meet having totaly differing personalities and behaviours. it is realy nice to be called nice, when others hold us in high self esteem and admiration and that we still manage to be nice when we could so easily not be. Then there is the other not so nice time to be called nice, when others perceive us to we pushovers, weak and lacking in a vertebrae that allows us to walk tall in life. The conundrum is to know which one people see us as and does it depend on their own “niceness”. Someone once gave me a book called “Nice girls dont get the corner Office”. I agree, but I do have a nice window in the corner of an open plan office. Oh come on everybody, we just have a little time here, so its nice to be nice, sometimes!
Although I’m a guy, I should check out that book. The central book on this topic for men is called No More Mr. Nice Guy!
Nice is what the weather is not what we should be I agree Eduard. Be genial but also fair yourself included. I used to be a nice guy which was another name for ‘door mat’ and I got walked all over. Now it’s firm if needs be like today to someone I thought was a friend who decided to destroy my name – the reply was polite bit cetainly not nice so a very very timely post thank you.
I wish more people would see this kind of nice guy people pleasing behavior like you and actually say: “You’re such a door mat”, instead of “You’re such a nice guy”. Nice persons might get the right message 😉
Nice Guy thing is in fact, a hell like situation. People are pleased by you but you are not doing things to please yourself. You feel happy when people appreciate you but you yourself don’t even talking to yourself. It sometimes leads to depression and even suicidal attempts.
Instead of being nice guy, the agenda should be to be ‘you’ and care less about what others think 🙂
Spot on Jaky! In focusing on pleasing others, you ignore yourself – the last person one should ignore.
Hi Eduard and Arvind too! My mum used to have a saying: ‘That one’s too sweet to be wholesome!’ about people (other women usually!) who appeared sooo nice to your face but took you apart behind your back…which is probably that other niceness condition…twofacedness! 😉 Personally, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt when I first meet them and assume they are genuinely nice, and I am ‘nice’ ( honestly nice) in return. However, at the first whiff of their trying to take advantage of my (honest) niceness, or an attempt to treat me like a doormat…then it’s ‘Bye bye mr/ms nice guy. It was not so NICE knowing ya!’ I agree with you Eduard that being too nice and giving too much of ourselves is a big mistake…it’s like the air hostess says on the plane ‘Put your own oxygen mask on first and then you can help others!’ Thanks for a great reminder Eduard.
Just like your mom, I find something suspicious with people who are very nice. Authentic individuals aren’t nice all the time, with all the people.
Interesting article. I try to be nice, kind and compassionate to everyone. I do agree that being nice to the point where you sacrifice your own needs in the process will not make people like you and definitely won’t earn their respect. Ignoring your own needs and wants in order to be “nice” really isn’t “nice” which I equate with “kindness” but more of a behavior routed in fear or neediness.
I think it’s a good intention Pamela, as long as it doesn’t make you end up sacrificing your own needs. Niceness is for me a question of balance.
Being nice is good, but unfortunately not always appreciated. Good post & great points!
LOL! Following your logic Irina, if being nice is not appreciated, then it may not be a good thing after all. I judge traits best on the results they create 😉
Eyebrow-raising post, actually, a little bit concerned.
Eduard, great read! I think it’s best to find a balance if possible, between being nice and being ‘real’.
It’s entirely possible at times to be both nice and real, so that should be the goal to aim for, but at times when it’s not possible, then we must evaluate the situation and choose accordingly. Is it worth being nice or being real? The best person to ask is ourselves 🙂
Yes, there is a type of nice (but not that nice) that’s also real, bold and assertive. If you can find that sweet spot, it’s game on.
Interesting and thank you for sharing. In this space you normally find two types of people. The first are those who really live according to the expectations of others – these people normally take into account what ‘others’ think about them and according to this ‘thinking’ change their ways. Personally – this is a bad move as trying to be someone else just to please expectations can back-fire in the long run. The second type are the ones who actually live their life according to what the believe in, their belief is that how ever they are they remain beautiful, they attract the same beautiful people and share the energy generated. They focus on improving themselves and normally lead by example.
Interesting distinction. I think this is how leaders are typically made: they find a path that resonates with them and they follow it, even if some people don’t like it.
Brilliant post. I used to be an absolute door mat but now I love telling people “No More Mrs. Nice Annabel” it makes me much happier and I get to be friends with people who value me and don’t just want to use me.
I still avoid conflict though!
Annabel, welcome to my blog from down under!
Having read some of your blog posts, I can’t ever imagine you being a doormat:-)
Being congruent and confident about who you are makes people respect and admire you – and you have clearly cracked the fine line between being a doormat, and being “you”.
As for avoiding conflict, better to be like that someone who goes around looking for opportunities to wind up other people – as long as by avoiding conflict, you are not allowing others to ride all over you.
I hope to meet you in the UK for an Indian meal on your next trip:-)
I like the whole piece on the perils of being nice. I agree totally but I don’t feel that I lacked any self-esteem or confidence other than I am just generally too appreciative of friendships. My biggest flaw is being too protective of friends who tend to feign helplessness. However, when the truth unveils I normally shy away quietly rather than being confronting. At least there will be no truth in whatever unfavorable jibes coming from these unappreciative or toxic friends. I believe the truth will always prevail and I need not worry about their contempt.
The things you’re telling us here suggest to me that you may have some confidence issues when dealing with people. You might wanna take a second look at that, cause it can hold you back, especially if you don’t see it.
Guess what? I’m having a ” fight ” with this guy and I totally hate it. I can’t be nice all the time. I have been so honest to him, I told him, I’m not a people pleaser and I can’t be one. And now, he stopped everything. He stopped chatting with me, talking to me. The whole situation makes me crazy and even makes me think I’m so dead bad. What should I do?
There are always negative consequences associated with not being nice all the time. That’s why some people prefer to be nice all the time – fear of upsetting others and getting rejected.
You just want to learn to be OK with it. It’s just a part of life.
I would like to say you have done “NICE” effort in putting yourself. But I tell you there is nothing like most nice, more nice, some nice, nice or less nice…there is only “nice” and if a person is nice he/she knows his/her limitations of being nice. Most of the people know that every sacrifice or kindness done by them fetch them a “nice” remark. You can not stop people being nice by making them think not be nice. Already there are very few people in this world who are trying to be nice to others. And who you are by the way. Your life has no value if you are not nice to others. You can not teach a person to be selectively nice, selectively according to their will and circumstances. World will end this way. This is not the way to live. In the end we all have to die either “Being nice” or “being not nice”. So why not do something good for others and “BEING JUST NICE”…
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I get your point, however, I think this is black and white thinking. There are degrees of niceness and the key in my view is to mix being nice with being not so nice in the optimal way. So you can take care of your needs, while at the same time respecting the needs of others. This is what assertiveness is all about.
FREAKING AWESOME!!!!! stop please people i was always pleasing people that’s something my mother always say to me is be nice to people and good things will come well fuck that i learn late.
Better late than never I always say 😉
Great post, it sums it up really doesn’t it.
As someone mentioned, its all about taking care of Self. Learning to say No! is good too. Its amazing how people looked shocked when you say No the first time, when before you would have said yes! It becomes easier the more times you say it and the reduction in personal stress is I think, relative.
The more you say No, the less stress you feel being in situations where you feel obliged to be because you’re a ‘nice’ person, but don’t want to be because you’re not being true to yourself. And so, the less stress you feel, the more you’re able to do things that ‘feed’ you and the happier you are. You are then able to say Yes! to things that YOU WANT to do because it pleases you.
I like your point. I think that being inauthentic is not only stressful, but also one huge energy consumer. Sometimes we just need to let go and be who we are, whether the other person will like it or not.
Hello Arvind ,
I’m very happy to read your article about this issue of being a nice person.
how can I reconcile on not being too nice with the law of karma that says that in order to get more in Life you have to give away more (even in free & without expectations) .
is there a middle way or is it just or white or black ??! Thanks Ahead 🙂
Rayek, it’s okay to give to others but not if it’s to your own detriment!
You have to be “selfish” – only if you are looking after yourself first can you then help others:-)
I think there is a very big gray area in between, and personally, that’s what I aim for.
I guess it’s what you could call assertive behavior: you take care of your needs, but without ignoring the needs of others. You’re honest and transparent in communication, but as much as you can, tactful as well.
People always say the prefer people who are upfront but most are lying.
People who are always nice fear the consequences of saying no and there are consequences but it’s worth it.
Yes, I think so too. Extreme niceness is based on the fear of taking risks and upsetting others. And it does have a major cost in the end.