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Stop Being So Nice, It’s Making People Nauseous!


Stop being so nice all the time.  It makes people want to puke; enough already!  Like eating too much candy at one time, it just doesn’t sit well on the stomach.  There is a difference in being nice and being kind.  Clear is kind. Accountability is kind.  Consistency is kind.  Discipline is kind.  Too many people confuse niceness with kindness.  There is a vast difference between being kind to someone and the fakeness of being nice all the time.

Being nice is usually accompanied by passive aggressive tendencies.  Sometimes we need the truth; straight up – no chaser.  No pretext or convenient nicety added.  Nice doesn’t mean you care about someone.  Nice feels lukewarm and tepid.  Nice is bland and tastes flavorless.  She is so nice. Yuk!

Dictionary dot com defines nice and kind as synonymous.  I completely disagree.  Being kind to someone can be very difficult; an inconvenient truth that must be shared with someone you care about. Honesty about someone’s job performance is kind.  When we treat these words as synonymous, we are unkind.  Unclear is unkind.

Kind saves lives.  Nice gets people killed.  On the evening of January 27, 1967, a fire consumed the Apollo 1 capsule while sitting on the launch pad.  Tragically, three astronauts died as they burned alive.  Three days later, Flight Director, Gene Kranz spoke these words to the members of mission control.

“Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work.

“Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, ‘Dammit, stop!’ I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did.

“From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent.’ Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect.

“When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

Too much niceness indicates our own fear of being disliked.  That’s right, the latent need we share as humans to be accepted socially.  Heck, people are even nice to people they dislike.  Bless his heart.  The disingenuous nature of humanity is frankly appalling.  Get bad service at a restaurant; give them a tip anyway.  Just be nice.  It reeks of politicians who say one thing to our face and do the opposite later.  Nice feels like the slick, used-car salesperson (there are good used-car salespeople) who is so nice yet the transmission fails leaving the lot.

The truth is kind.  Honesty is kind.  Being tough and competent is kind.  Niceness costs business millions (billions) of dollars each year by not holding people accountable for poor (or worse mediocre) job performance.  I am talking to you.  Someone reading this is currently paying a long-tenured, poor-performer; just to be nice.  How kind are you to his co-workers? They have tolerated “extra work” burden for years because you are being so freakin nice.  You have made every excuse to be nice while being unkind to others on your team.  How long will this continue?

As leaders, we must overcome the instinct to be nice.  We must seek kindness.  Strong and kind can coexist.  Discipline and kindness can coexist.  Nice threatens trust.  Kindness builds trust.  Difficult conversations are kind.  Mitigated conversations are nice.  Get it?  When we walk around the truth (to be nice) we are unkind to people who need us as the leader.

Niceness begins at an early age when we tell children they are better at something than they really are in order to avoid hurting their feelings.  Niceness means everyone is a winner and everyone gets a trophy.  Encouraging someone to think they are better than they actually are is unkind.  Giving someone a diploma they did not earn is unkind.  Niceness is an excuse to avoid the truth.  It is the opposite of kindness.

Taking total ownership as a leader is a commitment to being kind; not nice.  People need the truth in life no matter how difficult the conversation.  Avoiding the tough conversation perpetuates a false narrative and it is patently unkind.  Surrounding yourself with nice people is also a problem.  They will be nice to gain your favor (or another benefit) while withholding the truth you need to make the best decision as a leader.

Lastly, we must be kind to ourselves.  The Hans Christian Andersen story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, is a story about self-deception and conformity.  Here is a link if you have not read it or need a refresh…  This story has great lessons for kindness.  “When each character within the story is confronted with the invisible suit, they are also confronted with a complex moral dilemma. Should they tell the truth (not being able to see the suit) and accept their own supposed inadequacy, or lie and save themselves from social ridicule? This dilemma combines multiple philosophically interesting issues.”

Be kind to others and be kind to yourself.  The world is confusing enough without the added burden of people being so nice.  The truth can be delivered with kindness.  Honesty about the tough stuff is kindness.  Love is kind.  Strength is amplified by reality; not the fragility of ambiguity.  Be strong and kind…you got this!