A lot of people are attached to the idea of being “nice.” It’s not so easy for these individuals to let go of their need to be nice, or to appreciate how different it is from being kind.
This distinction is important, however, because these two ways of being lead to very different outcomes in one’s personal and professional life.
It will be easier to understand the difference between “nice” and “kind” if we focus on the opposing motivations behind each way of being.
The nice person is externally motivated. He’s driven by the need for other people’s approval and validation; he craves acceptance and is fearful of rejection.
The kind person is internally motivated. She has good self-esteem and isn’t looking for approval. She’s less concerned about what others might think of her and more interested in doing the right thing. Her compassion comes from an overflowing of her positive self-regard and not from the need to please.
The kind person respects herself as much as she respects others. She’s naturally helpful and generous, except when doing so might cause her harm. She lives in a state of balance, being as kind to herself as she is to others. She makes a positive contribution to her family, company and community, but never at her own expense.
The nice person is out of balance in his quest for external validation. Thinking that this is how he’ll find what he wants, he puts the needs of others ahead of his own needs. He keeps trying to please until he becomes exhausted and aggravated.
The nice person avoids confrontation for fear of upsetting anyone. He has trouble saying “No,” and rarely asks directly for what he wants. Fearing rejection, he can’t express any angry feelings that arise.
The kind person, on the other hand, isn’t afraid of confrontation. She’s able to speak her mind clearly, directly and respectfully, so people know where she stands but aren’t likely to take offense.
If someone gets angry at her because she’s asserted herself or rejects her because she’s setting a limit, she doesn’t take it personally.
The nice person can’t be authentic, because he’s too preoccupied with being a pleaser. The longer he continues to be “nice,” however, the more alienated he becomes from himself and others. He can lose touch with his true needs, feelings and opinions, and his relationships lack intimacy or fulfillment.
Even if he does win some degree of approval, the nice person knows, deep down, that the other person doesn’t see or accept him for who he really is. He can never make a real connection.
The kind person is genuine and sincere. She doesn’t need to pretend to be anyone else. If someone dislikes her or disapproves of her, she doesn’t feel diminished in any way.
The kind person welcomes constructive criticism. Her good self-regard motivates her to constantly be learning and evolving. Her ability to accept feedback means that her performance at work is always improving, and that she’s able to grow as a friend and a spouse.
The nice person is uncomfortable with feedback. His low self-esteem makes external criticism feel particularly hurtful. He has a harder time taking in valuable information about how he might improve his performance at work or how he could be a better spouse or friend.
The kind person sets good limits with others, and because she doesn’t allow herself to be mistreated, she’s cheerful, easy-going and approachable. She trusts herself to take care of herself in her personal and professional relationships, so she feels at ease with other people and her heart is open.
The nice person can’t set good limits. In his attempt to gain approval and avoid rejection, he allows people to exploit and mistreat him. This makes him angry, bitter, and cynical toward others.
The nice person’s attempts to please often result in his feeling hurt. His mistrust toward others grows, as does his shame for putting up with disrespect. His heart becomes closed, so while his behaviour is outwardly “nice,” he actually feels disappointed and resentful.
The truth is that people admire the kind person and look down on the nice person. We look up to those who have confidence and good self-esteem and tend to dismiss as “weak,” or “needy,” those who appear to be trying too hard to please.
When things don’t go the way he’d hoped, the nice person doesn’t know what to do with his growing anger. He might stuff down his resentment with alcohol, drugs or food, or it could leak out as passive-aggressive behaviour. Sometimes he’ll have an angry outburst, which embarrasses him so much that he represses his anger even more.
So, while the kind person can be relaxed and loving, authentic and meaningfully connected to others, the nice person is often anxious, angry, alienated and isolated; possibly even suffering from an addiction.
The solution for the nice person is simple: he must stop looking outside himself for love and approval.
Once he takes responsibility for his own self-worth, he’ll start working on developing his own positive self-regard. When he begins to love and accept himself, he’ll be able to let go of needing to please, and he’ll notice that interestingly, others are responding to him better.
A positive spiral is created, whereby he’s in charge of his self-worth, he’s treated with more respect, his anger diminishes, his feelings of trust and connection with others increase and his self-esteem improves even more.
Eventually, without even thinking about it, he’ll shift from being nice to being kind.
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