"Being nice is a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with giving people the benefit of the doubt or caring about the happiness of others. In fact, being considerate and respectful of others is a major tenet of many religions and philosophies, it helps to nurture healthy relationships, and it even helps society at large flourish.
But sometimes I have the tendency to become “too nice.” Rather than being kind and considerate, I start to veer off into using niceness as an excuse to avoid conflict and confrontation.
I admit it. I am a “nice-aholic.”
What is a nice-aholic?
A nice-aholic is someone who is “too nice.” They are people who have a bad habit of not saying what they really think.
I’m not talking about letting a little white lie slip in order to avoid an awkward conversation with an acquaintance—nice-aholics like me have the tendency not to want to engage in conflict with people close to themselves.
Instead, they are “nice.” They say yes when they really want to say no, they don’t tell people when they are disappointed, or they don’t hold people accountable for what they should be doing.
Why Being a Nice-Aholic Isn’t So Nice After All
On the face of things, it may not seem like being “too nice” is all that big of an issue. But over time in my own life I learned that it was actually a big deal—and something I needed to change about myself.
So what’s so bad about being a nice-aholic?
For one, being nice when you are unhappy, disappointed, or need to express what you need is a form of lying. And yet this is exactly what I and so many others do.
Second, it’s actually also a form of manipulation—trying to manage someone else’s response to your words or behavior, rather than simply saying it like it is and dealing maturely with the fallout.
And because being a nice-aholic is really centered on lies and manipulation (ouch!), it is guaranteed to cause trouble for ourselves and for those in our lives.
In my own life, it makes me unhappy, angry, and irritated, and the stress it causes me makes me feel tired and icky. And it creates more messiness in my life—because it always backfires.
Here’s how it might go for me: I tell someone on my team to do something and I might not be clear, or I ask the wrong person to do it, and then what I get back is not what I asked for. Then, rather than saying, “This is a good start, but I really need it to be like this; please go work on it until it’s right,” I don’t say anything. I am “nice” to them, I mumble under my breath, and I end up doing it myself and “being a hero.” Afterward, I start to resent them, feel frustrated, and complain about them to others.
This is a recipe for creating a big mess and undermining what I really want, and it doesn’t give people a chance to grow by working through a problem or being challenged with the consequences of them not being right for the job. (And as hard as those things are, they are often the most necessary things we need to grow.)
So why do I act this way, when I know it’s not going to get me what I want or help others in the long run?
The Root Causes of Being “Too Nice”
For me, it’s all about fear. I fear confrontation and conflict, and I believe the lie that having a tough conversation is going to be much worse than it actually is. For others, being a nice-aholic can stem from poor self-esteem. They might believe that they aren’t as important as other people, or that their needs matter less than other people’s needs.
If you’re a nice-aholic like I am, I want you to know that you can do something about it. You don’t have to be “too nice” forever; there are things you can do to change for the better.
How to Stop Being a Nice-Aholic
The concept that we most need to internalize to change this aspect of ourselves is “balancing grace and wisdom.”
What do I mean by “grace?” Grace means communicating in a way so that others will listen and hear what you have to say.
For me, it meant doing the mental, physical, and emotional preparation for the conversation so I could calmly say what I was experiencing without blaming the other person or exaggerating what had happened.
It also meant being open to the fact that I may not understand everything about the other person’s perspective and that I must ask for their perspective, and then listen to what they have to say.
What I mean by “wisdom” is that you have to say the whole truth of what you think.
This was really hard for me because I was afraid of either hurting someone or afraid they would be upset with me. I was used to pussy-footing around things. So, saying it all straight to a person’s face took some practice.
I also learned some basic steps to follow when I need to have a difficult conversation that I want to share with you so that you, too, can practice this necessary skill.
Get permission. This is part of grace. You have to ask the person if it’s a good time and give them the freedom to choose if and when they want to talk with you.
Explain the situation and your goal. This is also part of grace and involves setting up why you want to have the conversation and what you hope to achieve by talking with the other person.
Apologize for your role. Another way to truly put your listener at ease is to own your part in the conflict up front. It’s disarming and helps make the other person feel like you aren’t simply pointing fingers.
Describe your concerns. Here is where the wisdom part kicks in! When you start with grace the other person wants to listen to your perspective. And be sure to use “I” language. When you bring up an issue with someone, state it using
phrases like: “This is what it seemed like to me,” “In my experience,” or even “I could be wrong, but what I remember happened was…”
Ask for their perspective and listen. Here grace comes back in again. Maybe you are misremembering or you don’t understand why they did what they did. You can just directly ask, “How do you remember it?” or, “What am I not understanding?”
Decide on promises for the future. A lot of people get so relieved simply to have said what’s on their minds that they forget the power of structure and accountability. The people in the conversation have to ask themselves, “How are we going to prevent this from happening again?” and then agree to certain commitments going forward.
Most of all, remember that the fear of confrontation is almost always worse than the actual confrontation. As psychologist Susan Newman says, “The fallout is never as bad as you think it is.”
Having an honest discussion, especially with someone you love, may be uncomfortable, but they won’t think you’re a bad person. In fact, when done well, both you and the other person can develop a more authentic and profound relationship.
It’s simple, but not always easy. It takes practice, but it does work. If you struggle with being a nice-aholic, I encourage you to lean into the strategy I’ve laid out in this newsletter, for your own well-being and the well-being of the people around you. I promise it will be worth it." (Dr. Mark Hyman)