Nice is nice. Nice people treat others well, they listen, they make others feel good. Nice gives warm smiles, and says please and thank you, it laughs at ‘Dad’ jokes even when they are not funny. Nice people make others feel good. But I reckon kind is better.
I love Dr Maria Sirota’s take on the difference between nice and kind. Dr Sirota says; ‘At the root of extreme niceness, however, are feelings of inadequacy and the need to get approval and validation from others. Overly-nice people try to please so that they can feel good about themselves’. Ooh that’s good. ‘Genuinely kind people are giving because it’s in their nature to care, and since they have no ulterior motives, they aren’t concerned with whether or not other people like them’. Can you see the distinction? At its core it’s whether you are serving others or yourself.
Being kind is an intent and let’s face it we can always recall some people in our world that struggle even to nail this intent. I think about this a lot. There is a problem with only aiming for nice. It doesn’t grow people. It doesn’t shift things. It keeps the status quo. You can’t disrupt products or markets in a status quo or can you do the same with people.
You may have seen or are aware of diagnostic tools to measure the culture of an organisation. One I like is Human Synergistics ‘OCI®’ (Organizational Culture Inventory®). This tool allows organisations to understand what type of culture they have and more deeply, the behaviours and performance of people.
The results are plotted on a circumplex. In its most simple explanation the data is split into three categories:
- Aggressive/Defensive: These cultures are highly competitive – with each other. They remain in silos, hold back information, do not value collaboration. This leads to mixed performance and volatility.
- Passive/Defensive: These cultures are nice. Nice is good but it’s often ineffective in pushing things forward. People are not comfortable with challenging the status quo, and innovation and creativity do not occur. People are not comfortable taking risks or being vulnerable.
- Constructive: These cultures get things done. They deal with conflict in a healthy way. They hold each other to account and push ideas and strategies forward, which leads to effectiveness and sustainability.
While we need a combination of all of these styles for an organisation and its people to perform at their best, we mostly need bulk of the ‘Constructive’ style of leading and dealing with each other. This style can push through the awkwardness of tough situations and conversations and deal with things as they arise. This is where we are at our most productive, highly engaged and profitable or successful.
A study conducted by leadership training company Vital Smarts tells us that we tend to shy away from constructive conversations:
- 72% do not speak up when a colleague is not pulling their weight
- 68% do not speak up when disrespect exists
- 57% do not speak up when colleagues do not comply with processes
Are we really being ‘kind’ when we say nothing? How will people and teams grow if people keep choosing nice over discomfort?
I often talk about; People hear your content but they smell your intent. It’s kinda like the saying ‘people remember not the words but how you made them feel’. How you walk into conversations matters. Your intent is your conscious and sub-conscious purpose. Your content is a combination of your facts and examples (which very few of us have) and opinions and feelings (which we have truckloads but often fail to show people why we think the way we do). We need both, and both to be coming from a good place.
Why don’t you self-select where you think you are on in your communication style based on the following;
At its’ worst we can have ‘Damaging’ conversations. Here we are all about what we need to get off our chest. Typically we know we are right (poor intent) and the information we bring is vague and mostly opinions based (content). We might share a bit of ‘fake news’ no matter what the impact. Let’s call this trying to trump someone. This style is selfish because it’s mostly about what you need to say or receive from the outcome. It’s a one- way situation.
We could be a little ‘Confusing’ in our style. Where we are kind and coming from a lovely place but we are too scared or underprepared and our content is fluffy and not direct enough. Again there are opinions without solid examples for people to hold on to. We are all care and little content. It’s nice but you are hoping that the other person can find the meaning in what we are saying. Yet they often walk away confused or none the wiser. Phoebe from ‘Friends’ is a legend at this.
Some are ‘Careless’ with our words. We are candid and clear with our examples and facts and it makes sense why we have opinions about the issue. But… we do not think about how we are coming across and our intent is still quite selfish. It’s all words and no care. Very matter of fact and can be abrasive for others. Think Sheldon from Big Bang Theory.
The ideal place is where we are ‘Deliberate’. Where our intent is kind and yes… nice. And our content is candid and direct. It’s where people are very clear on what you are saying and they can smell you are coming from a good place. I think someone who has difficult conversations with grace and class is Julia Bishop or Jacinda Arden (NZ’s Prime Minister). Do you ever see these women coming across poorly or being unclear? Remarkable for politicians too?! Deliberate conversations do not shy away from being candid but they do it in a kind way.
So nice is good but it’s not enough. In fact, if you want to honour someone give them clear information that helps them grow and improve, and do it in a way that your intent is coming from a good place.
We need people who are courageous and able to step up and become practiced at having deliberate and respectful conversations, in a way that builds trust and respect, not damages it. These are constructive and highly effective cultures and these are the people we want to lead us.