I’m often told I’m a ‘nice’ person. In fact, lots of people call me Lovely Lisa. I think I’m called that because I go out of my way to make people feel comfortable around me and I also like to avoid unnecessary conflict. I’m not sure why I’ve turned out to be ‘nice’. Maybe it’s a product of my upbringing; I was always taught to treat people gently and with respect. Empathy is a strong emotion for me.
I’ve also been told I am a brave person. Not brave as in “hey, let’s go abseiling” brave; anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows I’m not that kind of brave. But rather I’m told I’m brave for the way I wear my heart of my sleeve. In my work I’m not afraid to take risks and openly share my opinions with whoever needs to listen – from frontline staff to CEOs. With my writing I’ve never been afraid to say what’s really on my mind, which at times has thrown me in the deep end, swimming against the tide of popular opinion.
So I guess this makes me a nice person who is also brave.
However, a few nights ago I came across a conversation on Twitter suggesting that people like me do not exist. That nice people cannot be brave people, and quite frankly it gave me the shits. Well, a nice person’s version of the shits. Which is pretty bog standard really (pardon the pun). Nice people do get cranky, especially when their integrity is questioned.
Now firstly I have to admit that I’m not sure what initially triggered the conversation, but it led to a debate (between some tweeps I highly respect) about the virtues, or lack there of, of being a nice person. Some argued that nice people are cowardly and unable to deliver uncomfortable truths. That nice people want only to please other people and say whatever it takes to make life easier for them. I felt confused. I have never considered myself this way, or the other ‘nice’ people in my life.
I do not think that being dishonest to a person for the sake of making them feel good constitutes being nice. In fact I would argue you are being anything but nice if you do this. Isn’t this what the term ‘two-faced’ is used for? In my books, this is definitely confusing the true definition of being nice.
Nice people can be brave and they certainly can make a difference. During differences of opinions, the civilities usually associated with being nice (politeness, consideration etc) allow for a less rigid discussion with more room for persuasion. If I am too blunt or don’t take steps to make my opponent feel comfortable or on an equal footing with me, I am more likely to get their back up and the discussion risks spiraling into a rigid conflict, ultimately shutting down. As I said at the top of this post, I don’t like conflict. Not only does it unnerve me, it’s also entirely counterproductive.
And I challenge that maybe nice people are actually more adept at delivering ‘uncomfortable truths’. They take the time to consider how a person may receive their uncomfortable truth, and deliver it in a way they can digest and ultimately accept it. This is much more effective and less damaging than slapping a person in the face with a harsh message. A person’s willingness to accept often comes down to the way a message is delivered.
So yes, I’m a little sick of us nice people being run down. And I see it all over the place – from the office to social gatherings on the weekend.
And as I watch the kids poke and tease each other in my children’s school playground, to the teacher’s cries of ‘play nicely’, I wonder if any of us actually know how we should define that for them?
What do you think? Is being ‘nice’ a weakness or strength?