Kindness connects to who you are, while niceness connects to how you want to be seen. -David Levithan
I was in my late 40s when I became single again after a turbulent relationship I’d expected to last a lifetime. Because we’d moved to the city I was living in less three years before, I hadn’t made many close friends and often felt very alone. As an older woman in the singles scene, I lacked confidence and felt unattractive, until I met a man who interested me.
We quickly became good friends and as time went on, I began to hope our friendship would develop into something more. But as the weeks and months slid by and nothing changed, I started to believe something must be wrong with me, after all, we got on well together. Instead of accepting our friendship for what it was and being thankful I had a good friend, I began trying to make myself more attractive to him.
I started trying to fit in with him with him more and more, even when it was inconvenient to me. He had a demanding job and also taught at a community college in the evenings and weekends. So I’d often go to his place after work and feed his dog and walk her when he was working late.
We had different views on a lot of things, but instead of disagreeing with him when he came out with something I considered outrageous, I’d keep quiet. I like to be kind to others, but I started becoming self-sacrificing hoping he’d see how much he needed me.
I went from being kind to being nice in order to get what I wanted – which was a different kind of relationship.
So, what’s the difference between kindness and niceness?
Kindness takes place when we do something for another person because we care about them and genuinely want their best. Kindness doesn’t expect anything in return. We can show kindness with a genuine smile, giving of our time, helping someone or genuinely listening to the other person. Kindness focuses on contributing to the good of the other person and is rooted in love, compassion and empathy. Kindness is generous and has no strings attached.
Niceness takes place when we do something for another person in the expectation that we’ll get something back in return. Niceness focuses on you and the paybacks you are looking for. Niceness can look exactly the same as kindness from the outside, but the motivation is different. Niceness is self-centred and definitely has strings attached.
If kindness is a gift, niceness is a transaction.
We are trained to be nice because niceness keeps the world functioning and smooths our interactions with others. I’m nice when I grit my teeth, keep my lips zipped and pin a smile on my face rather than say what I truly think in order to keep the peace. We describe someone as nice when they don’t offend us.
Niceness is superficial. We ask the supermarket checkout cashier how her day is going without expecting more than the standard response of ‘Fine thanks and how about you?’ Being nice is expected in every community and is not something you should aspire to be.
At work, we all play the niceness game. I go the extra mile hoping for a promotion or I network and build connections at conferences hoping I can draw on these in the future. I help you now with your project but I definitely expect you to help me out when I’m struggling with my deadlines. Everyone knows what’s expected and how the game plays out.
Of course, niceness and kindness are almost always intertwined. We like to help others, but we also want to fit in and want them to like us.
Our motives rarely lie at one extreme or the other but if you feel you are selling yourself short to be liked and accepted, chances are that you’re being nice. Ask yourself whether you’d still be doing/behaving as you are if you 100% knew you’d get nothing in return. If the answer is no, you are at the niceness end of the spectrum.
I find myself slipping into niceness when I feel afraid, alone or lacking confidence. I want to belong and because I want other people to like me and have a good opinion of me, I hide my beliefs, values and my true self behind an avalanche of niceness.
The trouble with being nice is that we end up denying our own true needs, feelings and beliefs in order to impress or not offend others.
It’s easy to devalue yourself and when you do that, you begin to feel frustrated, resentful and angry at yourself and at others. Kindness and niceness might look the same from the outside, but they leave you feeling completely different on the inside.
A year ago I self-published my first book and launched a blog. I’m now working hard to build up an online following. I’ve discovered the number one thing you need to be successful is a mailing list so you can directly interact with your tribe. Makes sense, but I struggle with the accepted advice for generating a mailing list which is to offer your readers something of value in return for an email address! Which seems exactly like niceness to me!
Don’t get me wrong – I understand the importance of email addresses and I know how this is how the system works but it raises the question:
How can I keep my interactions with readers from degenerating into self-serving niceness?
I’ve come up with three things that will help me keep kindness at the center of my business and social media activity:
1. Be Honest
Don’t sell yourself short by compromising your message or trying to copy what others are saying. Say what you believe even when you know some people are going to disagree with you. Worry less about how your work is received and more about ensuring everything you say and do is laced through with honesty from beginning to end. Be yourself and trust that what you have to say is important and can change lives, even if your message is different from the messages of others.
2. Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
When I scroll through the many wonderful blogs online, I feel small and inadequate. I start questioning the value of what I’m doing and the work I’m putting out there. Comparing yourself to others in your niche will seduce you into focusing on the numbers rather than on your message. There will always be someone who has more followers than you. Forget about them and focus on making sure you are always providing value to the members of your tribe.
3. Remember Your Why
It’s easy to confuse the end with the means. Building an email list is critically important if I want to get my message out there, but it’s not what gets me up each morning. If readers give me their email address, that’s a bonus, but it’s not my ‘why’. My end goal is to help other people understand what makes them unique and amazing. I want them to grow in confidence and trust their own judgement. I want them to find the way they can best make a difference in the world. I have to keep focused on my why and trust that the means to achieve my ‘why’ will fall into place.
Transactions are part of life, you cannot escape them. But you can work hard to ensure that kindness is the motivation that lies beneath your transactions. It took me a long time to recognize the slippery path I’d stepped onto when niceness became my modus operandi in that friendship a few years ago.
Because we live in a world dominated by niceness, I have to consciously choose every day to put kindness at the center of all I do. Sometimes I get it right but more often than not, I still find myself looking for the payback. Being nice isn’t something we grow out of. We have to learn how to recognize when we are being nice and choose to be kind instead.
Do you struggle with being overly nice to others – just to fit in? If so, after reading this article what will you do differently?
Writer with a Passion for Helping People
Glenda Spackman is a writer with a passion for helping people understand what makes them unique and amazing, and helping them create meaningful lives.
Glenda went to University in her late 30’s and has a PhD in management. She’s had several careers including Policy Adviser for the New Zealand Government, English Teacher, University Lecturer and x-ray technician.
Glenda has lived in six countries including Russia, Turkey and Japan and learned to ride a motorbike in her late 50’s. Glenda has three daughters and six grandchildren.
You can connect with Glenda by visiting her website.