The Lies of People Pleasing: How to Turn Nice into Kind

Mar 19, 2024

Consider the following scenario:

Alyssa has a meeting with her team today. Her boss will review last year’s budget including profits and expenses and they will discuss how their business model is working. Alyssa has been considering their business model for the past few months, and she has a brilliant idea to increase efficiency and revenue. She’s confident that her idea will fix almost all of the issues that wasted company money last year. 

She gets to the meeting and respectfully listens to her boss’s presentation. Then the conversation opens up and Alyssa chimes in. She begins to relay all of the research that she has done and explain her ideas. David, a member of her team chimes in and gives a counter suggestion that she has already thoroughly evaluated. She begins to demonstrate why his suggestion just would not work as well, and he cuts back in with more arguments. As David continues to convince the team to consider his idea, Alyssa gets quiet. She is too afraid to cut back into the conversation and fight for her ideas because she doesn’t want to seem dismissive of David’s thoughts. She doesn’t want her team to think she is rude or bossy. So she trails off and the team decides to pursue David’s proposal.

Dr. Robert A. Glover in his book “No More Mr. Nice Guy” shares the damaging effects of being “Nice.”. While he mostly targets men, its principles apply to everyone who struggles with people pleasing. Dr. Glover wrote the book to help people “who have been conditioned to seek the approval of others” learn how to communicate their true thoughts and feelings. He describes “Nice Guy/Girl Syndrome” as “trying too hard to please others while neglecting one's own needs, thus causing unhappiness and resentfulness.” 

Mothers and Fathers endlessly sacrificing their time and energy for their family and not getting any recognition or support back may start to resent the loved ones they are giving so much for. Close friends may fall out of touch because one of them is always asking for favors and the other starts to feel taken advantage of because they can’t say no. People pleasing affects all areas of life.

“Nice guys/girls” are very often overlooked in the workplace because their peers and bosses see them as “Yes Men”. These “Nice” people seem to lack initiative, originality, and the ability to resolve conflict. Our friend Alyssa has plenty of initiative and originality, but people-pleasing kept her from speaking up because she was scared of the perception and potential conflict.

As kids, we learn how important it is to be nice. We learn to keep our mouths shut when we don’t have anything nice to say because “we shouldn’t hurt other people’s feelings”. So when bosses demand we come into work during a vacation, or our partner bails on dinner plans again because they are too tired, or friends overstep boundaries and pry into parts of our lives that we didn’t want them to know, we stay quiet about our true needs and tell them “Sure! I don’t mind”, “That’s okay, honey”, and “No worries”. Our brains are conditioned to be nice, which means never stepping on anyone else’s toes.

Here are the myths we learn when we are taught to be nice:

  • I am responsible for other people’s emotions, actions, and responses.
  • Other people are responsible for my emotions too.
  • Other people will only like me if I agree with them or act the same as them.
  • My needs are not as important as the needs of the people around me.

The truths we are missing are: 

  • I am responsible for my own actions and emotions and that is it.
  • Voicing needs and differences of opinion is not being rude.
  • Close relationships are not built from blindly agreeing.
  • The word “No” can be kind.
  • I can still be likable and have a different opinion. 
  • I am just as deserving of time, love, and attention as anyone else. 

The myths of being nice have been hardwired into our habits and thoughts, but we can transform them into truths with kindness. Kindness is what niceness wishes it was. Kindness is compassionate, honest, direct, and boundaried at the same time. When we are kind we are generous to the people around us—we are caring and thoughtful towards them—and we are also generous to ourselves—we are thoughtful of our own needs. 

Remember that being nice is not  the same as being kind, and while kindness is genuine, honest, and real, it is not bossy, rude, or dismissive. Your ideas, needs, and feelings are important. It's time to be kind. 


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