Are you too nice for your own good?

| June 29, 2015
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Stuck moment: You know, he never even said “thank you.” I didn’t have to drop that off at his house for him. And this is like the third time I’ve done it this month. He’s being such a jerk, but I’m the one who ends up paying for it by being late for work.

* * *

The other day we heard something ring true on television, and it got us thinking. In the latest season of Orange Is the New Black (spoiler alert), we learn that assistant warden Caputo gave up his dream of being a musician to parent the child of another man. So he’s furious when the mother of the child decides to leave him. But here’s what she says:

“You can’t spend your whole life holding the door open for people and then being angry when they don’t thank you. Nobody asked you to hold the ****ing door!”

It’s a fair point.

We like nice people, and we like to be liked, so we do nice things. When all goes right, it makes us feel accepted, valued, confident. But when we rely on being liked to feel good about ourselves, it can go very wrong. We prioritize other people’s wants, likes, and feelings over our own — and then feel like we’re left holding the short end of the stick. But it can’t possibly be our fault. We’re just trying to be nice, right?

ARE YOU TOO NICE FOR YOUR OWN GOOD?
Consider these six well-intended behaviors. When any of them become a hardcore habit — because we believe the opposite of nice is mean and we don’t want to be that — we begin to diminish ourselves. But not being so nice might be the most thoughtful thing we could do for everyone involved.

1. We don’t tell the truth, at least not exactly.
We’re really bad at breaking bad news. What if it hurts the other person’s feelings? Just the idea of a confrontation makes us squirm in our seats, so we pinch and twist the truth to make it feel nicer. We omit the awkward negative stuff, use vague language, or talk in circles, leaving things open to misinterpretation.

Hard truth: Knowing the full reality of a situation and presenting it differently is dishonest. And it does the other person a disservice.
Friendly reminder: A half-truth is half as nice as a whole truth. Giving the straight story, as directly and kindly as you can, is the more considerate act.
Try this: Believe in bounce-back-ability
Bonus: How to stop being a reluctant confronter

2. We never say no.
We care about being nice because we’re actually nice people. And nice people are generally agreeable people. Sometimes this all gets mushed together in our heads, and it only feels like we’re being nice if we express agreement. Now we’re stuck in a loop. Even when we want to say no, we somehow end up saying yes.

Hard truth: Not being able to say no puts us in a position of submission. It becomes a weakness and a disadvantage.
Friendly reminder: Just because someone’s disappointed by your answer doesn’t mean they’ll stop liking you.
Try this: Believe in bounce-back-ability

3. We act the way we think people want us to.
When we’re focused on meeting other people’s expectations, we leave ours behind. We hold back our ideas. We go along to get along. And we end up doing things we don’t really want to do. 

Hard truth: Agreeing all the time leads people to think one of two things: (a) we’re being fake and hiding how we really feel or (b) we don’t have much of a personality or an opinion.
Friendly reminder: It’s just as important to be respected as it is to be liked. And it takes less effort to follow our own priorities than it does to fit into someone else’s agenda.
Try this: Play to your own strengths

4. We put other people first.
Which means we put ourselves last. We feel guilty if we don’t take care of others’ needs. And that doesn’t leave much time leftover for ourselves.

Hard truth: No one should care about us more than we do, and no one will.
Friendly reminder: It’s not selfish to value your time. You actually offer more to others when you’ve taken good care of yourself.
Try this: Play to your own strengths

5. We let toxic people into our lives.
Because we never push back, we attract the company of people who are difficult to tolerate. Demanding people who care mainly about themselves and what we can do for them. This puts us in a very small corner.

Hard truth: People can and will take advantage of us if we’re always giving in.
Friendly reminder: Relationships should build you up, not wear you down. Setting boundaries in your life will quickly reveal where people stand.
Try this: Reset expectations
Bonus: How to defuse a drama queen

6. We expect everyone will be as nice as we are.
We go the extra mile, and we assume others will too — but that doesn’t always happen. Not only that, sometimes we go out of our way to help someone and they barely acknowledge it. It’s a breeding ground for resentment.

Hard truth: Being taken for granted is sometimes our own doing.
Friendly reminder: If you’re going to give, give without expectation. If you expect something in return, it’s on you to let people know.
Try this: Reset expectations

3 MINI-CHALLENGES TO BREAK THE TOO-NICE HABIT

Believe in bounce-back-ability

People sometimes react badly, it’s true. People also bounce back. So give them the benefit of the doubt. Instead of imagining the worst that could happen, ask yourself: What’s the best that could happen if I did say “no” or told the whole truth? Play it out in your head, complete with details and dialogue. Imagine the positive outcomes: Friends know they can count on you to tell it like it is (gently but firmly). You don’t have to fret about being honest or hold onto secrets. The situation becomes simpler. Once you’ve fleshed out the scenario and what you’ll say, give it a whirl in real life — and be ready to play it by ear.

Play to your own strengths

Pick one of your favorite things about yourself — and don’t shy away from the lovably weird stuff that sets you apart. Now make a commitment to keep that endearing trait in focus. Let it shine through when hanging out with people. For instance, if it’s a kooky sense of humor, tell a joke and make some memes. Maybe develop your talent to a high art. Your friends will appreciate the unedited you.

Reset expectations

Wipe the slate clean and assert yourself. Rather than assuming you’ll receive something in return for your niceness, get clear on what it is you expect. Write it down. “Because I do [nice act here] I expect [name here] to do [nice act here].” Then, when the next opportunity arises, you can state your expectation clearly and without apology. Be prepared for surprise, disagreement, even argument. Stand strong. It’s what you truly believe. Down the line, if nothing changes for the better, it’s probably time to distance yourself. Don’t worry about losing a friend. You’re a nice person, and you’ll make plenty more.

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