meaningofstrife

Seeing the best in life's challenges

No More Mr. Nice Guy

on October 6, 2014

There’s that old saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It always seemed like a very good saying to me, but lately I’m not so sure.

We think of saying something that is “not nice” as being mean. And that might be the case. If a person is judging another, and they express that judgment, they would come up with some statement with the intent to put the other person down, criticize them, set them straight, prove them wrong, well, you get the idea. We are all familiar with these kinds of words.

But is the saying telling us that any kind of disagreement shouldn’t be expressed? Is it “not nice” to tell someone something they don’t want to hear?

Lately I’ve been observing people who only tell others what they want to hear (or what they think the other person wants to hear). And I’ve noticed people who get very upset when you give them honest feedback about something, that they don’t want to hear.

Many people would rather be “nice” than honest.

I think the saying needs some clarification:

If you can’t say something with kindness and without judgment, don’t say anything at all.

The presence or absence of judgment makes all the difference here. You have to work to minimize or eliminate judgment to have the kind of honest, safe, helpful communication that, to me, is the goal.

When your priority is to be “nice” and that includes avoiding disagreement and conflict, what you get is fake communication and pretend relationships.

It’s no big deal when you are interacting with people on a superficial basis – you see someone you don’t know doing something you don’t agree with, but it’s none of your business and it doesn’t affect you…..there is no need to put in your two cents. (Even though lots of people are into doing just that these days.)

But I’m thinking about relationships between people that interact on a regular basis — good friends, family members, or co-workers. If you can’t be honest, then there is no way, in the long term, that your relationships can deepen and develop trust. They will remain superficial. You can’t count on someone who isn’t telling you the truth.

When you are surrounded by others who are very similar to you, there is less conflict or disagreement, and it is very easy to just “get along” and be nice.

But our interactions with others these days are more and more likely to include contact with people who are not “like us” and as a result, more conflicts will occur. This can be seen as an opportunity to develop the communication skills that allow us to be honest and kind at the same time.

Those communication skills go both ways – we not only have to learn how to express honest feedback with kindness, we also have to learn to listen to and accept honest communication.

If you anticipate that an honest comment comes with an underlying judgment, you will get defensive. So you have to learn to pay attention so you can figure out whether the person is really being judgmental or not. Is this comment coming from someone who is judgmental, always telling other people what they should do, and criticizing people? Then it is more likely that the comment is judgmental.  Maybe the person is just being mean, and you should just ignore them.

However, what happens when you get feedback that you don’t like, maybe it stings, you definitely don’t want to hear it……but it comes from someone who you know loves you and wants what’s best for you, and is normally a kind person? At that point, you might try to figure out if something set that person off, or if maybe you should consider that their comment might be worth contemplating.

I live in a family unit of five very different personalities, but I can say that our family culture is very honest. This has been an adjustment for me, since I came from a very “nice” family. So I have spent a lot of time learning to be direct and honest, while still being kind. I’m not saying I have it all figured out and that I always do a good job…..but it’s a process I’ve been consciously working on. And because of that, I observe this issue all around me.

Other parents are amazed when they hear about the level of open communication we have with our kids. We definitely have lots of practice dealing with conflict, but we do it in an honest way, and our kids know that it is safe to speak their minds. There is no question in my mind that this is one of the life lessons I am here to work on. In a way, it feels like I live in a lab experiment! I have learned so much from the souls in my family.

I try hard to see these dynamics without judgment. Instead of thinking that people “should be” one way or another (and people tend to think others “should” be like they are), I see that we are all unique individuals with different personalities, and there is no reason why we can’t learn to interact with others while respecting their approaches.

Those who grew up in a culture of “nice” tend to be the pleasers, the peacemakers, the ones who have a problem saying “no.” If you want to develop an honest relationship with these people, you have to do what you can to convince them that it is safe to be honest. Try to communicate with kindness. But also realize that you can’t change them, they have to change themselves.

You can recognize the pleasers. They always say “yes” even if they are already over-committed and there is no way they can do what they just agreed to do. They anticipate the needs of others, and put those needs before their own.

The “opposite” type person is what I would call a self-advocate. They are clear what they think and what they want, and they don’t hesitate to express any of that. Just because they are direct, doesn’t mean they aren’t open to another view. You have to meet this person where they are, and communicate directly.

Most people aren’t all one or the other. Depending on the situation and who we are with, we might take on different roles. And both approaches are important.

As always, it’s about balance. There are times when we need to set our own needs aside and help and support others. There are also times when we need to set boundaries and say no. There are times when we need to love ourselves enough to advocate for our own needs and focus on ourselves above others.

Are you aware of when you have been dishonest, just to be nice and not disappoint someone? Are you aware of when you have been brutally honest, and didn’t deliver your feedback in a kind way?

Screen shot 2014-10-06 at 10.29.14 AM


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