5 Times Being 'Nice' Is Actually Unkind

There's a difference between being nice and being kind, and when it comes to relationships, the distinction matters a lot.

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Have you always assumed that nice and kind are interchangeable? They mean the same thing, don’t they? Well, not really.

According to Webster’s dictionary, the definition of kind is: “of a sympathetic or helpful nature.”

The definition of nice, also according to Webster’s, is: “pleasing and agreeable.”

So, while the two words seem interchangeable, they are, in fact, very different.

This is because being nice is an expectation in our society. It should be a given that we will be "pleasing and agreeable" in our interactions with people so as to not make them, or ourselves, uncomfortable.


On the other hand, being kind is not so much about making someone feel better. It’s about actually helping someone out, in matters big or small.

So, we might be kind to someone by helping them rake their lawn but we aren’t being nice to them by telling them the lawn looks great when it doesn’t. One is thoughtful — the other can be cruel.

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Brene Brown and the kindness clarification

In her article “Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind,” Brene Brown talks about one of the biggest obstacles to success in the workplace is that people are trying to be nice. They are trying to preserve the happiness and comfort of their co-workers or employees by being nice instead of being honest.

She writes that by "avoiding tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback" we are setting our workers up for failure.

Why? For three reasons:

  • By not telling people the truth, we become less trustworthy.
  • By not telling people the truth, we encourage an increase in unhealthy behaviors, like passive aggression or back stabling.
  • By not telling people the truth, we are actually causing their performance to fall off.

While Brene Brown and her team wrote this article focused on the workplace, I believe that this concept carries over into relationships in a way that can be very destructive.


With almost every single client I tell them, more than anything, to tell the truth. Period. Even if it hurts. By being nice to their partners for the wrong reasons they are actually doing more damage than good.

By being nice, by misleading them, they are actually being cruel.

RELATED: What Kindness Should Really Mean In Today's World

Here are five stories about clients whose attempts to be nice backfired on them

1. The story of nice guy Neal 

Neal is one of my favorite clients (and he is also a good friend). And women love him. It is truly amazing how they just flock to him. And, for some reason, more often than not, he just isn’t interested.


Unfortunately, Neal is a really nice guy and he doesn’t want to tell these girls that he isn’t interested because he is worried that he will hurt them. So, he drags things out, gives them breadcrumbs, makes them feel insecure and unwanted and then he ultimately disappears.

I have tried to explain to him over and over that the nice thing to do is, to be honest with these girls — rip off the Band-Aid. The pain will be intense but it will pass.

But he just can’t do it. In an effort to be nice, he instead drags out the pain of the rejection, leaving these girls broken.

Not nice. Cruel, actually.

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2. The tale of justification Jane

My client Jane is way too nice to her boyfriends. How? She always tells them what they want to hear. She never advocates for what she wants and needs, she just goes along with everything.

She doesn’t want to offend them or stress them out — she believes that by being flexible, by following their lead, she is doing a good thing,

As a result, she spends hours at a time talking to me, frustrated about her boyfriends’ lack of consideration for what she wants and needs.

Furthermore, she believes that they don’t even really know her because, if they did, they would know what she likes and dislikes and she wouldn’t have to tell them.


The reality is that, in her desire to be nice, she hasn’t shared herself with her boyfriends. As a result, she gets resentful and they just don’t understand why.

And usually, sooner or later, they break up and she never sees the connection.

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3. The allegory of Alibi Allie

Allie has been with her boyfriend for almost a year. He is a bit older than her and has a child and she really loves him.

The thing is – he has that child and he owns his own business and he can barely make time for her. He warned her at the beginning that it would be this way and she went into the relationship with an understanding of what it would look like.


And … she hated it. She hated that she never saw her boyfriend. That his work always came first. That he was on Instagram for work but never reached out to her.

She especially hated the cute girl that he worked with.

Did she talk to her boyfriend about this? Nope.

She didn’t want to add one more thing to his plate. So, she held it deep inside and let it fester. And, after a bit of this festering, something happened and she exploded.

He was shocked at her anger and her tears. He thought things were just great and here she was, feeling the way that she felt.

So, they talked about it and he thought things were fine but they never were with Allie. She spent so much time talking to me about her insecurities and never to him. Again, in her eyes, she was being nice.


She is moving in with him this spring. We are both concerned about how her anxiety is going to play out with this change.

If only she had been honest with him all along, to not have hidden her feelings from him in an attempt to be 'kind.' If she had, she might be entering into this new phase of their relationship with hope instead of fear.

RELATED: 5 “Fake” Nice Gestures People Casually Use To Manipulate You

4. The parable of unhappy Anika

Anika was very unhappy in her marriage. There was nothing specifically wrong with it – it was just in a place where she and her husband were taking each other for granted and she felt lonely and ignored.


Did she talk to her husband about this? Nope, but she talked to her friends.

She told her friends everything. How they never had sex. How he talked to his mother twice a week and ignored her. How he yelled at the kids at bedtime. How he went running on Saturday mornings and left her at home with the children every week.

Did she think that not talking to her husband, pretending that everything was fine to be nice so as to not rock the boat and not add more stress to his life would work out? She did. She truly thought that she was doing the right thing.

The outcome? Her husband divorced her because they were more business partners than spouses. Because they never talked. And her friends couldn’t believe that she was surprised when he did after all those years of listening to her complain.


RELATED: 10 Signs He's A Genuinely Good Guy (And Not A Jerk)

5. Jaded Jill and her jilted jewelry 

This client loved jewelry. Loved it. And on every occasion, her husband would buy her something.

He knew how much she loved special pieces so he spent a ton of time looking for unique things. He was always so proud of himself when she opened her gift — proud that he had found something that he knew she would love.


But, guess what? She always hated what he bought her. Always.

Did she tell him? Did she give him feedback about all the work that he was doing on her behalf? Did she set him up for success instead of failure?

Nope. Instead, she was nice and she pretended that she liked everything he gave her.

Not surprisingly, as time went on, her husband realized that she never wore anything that he gave her and it hurt him deeply. He didn’t want to ask her why — he just stopped buying her jewelry. And he was sad because he liked doing that for her but he just didn’t want to do it anymore if she didn’t wear it.

Did this make her happy? Nope. Her reward for being nice — no more jewelry.


In this world, we definitely need more kindness. We need more people to treat each other with love and respect, to take care of each other. Making someone smile, just because. Paying forward what is given to us.

What we definitely don’t need more of is people being nice just because it’s the societal norm. Being nice because we don’t want to rock the boat or hurt someone’s feelings or make ourselves vulnerable.

Doing all those things is not only counterproductive but they are harmful, in all areas of our lives.

I am not saying, don’t be nice — be nice. Just be honest as well.

RELATED: Yes, I'm Nice — But That Doesn't Mean I'm Weak


Mitzi Bockmann is an NYC-based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate who works exclusively with women to help them be all they want to be in this crazy world in which we live.