Courtney asks, “I pride myself on my personality, which is caring, kind, generous and easy-going. However, I find myself cringing anytime someone refers to me as nice. Or even worse…sweet. It actually makes my stomach a little sick to hear those words. For some reason, in my mind, being “sweet” is not a good thing, even though I should be proud of who I am and how I deal with others. I know my feelings have a lot to do with our society and how people feel that using selfishness and aggression are the only ways a person can achieve success. I feel like people equate niceness with being a pushover, immature, or someone who can’t be taken seriously. I’m at a point in my life where I’m beginning to not be proud of the reputation that I have as a nice person and it’s a weird feeling. It’s terribly important to me that I treat others with kindness, but I get offended if someone else mentions it. It seems to me that when people refer to you as nice, or sweet, in their minds, it really means something different…and it bothers me.
My mother once told me that I should be who I am, but maybe not so much at work or in other “serious” situations. That’s a difficult task because I don’t know how to be anyone else. It doesn’t feel or come across as real when I try to be aggressive or domineering, because that’s not who I am…but is that a bad thing? I know aggressiveness is not an ideal personality trait, but it seems like people treat you with more respect when you are vocal about your feelings and don’t take crap from others. My question is, how can I use the LOA to come to terms with who I truly am as a person? How can I be comfortable with my personality and stop second guessing others when they use positive words to describe me? Is being “sweet” a positive attribute…I don’t know anymore.”
I think there’s a real misconception here, that states that being nice and standing up for yourself, are mutually exclusive. I’m afraid I’m going to have to call bullshit on that one. Sure, people mean different things when they use the word “nice”, and some of them are derogatory. But that’s really kind of irrelevant. What’s important is what YOU mean by it, because that determines how you feel about it.
We all want to be nice
Ok, maybe not all. There are those who actually take pride in being total bastards. But for the most part, we all like to think of ourselves as good people, as someone who would help others in need, wouldn’t hurt anyone unnecessarily and certainly not on purpose, who treats people with respect, etc. Basically, hardly anyone likes to think of themselves as an a**hole. To me, that’s what being nice means, in a nutshell.
But we bristle when we think the word “nice” is being used to mean “pushover”. We don’t really want to be the person that everyone dumps their crap on because we lack the backbone to say no. We don’t always want to have to compromise because we’re too timid to speak up for what we want. We don’t want to have to do everything ourselves because we were too “nice” to ask for help. To me, this type of behavior is no longer classified as “nice”. This is the definition of a doormat, and the two are not the same thing.
How we got manipulated
I’m not big on conspiracy theories, but it’s not hard to see how twisting the word nice could be used as a manipulative tactic. Again, few of us want to come off as an a**hole or a bitch, and so we’ll generally avoid those behaviors that make us feel that way. But when you distort the meaning of being nice to automatically include being a doormat, it makes it seem like the only two options available are to be a bastard or a pushover. And given that choice, many of us will opt for pushover rather than go around walking over bodies.
Here’s a newsflash, though: Those are not the only two options available.
Option 1: Be a total douche. Get others to do your bidding by bullying them into submission. Basically, if you yell loud enough, they won’t even challenge you. Secretly cry yourself to sleep at night because no one likes you.
Option 2: Be a total pushover. Say yes to every request, even if you don’t want to. Put your own needs last no matter what, so that you’ll never come off as someone who belongs in Option 1. Snap and go postal at some point.
Option 3: Find the balance between these two extremes. Be nice, help others when you want to and can, but have no problem saying no when the request doesn’t fit into your intentions. Ask for what you want in a nice way that actually gets results. Know that you are a nice person with LIMITS. Live a long and happy life, possibly filled with chocolate and sex.
Nice is not the same as weak
Niceness should never be mistaken for weakness. Someone can be perfectly nice, and yet still have a backbone made of titanium. The key is to
- Know who you are (know your worth)
- Know what you really want (what are your real priorities)
- Pick your battles (let stuff that isn’t important to you go)
- Be persistent (when something is truly important, stand up for it and don’t back down)
- Compromise to get what you want (a combination of 3 and 4. Compromise on the stuff that’s not important to you, to get what you truly want.)
You don’t have to be scary to get what you want
Bullying people into submission may be one way to get what you want, but it’s not the only way, and certainly not the best way. Fear and respect are not the same thing. If you’re an a**hole, people may fear you and do what you want. But, when they respect and like you, which they will not if you’re not nice, they’ll bend over backwards to help you and do it gladly.
The fear of hearing “no”
We assume that if we ask someone to help us nicely, that they’ll say no. We assume that if we want others to help us, we have to force them to do it or manipulate them into it. But, what a horrible view of humanity that is! And a false one, to boot!
In general, people will help when they can. Sometimes they may say no, but they’ll usually have a very valid reason (if you have trouble saying no, listen up!)
- It’s not something they can do (do you really want someone trying to help you with something when they don’t know what they’re doing?)
- They don’t have the time (do you want them to say yes only to not be able to honor their commitment? Wouldn’t you rather that they say no?)
- They don’t want to do it (yes, this is a perfectly valid reason to say no. Sure, you can guilt or otherwise manipulate someone into doing something for you, or you can even bully them into it, but you’ll never get them to do as good of a job or build the goodwill you’ll get from finding someone who is genuinely glad to help.)
So, when someone says no to you, it generally has nothing to do with how they feel about you. It’s not a rejection, it’s a scheduling conflict, a skill set issue or a question of motivation. Just move on and ask someone else.
And if you’re the person being asked, you’re absolutely entitled to say “no”. It won’t make you a bitch. It simply means that you honor yourself and how you feel, more than this other person. You’re not willing to make yourself unhappy or work yourself into the ground just to do them a favor. And you can certainly say no and still be nice.
When you’re nice and they aren’t
But let’s say you work in an environment where you’re nice, but those around you aren’t. The bullies love to take advantage of the nice, and love to use the twisted meaning of the word nice to manipulate you into doing their bidding. And you may not have been willing to stand up for yourself up until now, because you weren’t willing to stoop to their level.
But you don’t have to fight fire with fire. You don’t have to fight at all. Just refuse to play their game. For example, if someone comes up to you and barks “I need this by Friday!”, instead of asking you if you wouldn’t mind, just say “Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t.” Then, shut up. When you try to justify your no, you’ll often talk yourself right into a yes. Make this your standard response if someone isn’t going to give you chance to say no by at least telling you what it is that they need. Do this a few times, and you’ll have trained them to NOT expect an immediate yes.
If they then confront you with “What do you mean, you can’t?”, explain that your schedule is full. At this point, they may tell you about their request and explain why it’s important. Now, you can make an informed decision on whether or not you can help, but you’ve already said no, so if you don’t want to do it (or truly can’t), you just have to stay with your previous answer. Saying yes would be doing them a favor (but it’s still your choice, which feels very different than having been bullied into it).
Saying no to your boss
If the person barking orders at you is your boss, you may not feel entitled to say no, but you still can. You just do it differently. For example, let’s say your boss just hands you an assignment, and tells you it’s due by Friday. You know that with your current workload you’re going to be a total stressball by the weekend as it is. Your inclination as a nice person may be to just say yes. And you certainly don’t want to dismiss your boss with a curt “No, I’m sorry, I can’t.”
But you can say “Which of my other priorities would you then like me to push back to next week?” Then, name the other projects you’ve got going. Don’t just assume that they’re aware of your workload. Make them aware and then ask them to help you re-prioritize it based on this new request. This way, they may change the deadline on one of your projects, or decide to ask someone else. Now, at this point, the bully boss may try to push you, hoping that you’ll just back down, and tell you that all of your projects are equally important and are still all due by Friday. If that happens, stay calm and strong. Look them straight in the eye and nicely (yes, nicely) say, “I’m sorry, that’s not possible. I only have 24 hours in my day. One of these deadlines will have to be moved, or I’m afraid you’ll have to find someone else for it. It’s truly not possible.” Note, you can’t get bitchy or defensive when you say this, which would indicate that you expect them to be unreasonable about it. Expect them to be a human being.
At this point, most halfway reasonable bosses will see the light and back down. The ones that don’t, tend to become abusive and unreasonable (like asking you to work 72 hours in a row), at which point you can always go to HR. Keep in mind, that if this is your work situation, you have some serious vibrational cleanup to do. But this post is about opening up your options, to show you that it is possible to stand up for yourself without turning into a screaming ninja bitch (thank you Nay). Using these techniques out will actually help you overcome your fears about being authentic, which will shift your energy, so that you’ll manifest nicer people into your reality.
Saying no to your family
But what if the person you can’t say “no” to is your mother or someone else in your family? I’ve found the simple “I’m sorry, I can’t”, often said over and over again, works just fine. They will be persistent, especially if they’re not used to you saying no. They may well try to guilt you into it, or manipulate you or even bully you (aren’t families fun?), but don’t back down. Don’t scream, don’t get upset, just stay calm and firm. Just keep saying no. And then shut up (don’t talk yourself out of the no!).
You’ll probably have to repeat yourself several times, but eventually, they will have to accept your answer. Don’t feel the need to justify yourself. You don’t need a “good” reason to say no. Not wanting to do it (see above) is a perfectly valid reason. Think about it: If you don’t want to do something, and someone is telling you that you should even if you don’t want to, what they are essentially saying is: “How I feel should be more important to you than you feel.” And these are the people who often have the gall to call you selfish. Sheesh.
Have you been accused of being too nice? Or have you felt pressured to be more aggressive? Share in the comments!
The following blog post gives you more information on how to stand up for yourself while being nice: