–Co-Authored with Craig James

Oh, what a nice guy!!!

~ Lili von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles

Is nice a compliment? A dismissal? A distraction? A lack of a better adjective?

When Craig shared the story in the video below, I fell in love with the concept, pulling back the curtain on the perils of nice. Being told I’m nice is a thin observation for me to hear and even thinner to give. It’s got no teeth, no muscle, all fog, and no risk. When I hear, or think the word, I suspect an element of blurriness that indicates a lack of trust and courage.

So saying, “Nice throw” in a pickup football game? Fine. That’s a verbal smile, back-pat stuff. It’s a stroke, though, not feedback. Giving a stroke instead of specific feedback is a sign of inattention, a pro forma that serves as syrup rather than protein.

Consider this (to quote Michael Skipe): When we provide someone with detailed feedback focused on a detail, e.g. “I noticed how your comment really changed the course of the conversation” or “I’m guessing you didn’t realize how your voice sounded really sarcastic,” we demonstrate trust, courage and paying attention. Nice does none of these. “Nice” keeps the relationship curtain closed.

Can you think of a time when you offended a loved one, friend, or colleague and were confused because you thought you were being nice? You probably were nice—even very nice—but nice wasn’t what was needed at the time.

It’s tough. Kind can be a not-so-good-tasting pill.  It can feel abrupt, even confrontational.

Nice on the other hand feels good and considerate, initially… but often misses the point. It’s pleasurable in small doses—but too much of it and you discover there’s no substance. In fact, it can cause decay and hollow things out.

Nice protects our self—gentle to all, and not a bad thing—but it shifts focus away from candor and vulnerability. It discourages dialogue about what’s underlying and unexplored.

Is this the right script? How would democracy, human rights, or space travel exist if all we did was run around being Nice? Feeling good encourages us to stop, kind encourages us to work it out.

We need to be kind even though it’s hard work. We need to be kind to ourselves, and others.

Kindness requires acts of honesty, authenticity, and directness.

Kind can feel critical, crappy, and “correcting” at times, but this is where nuance comes in. Skilled kindness is the key: kind delivered with enough ‘nice sauce’ to keep the conversation going.

Skilled kindness develops belonging, not just get-alonging. It fosters real human engagement.

  • How do you define nice and kind?
  • When were you nice and things didn’t work out?
  • When were you kind—and though it felt crappy initially, things worked out better in the long run?

What Nice covers, Kind explores.

Thank you @Paul Haury for the language of “belonging not just get-alonging” and @Diane Wyzga for the idea that being nice is largely about self and kind is about others.


Mac Bogert
Mac Bogert
I fell in love with learning, language, and leadership through the intervention of two professors—I had actually achieved a negative GPA—who kicked my butt for drifting through my first couple of semesters at Washington and Lee University. After graduate school at U. Va., I started teaching English at a large high school in northern Virginia. A terrific principal lit my fire, a terrible one extinguished it. I left after five years (the national average, as it turns out, maybe the only time I did something normal) and started an original folk/blues/rock band. That went well for a time until the record company sponsoring us folded. I toured for some years as an acoustic blues musician, primarily as an opening act for bands like the Muddy Waters Band, Doc, and Merle Watson and such remarkable talent. As that market dried up (disco), I earned my Coast Guard Masters License and worked for the next decade as a charter and delivery captain and sailing instructor. At the same time, I was working part-time as an actor and voice-over artist, selling inflatable boats and encyclopedias, and working as a puppeteer. Itchy feet, I suppose. I came back into the system in 1987 as a teacher specialist in health and drug education in my county school system, also part-time as Education Coordinator (and faculty member) for Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. I ‘departed’ both jobs in 1994 (therein lie more stories than 350 words could hold) and started my own business. AzaLearning is the career I’d been dodging for decades. I serve 200 clients around the country, helping with all kinds of coaching, planning, transforming conflict, creative problem-solving, communication, and mediation (I also trained and worked as a community mediator somewhere during sailing and teaching): learning, language, and leadership. In 2016 I published Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education and actively contribute to a couple of online education magazines as well as publish a newsletter, a blog, and the learning chaos podcast.

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  1. Kindness is considered a virtue and an integral part of ethics.
    As such, it reflects an understanding of the preciousness of all life and the beauty of imperfection, as well as embodying feelings of respect for all.
    Kindness calls for altruism, and altruism calls for cooperation. We know very well how much cooperation between members of a species is essential to ensure its survival. Furthermore, connecting with others through kind acts allows us to satisfy our basic psychological needs for relationship and belonging. Kindness therefore has positive social effects
    On an individual level, performing acts of kindness can increase life satisfaction, positive mood, and peer acceptance.