Kind, Not Nice

Words on a pretty design with raindrops

Note from Kim:

I usually go into the blogs we collaborate on and do some editing and make it one voice, but this topic is too damn important. So I’m not touching a damn thing, this shit right here, it’s from the heart and it’s gonna hit you in all the feels. 

If you take one thing from this blog, I hope it’s to seek out healthy conflict and to be honest with yourself and others. Being kind is nice.

Ro, Account Manager

Imagine a high school Rowan, flushed from a day outside in the heat during one of the scheduled 9 a.m.-8p.m. Saturday marching band practices. Their hands are all blistered from playing with four marimba mallets for the last eternity, and the sun is finally starting to sink beyond the horizon.

Okay? Scene set? Let’s go. We had percussion techs who would work with our sections all day, every day, to make sure we were learning the right technique. As section leader, I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders, and I found myself second guessing everything I told members of my pit to do. Our tech noticed this, and he pulled me aside while the rest of the section played through the second act under the guidance of my assistant section leader.

“You’re too hung up on what you’ve said or done or think you failed to do,” he told me. “That’s not good. You could be a great leader, but you need to stop regretting things. Why regret the past if it’s something you can’t change? I gave that up. You need to learn that, too.”

It was a hard lesson, especially from a man who had just called me an “abrasive leader” a few months ago—a phrase that still haunts me to this day. Still, this new nugget of kindness wasn’t particularly well received at the time. I could be a great leader? I wasn’t already? Little Ro was hurt, but that lesson stuck with me. I try to follow it to this day. If I can fix it, fix it. If I can’t, stop wasting the energy thinking about it.

Lauren, Associate

I was never raised to be nice to people, I have always been taught how to be KIND to people. Being someone that is not the most cheery of any given bunch I have always been seen as the “serious one.” Tough title to hold, I know. Within the stigma that surrounds being the “serious one” I have remained someone that people feel cared for when with me. Tapping into empathy rather than a fake sticky sweet approach is more authentic and is what I live my life by.

With the hustle and bustle that comes along with being a full-time college student, you get caught up. Caught up in what they’re doing, in what you’re not doing, in what you could be doing. As the overthinker that I am, I found myself in a scenario such as this simply; caught up. It was over a schedule. And I know what you’re thinking, of course this Virgo is writing a blog post about a schedule. Hear me out.

Anyways, this schedule, I was worried about how I was going to fit in the credits and courses necessary for my jam packed year of internship + extracurriculars + a full class load. After anxiously messaging my advisor, she did as she does and humbled me swiftly. “Why are you stressed,” She asked as we hopped on a quick Zoom call. And I gave her a long-winded answer of how stressful the joy of scheduling classes can be. She explained to me, there is no reason to be stressed about something that you could have prevented. Though it felt hard to hear at the time, it is important to understand, certain stressors can be prevented as long as you stay ahead of them.

Though I know, in order to be less stressed or anxious you have to plan out your time in a way that works best for you. I often get caught up. The most kind NOT nice thing that anyone can ever do for you and what my advisor did for me was to humble myself. Learn from me if you have not already learned from yourself through time management snafus, don’t get caught up. There are bigger and better things for you to spend your time on.

Jules, PR Manager

“Be Kind, Not Nice.” has evolved and changed meaning for me over the years. As a child, girls are typically taught to always be nice, keep things neat and pretty but luckily, I was raised in a family of strong women who are not afraid to raise their voices. From a young age, my mother, aunts, cousins, and grandmother never showed weakness to me. Some real bad asses, I know! This led me to feel things in a strong way but also to read things differently than perhaps other people did. 

As I grew into a teenager, I was always the loud one in classes. Raising my hand, testing out my theories, wanting to have civil discourse on any and all subjects we discussed in class. It wasn’t until I realized I was taking too much of the air out of the room that I realized that I was being unkind to others’ thoughts, thinking I was constantly right all the time. Then into adulthood and trying to land that dream job, I succumbed to the niceties in previous positions. Letting my imposter syndrome take over and tell me I wasn’t actually qualified and I need to maintain the relationships I had because if I was too blunt or direct with my ideas or push back it would be bad. 

Now, I acutely understand what constructive criticism is and when someone is saving your feelings. I am able to assess a situation in a way that lends itself to being direct, constructive and well-meaning versus the “everyone is out to get me,” and “I don’t belong,” mentality. I can see a situation, person, problem and see it for what it is and/or meet that person where they are to come to a sense of understanding. There is a level of knowing when someone is just being nice for the hell of it, or trying to make you feel some type of way for being yourself (gaslighting is the most common term) versus having real conversations with people, taking part in that civil discourse without taking all the air out of the room. There is a tactful way to do it and that is rooted in kindness. It’s all about that give and take, active listening and empathy. Without it, everyone is just being fake. 

Meg, Account Manager

I’ve always had a hard time deciding the difference between kind and nice. I was (and still am) raised and surrounded by strong women who didn’t get there by chance. They are kind and straightforward, but don’t use that as a crutch to be rude. They are also quite nice and warm because they want to be, not because they have to be. 

If you’ve ever read any Brene Brown books, Dare to Lead covers this topic too. She calls it “Clear is Kind”. She notes that “we often avoid clear and direct communication because we think it’s kinder to ourselves and others to “soften the blow” but in reality we are being unkind, unfair and often manipulative” 

It’s so true. People are intuitive, they know in your voice if you’re being “nice” by telling them half-truths or talking about them instead of to them. This doesn’t mean that you now have the floor to attack personally, but you do get to speak objectively. 

Now is the time to choose your words carefully, to be clear and offer solutions. This is NOT the time to say you’re being kind and quite honestly, being rude. Be clear, drop the egos, apologize, be wrong and do better. We’re all doing the best we can. 

Amy, HR & Finance Manager

Kind not nice.  That is a hard one for a lot of us to decipher. For me I was raised to be nice. Always do the right thing and be nice to everyone. The “remember we never know what is going on behind closed doors” mentality. This isn’t a bad thing. It made me more compassionate. But it took me until I was an adult to realize that sometimes being nice means that others think they can walk all over you. 

It took me until my first serious job to realize that there was a difference between kind and nice. I was doing a disservice to myself and others if I didn’t start being kind and not nice.

Did you know what  the difference between nice and kind is? Generally, niceness involves doing something that is pleasing or agreeable. By contrast, kindness is doing something that is helpful to others, or that comes from a place of benevolence.

In a lot of life not being nice (pleasing others) but being kind (helping) is healthier for both sides. If we are saying what others want to hear and not the truth, how are we helping them grow or for that matter be true to ourselves?

If others are saying what we want to hear, how are we growing? How are we learning to be a better person, coworker, spouse or friend?

I think the hardest thing about this is learning to take it in when someone is being kind and listen to what they are saying and not shutting down or making excuses.  The hardest part of adulthood is owning our mistakes and learning from them. It is easy to get defensive and not even listen to what is being said. That isn’t growth and it will get you stuck. 

It is important to note that doesn’t mean that you get to go all Jim Carey in “Liar, Liar”.  You can be kind and still do it with grace. Imagine if we all aimed to show more kindness and a little less judgement/talking behind people’s backs, we could help ourselves and others feel safer in our environments and create a healthier culture everywhere we go.

So one of my New Year’s resolutions for this year and every year (I usually hate these, but this is a good time to use it) is doing better at being kind, not nice. 

Tyler, Creative Lead

Kindness is pushy, but patient.  It is confrontational, but understanding.  It hates failure, but accepts struggle.  

Back when I was still at community college, I was listless and drifted around in my focus a lot.  It wasn’t because I didn’t know what I wanted to do – I knew exactly what I wanted to do – but I had no idea how to get there, or how to get started down the right path.  I failed a TON of classes, lazed around in easy subjects, and generally wasted my time.  

Hold on, let’s back up a bit – What I WANTED to do was become a comic book artist and illustrator.  I had drawn since I could hold a pencil, and I knew I wouldn’t be happy unless I followed this path.  I’d taken every art class I could get my hands on, which was unfortunately a limited selection where I was from.  But there unfortunately is no guidebook for the exact steps someone should take to get from where I was (a community college hooligan) to where I wanted to be.  Sure, I’d explored the stories of other artists, but in the last 20 years, art has changed so much, it’s impossible to try and take someone else’s path.  I generally knew what I should do, but each task on the path seemed like a bigger challenge than the last.  

Thankfully, I had a few good people around me, and one in particular who decided to stop being nice about things.  When I was approached by our college’s theater director and told to come to their office, I was sure I had done something wrong.  

“So what are you planning on doing after you are done here?”  

I rambled through the usual things “Oh, I’m going to art school.” or “I’m looking at submitting my art to publishers.” The truth, of course, being that I had no idea how to do those things, and at this time the internet wasn’t nearly as full of helpful resources as it is today.  I expected him to accept my answers and let me out of the awkward situation. What he did next surprised me beyond measure.  

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He listened quietly while I essentially gave excuses for not having done anything about my continuing success.  He finally asked me if I had a particular school in mind, which I did – Kendall College of Art and Design.  When I was finally done giving him what I thought he wanted to hear, he picked up his phone and started dialing.  I was like, uhhh, should I go now?  But he made me sit until he got through – to the admissions office of what would become my school.  

Up to this point, people were just asking me what I was going to do to be nice.  They didn’t really care if I did any of those things, they just wanted to make small talk.  But not this guy – he held me down and force-fed me the first step on my journey. He wasn’t nice about it really – he didn’t give me the option to back out.  We sat on the call with admissions until he knew all the things I would need to get in.  Then we set up a time for me to go down and get a portfolio review.  Then he followed up a week later with me to make sure I had gotten everything together.  He made me do the hard parts, like talking on the phone or putting the right artwork together, but he kept me accountable, and he followed up with me.  

I can’t exactly explain how this event changed my life.  There were many good things and bad things that eventually came out of it, but it undoubtedly started me on the path I needed to be on to get me where I am today.  All of this because he was kind, not nice.  If he was just being nice, he wouldn’t have invested so much of his time and energy into me.  Which leads me to the last point here: Kindness takes energy, but rewards effort.  Niceness is energy-saving.  We are nice to others because it is so much easier than addressing root causes, or digging into someone’s life and pushing them to do better.  

So be kind, not nice. 

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