How Being Nice Can Stifle Creativity and Innovation


People are nice to others because they want to help, be kind and be happy. Being nice is often equated with prosocial behavior, which psychologists define as actions that promote the well-being, safety and feelings of other people. This includes behaviors such as sharing, cooperating and comforting those in distress.

But the problem is that these kinds of actions can also stifle creativity and innovation. For example, I’ve worked with teams where pervasive niceness choked innovation by preventing intellectual honesty and courageous conversations. In this environment, the team members would smile and say all the right things in meetings, but then they’d file off into back-channel conversations or hold kangaroo courts where no one really heard or discussed anything important.

There is nothing wrong with being nice to those who deserve it, but if you’re going to be nice to someone, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Taking advantage of other people’s good intentions is never acceptable, and it’s especially inappropriate when done to children.

Being a good person means you treat everyone with respect and mind their manners, but it’s also important to be a good listener. Listening to other people’s perspectives and concerns is an act of kindness that allows you to connect with them in a meaningful way. It also helps you understand where you may have missed the mark with a past interaction or how to improve in the future.

People who are truly nice are generous with their time and resources. This doesn’t just mean dividing your dessert in half for a younger sibling, but also giving money to charity and making sure you’re always providing more than you take from the world. You can show generosity by donating your old clothes, books or furniture to someone who needs them. You can also give your time by volunteering at a local organization or helping out with a family chore.

When someone does something nice for you, it usually feels good for them, too. But if you ask them to reciprocate your niceness, they will likely be hesitant because they don’t feel the same fulfillment that you do from your act of kindness. This is why it’s so important to not ask for or expect reciprocation of nice behavior, and instead focus on the happiness of the giver.

Lastly, being nice requires empathy and compassion. You can’t be nice if you don’t care about others. Compassion is an emotional instinct that transcends logic. Language and niceness are next-door neighbors in the left brain, but compassion lives in the right brain. It’s a difficult thing to describe in human terms because it’s an instinct, not a set of steps to follow.

To be a good and nice person, remember to be thoughtful of other people’s feelings, always listen carefully to their concerns and speak positively about them when they’re not around. Be gracious and thank people for their efforts, and never gossip behind their backs.