The Virtue of Nice


If you’ve ever met a nice person, you know that they are a pleasure to be around. They make others feel good, inspire great conversations and are a huge asset to any team. People who work alongside them are happy to do so, and they tend to have a bigger pool of genuine friends than others. Nice people also genuinely care about other people, and they will always go out of their way to help those who need it.

However, there is a problem with this kind of niceness that has been abused in many organizations. When you have leaders who encourage this type of fake niceness, it can lead to toxic environments that breed mistrust and dysfunction. People in these types of cultures feel like they are being coerced into “niceness,” and as a result, their true personalities get hidden beneath a mask of civility. In addition, these individuals often lack the skills needed to manage conflict and difficult situations.

This is because the word nice has a broad meaning that can be applied to any kind of behavior. A person could be nice in a general sense by smiling and having good manners, or they could be nice in an organizational context by showing deference to the hierarchy. The latter definition of nice can be especially dangerous in a fear-based culture, where people are encouraged to be nice to one another as a way of avoiding repercussions from higher ups.

A good leader will ensure that their people are not being taken advantage of by encouraging a more realistic definition of nice. They will clarify the expectations that they have for their people, and they will ensure that everyone understands the type of behavior that is acceptable in meetings and other workplace settings.

For example, a good leader will make sure that their people know that it is not okay to participate in back-channel conversation or hold kangaroo courts in meetings. They will also explain the importance of intellectual honesty and candid feedback.

In addition, a good leader will be willing to stand up for their people and call out those who are not being nice in a respectful way. This is important because it will ensure that everyone knows who they can trust. It will also prevent leaders from creating a false sense of unity and safety by spreading a veneer of niceness that actually masks an atmosphere of fear and distrust.

Nice is a virtue that can be abused if you do not have clear expectations about how people should behave. If you want to be a truly nice person, it is essential that you have clear boundaries and that these are not negotiable. Otherwise, you will find yourself being walked all over by those who do not respect your value system. In the end, this is not the kind of niceness that you will be proud of. Rather, you will only be happy when you are being nice because it is what you truly believe in, not as a way of gaining approval from other people.