The terms “nice” and “kind” are often used interchangeably. Both behaviors imply a positive approach and sensitivity to another person. When we were children, our parents often encouraged us to be nice and be kind. We likely never considered whether there is a difference between the two.
However, when we think about the intentions associated with these two behaviors, a subtle but important difference begins to emerge. We might say, “He is just being nice.” This statement conveys an implication that what is being said or done is not necessarily based in full honesty and openness. Rather, it is calculated and meant to have the other person feel good, even if the truth or reality is not consistent with the words and actions. Of course, “being nice” can be a way of avoiding conflict or hurt feelings. In some cases, “being nice” may even carry an implication of manipulation. Some “nice” behaviors are really intended to gain agreement or secure permission without justification.
Behaviors considered to be “kind” also consider the sentiments and sensitivities of another person. Kindness takes the interests of the other person into consideration but goes beyond solely wanting to make the other person feel good. Kindness includes sharing what another person may need to know or guidance that would be beneficial, including when what is said or done may cause discomfort. Drawing attention to a mistake, pointing out a misstep, or informing of an unanticipated implication can be kind, even though it may lead to awkwardness, or even pain.
Of course, there are times and places for both behaviors. Sometimes a less-than-genuine compliment might be permitted. Ignoring a minor misstep may not have long-term consequences. On the other hand, a genuine friend and supportive colleague who has another person’s best interests in mind may face the need to provide uncomfortable feedback or convey disagreement without causing undue embarrassment, offense, or undermining long-term confidence.
In our roles as educators, professional colleagues, and leaders, it is important to keep in mind the difference between “being nice” and “being kind.” Sometimes “being nice” can be a thoughtless and cruel act. Failing to be completely honest can lead to consequences as hurtful as being dishonest.
At the same time, being direct in our observations and feedback does not mean being rude and hurtful. Kindness is rooted in respect and candor. Thoughtfulness, sensitivity, timing, and understanding are key elements of true kindness.
As we make our way through these challenging and often confusing times, we do well to consider the benefits and implications of “being nice” and “being kind.” Being nice might be a preferred choices at times, but kindness never goes out of style.