May 6, 2024

What's the difference between being kind and being nice?

In Simply Put, I outline that simple communication is vital because it is effective, efficient, tested, and kind. And as I've been talking about the book on podcasts and at events, that last attribute keeps coming up – what do I mean by "kind" exactly?

Here's what I wrote in the book:

Simplicity, by being focused on the receiver, is a form of kindness. Valuing other people’s time and desires is generous. Putting yourself in their shoes is empathetic. But kindness and niceness are not the same thing. Niceness is surface level: pleasing, polite, and conflict-avoidant. Kindness goes much deeper; being kind means you actually care about others and their well-being.

Complicated messages can be full of niceties but not kind to the receiver’s limited time and attention. And bad news, delivered with respect and honesty, is kinder than mealy-mouthed avoidance."

This distinction, which in the past I've seen many times used to joke about the differences in styles between a stereotypical New Yorker (kind, but not always nice) and other local caricatures, always seems to strike a chord. Which is why I was honored when Toastmasters International asked me to write about it for the May issue of their magazine.

The article looks at this distinction through the lens of feedback:

The purpose of feedback, in Toastmasters and beyond, is to help somebody understand where they are and how they can improve. But often, it’s more challenging to “just” give feedback to others than in creating your own work. Evaluations can be uncomfortable, and telling somebody that something needs work or isn’t measuring up can be painful for both the sender and receiver.

So, instead of giving critical feedback, people are predisposed to slip into the realm of nice, leaving the kind-but-awkward truths hidden behind high scores and “nice jobs!” This route feels good in the moment, but it ultimately does no good for the person on the receiving end.

A great orator himself, Winston Churchill, said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” When you shrink from necessary feedback, you prioritize your own well-being over that of your receiver’s, placing agreeableness over necessity.

Please go check out the full article in their print edition or on their site here, I had a blast writing it. Big thanks to the whole team there – they were both kind and nice in the editing of this piece!

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just wrote his first book (Simply Put), and works with cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my new book, it just came out.

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