We need to be less nice to each other.
Before you hit “reply,” hear me out. Of course I’m not saying, “let’s all be mean!” That’s because “niceness” has more than one counterpoint, and here’s the one I’m thinking of:
So, what’s the difference between nice and kind? Take it from my dear friend Nicole Lapin — a best-selling author, podcaster, and fellow Bulletin newsletter writer! — who does not hold back on constructive advice. When she gives me feedback, she is not dancing around my feelings. That would be nice. No, Nicole is something better: Kind.
Among her friends and followers, Nicole is notorious for giving direct feedback. Back in her days as a TV anchor, she told our friend Adam Singolda, the founder and CEO of Taboola, that his thick Israeli accent was hard to understand on TV. (This was off-camera, to be clear.) Not long ago, when I showed her a video I’d made, she told me I’d dialed my energy up way too much.
A lot of people would be afraid to give that kind of feedback because it could come off as rude. And to be fair, Adam and I did have to take a moment to process it. How many people in your life are that blunt?
But if you sit with the kind of advice she gives, you’ll realize how useful it is. That’s because she’s right! And more importantly, we know where it comes from: Nicole gives feedback because she’s invested in her friends’ success. She cares enough about what we’re doing to pay attention and think about how we could do better.
Recently, Nicole, Adam and I were talking about this in a Facebook audio room, and Nicole put it this way: “To say something challenging is, in fact, the kinder gesture. It's not the nicer gesture, but it is the kinder gesture. And I think there's a huge difference.”
That’s where I realized the difference between nice and kind.
Nicole totally could have just sent me a thumbs-up emoji when I shared my video with her. That’s because being nice is easy. It’s safe. It’s one step away from disengaged. But being kind requires effort. And thought. And investment.
Now, turn this on yourself: The next time you have the chance to give someone feedback, should you be nice… or kind?
If you give feedback like Nicole does, one of two things will happen:
A thin-skinned recipient will probably disappear when you give it to them straight. They’d prefer to be surrounded by people who just tell them that they’re wonderful. No harm there, really: That’s probably not who you want to be around anyway.
A receptive person will absorb the feedback because they want to work on themselves and they value your insights. This is the kind of person that you can build a more meaningful relationship with — because they’re open to growing and establishing mutual trust.
It can be hard to know who’s going to go which way, so in giving hard feedback, you are also giving yourself the gift of discerning who is game to grow alongside you.
Helpful as it can be in your personal life, this kind of filter can also help shape a company's culture.
At Taboola, for example, Adam said his team is driven by directness. “We tend to be transparent and direct about when we fail,” he said, “and then we speak about it and we ask tough questions. Either that’s too much for you, or you really like it.”
The people who like this style end up having tighter bonds and a better trajectory at the company, because, Adam says, you learn “who is on your team.”
So, who’s on your team? A little dose of kindness can help you find out.
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