There is a phenomenon in human relationships and interactions I have observed over the years that I want to draw attention to.
My unscientific study shows that the phenomenon seems to occur more frequently from females to males, but it also seems to cross the gender barrier.
The observation is that when faced with an opportunity to choose a path of (temporary) ‘war’ so as to bring about a change in behavior with an individual with whom we are in relationship, most invariably choose not to do so.
For example, say Sally notices that her husband Bob is most often not present around their kids, fiddling with his iPhone, giving distracted one word answers. When she broaches the subject, Bob dismisses her complaints. After a few more efforts, Sally gives up, and ends up frustrated and resentful.
The ‘Nice’ Fallacy
Why does Sally give up on something so important to her, rather than really ‘banging the table’, gradually escalating her communications with Bob, until he understands that she means business?
There are often complex factors at play, including inherent conflict avoidance issues, but often it comes down to a fallacy that derails many of us—a singular misunderstanding that many of us have bought into, often because of cultural and familial conditioning.
That fallacy is the ‘nice’ factor. We’ve been conditioned from a young age that we’ve got to be ‘nice’ and that means that creating, inviting and otherwise embracing a confrontation with another is inherently and immediately wrong. Confrontation is blindly equated with ‘mean’ and that means any path that involves confrontation, even if we could see that it might end in positive change is dismissed as a road that cannot be travelled.
(Go back and read the first sentence in this section “Why does Sally…?”. Did you feel yourself cringe just a little bit when you got to “…that she means business?”. You may be someone that’s really bought into the ‘nice fallacy’).
Certainly we all want to be nice people and raise our kids as nice. But the truth is that ‘nice’ isn’t always what it seems. Sometimes there is a question of short term vs. long term ‘nice’. I am going to set aside ‘short-term nice’ for the sake of ‘long-term nice’. I am going to invite in struggle and discord when I challenge Bob on being more attentive when the kids are around and I’m not going to accept that that’s just the way he is. What is on the other side of that struggle is a Bob who is more attentive to his children and a Sally who has left behind resentment and frustration. War for the (express purpose) of (long-term) Peace.
Step Back and Evaluate
Whereever you might fall on the ‘nice fallacy’ spectrum, ask yourself if there are instances you are falling into its trap and avoiding what could be war for the sake of a longer-term peace. To be sure, for many it will be a long term process to improve on over a lifetime, but you may find that if you are willing to engage, you produce surprising and substantial results in your personal and professional relationships.
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- About the Author
Nathan Safran is a former Analyst at Forrester Research where he covered the Digital Home. While at Forrester, Nathan authored research studies on trends, attitudes and behaviors of consumers toward technology adoption and use.
Nathan has been quoted as a subject matter expert in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Fortune magazine. Currently, Nathan heads the Research Department at Conductor, Inc an SEO Technology Platform firm.
Nathan writes at exceljockey.com about the intersection of Business, Technology and Psychology. See the About page for more info. Follow Nathan on Twitter: @Nathan_Safran