Hey manager: Please don’t be nice.

If there is one phrase clients have said to me over the years (besides “help me” and “thank you”), it’s this:

“Mark, I know you’d tell me to be nice, but. …

There are variations. “I didn’t do that the Hip Socket way.” Or, “I wasn’t very nice.”

My goal in this post is to share one basic fact with you:

I did not tell you to be nice.

Even Jesus Christ himself did not tell you to be nice.

Nice is what you do when you want to keep everything surface.

You may have legitimate concerns. You may know your people haven’t said what was really on their mind.

But you stay polite, keep everything swept under the rug, maintain harmony.

The trouble is, it’s false harmony. And it will eventually implode or explode.

It also treats the other people involved quite poorly.

When you’re nice, you don’t have to care.

You don’t have to read too much of the New Testament to know that Jesus was very much interested in correcting error. You might even say he had zeal for it–and that he did it out of love.

El Greco, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
El Greco (1541-1614): “Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple”

Notice here how El Greco chose to portray Jesus with a face that is almost serene.

Serene as he takes the whip he made with his own hands and uses it to clear out people selling in a place of worship. (You can read about it in chapter 2 of the Gospel of John.)

How can this be?

Because he was not nice. He was kind.

Again and again, Jesus told people painful truths about their sin in order that they would repent–turn away from death to life.

He looked people in the eyes and called out hypocrisy, adultery, thievery and many other sins–including greed and selfishness, as featured in the painting.

He also called his followers to imitate him. St. Paul said to the Galatian church:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

You know what kindness can look like? Clarity.

Kind people choose to call out and confront out of care for the person.

If a friend had bad breath, body odor or just their fly down–you would tell them.

If an employee had a wrong assumption or improper behavior that was holding them back–you would tell them.

You would endure momentary discomfort for their long-term benefit.

If this kind of a conversation conjures up visions of an argument … just remember that arguing can be a very good thing. See my last post discussing how to argue with a customer. See the Hip Socket resource page on “Crucial Conversations.”

In fact, a reader recently sent in this brief and practical advice from a philosopher: “How to Criticize with Kindness.”

Kindness! Let it be the motivation behind every hard conversation you have to have.