Why Nice Guys Don't Always Have to Finish Last

MindHealth Takeaway: 
I'm a chronic "too nice" kind of guy. Whether it's family, friends, patients, or doctors (let's not go there right now, OK?), I've been accused of not putting myself first, going too soft on people and not seeking enough revenge. Some of that may be true. But I've concluded that you have to be true to yourself, choose your battles in life and give people enough chances to be decent (as this article aptly states). 

If I turn into a tit-for-tatter, I'm not being my authentic self. So, I've decided that I rather take a few (extra) hits to the chin than to become someone I'm not. Also, in my experience, kindness and mercy are two traits that yield more for me than even the people that I apply those graces to. So, in the end, I believe that I'm finishing right where I need to be. 

Your thoughts? 

Onto this insightful post by Ronald Riggio on Psychology Today: 

I usually don't let my blog get too personal, but throughout my life I've heard that "nice guys (and gals) finish last." This is usually in the form of personal advice from friends and colleagues. I've been scolded: "Don't be so nice!" "Learn to say ‘no'!" "Put yourself first." "Don't give in so easily."

Maybe you have been told the same things, too? Maybe you suffer from "terminal niceness syndrome." If so, here are four paths to success for you:

1. Stay True to Yourself.

You probably aren't going to just stop being nice. [I just read some of Dick Cheney's autobiography. He's always going to be a jerk, and you are probably always going to be nice.] "Niceness" is a manifestation of personality traits—most prominent is Agreeableness. Personality traits don't change much over time, and are difficult to intentionally change. The lesson here is: Learn to live with your niceness. It has gotten you this far, so it's probably working well. If it isn't getting you where you want to go, then pay attention to these other rules:

2. Just Walk Away. Choose Your Battles.

One problem that nice or agreeable people have is that they feel bad after an interpersonal conflict. That makes sense, because interpersonal harmony is an important goal of the nice. So often the best thing to do when you realize that a conflict situation is imminent is to just walk away, particularly if you suspect that the conflict will not be resolved in this encounter. But: If the situation is an important one, and needs to be resolved, then it is time to stand your ground. Be assertive. Stand up for yourself. The point here is to choose when to fight and when not to, and to avoid unnecessary conflict situations, particularly with people who you know thrive on interpersonal conflict—the opposite of the terminally nice people.

3. Kill Them With Kindness.

You are nice. Accept that as a strength. I've found that you can often "wear people down" by continuing to be cordial, polite, and avoiding unnecessary conflict. Some suspicious people think that another's kindness is just a façade—a ploy designed to take advantage of them. Those people often come around after they realize the niceness is genuine. I've found that, over time, niceness pays off with many people. It builds trust. You get a reputation as someone who is a good team player, and who more than pulls his or her weight. Of course, this can lead to being taken advantage of, so the next rule is important:

4. The 3 Strikes Rule.

People can and do take advantage of the nice. That's why I've found it important to adhere to the 3-strikes rule. If someone is mean, disagreeable, or attacking, turn the other cheek. Sometimes "a soft word does indeed turneth away the wrath."

I give them another chance. They misbehave again. I give them a second chance. (I'm terminally nice). Most people back off at this point. If, however, they persist, that's it. Three strikes and you are out! This is where I stop being nice. "Speak softly, but carry a big stick." End the interaction, and if need be, the relationship.

I know that nice people get taken advantage of. I know that nice people can often be the target of bullies. That is why this last rule is important. You need to develop that "big stick"—to learn to draw the line, fight back when necessary, and be willing to walk away permanently.

Take Some Pride

Rather than looking at niceness as a weakness or liability, let's go back to kindergarten, and the lessons we were taught:

  • Play nice with others.
  • Be fair.
  • Share everything.
  • Don't hit people or say mean things
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • AND, Clean up your own mess

Terminally nice people should be proud: They learned these lessons early on, and continue to practice them.

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