Being Nice: The Insufficient Strategy for Earning Respect

December 14th, 2015 by Kelly Kienzle

Unusually Happy Man

Earning someone’s respect is different from making them feel good. I realized recently I have been equating these two intentions. I have been assuming that if I make someone feel good, then they will respect me.

My approach has some merit to it: If people associate feeling good when they are around me, they will seek me out. They will confide in me. They may even feel restored after spending time with me.  (Although the preternaturally happy man in the image above may deplete people’s energy.  I think he would mine.)

But none of these positive effects necessarily mean they will respect me. Perhaps on some level they will respect my ability to remain non-judgmental, to stay even-keeled, or to be thoughtful about their situation. These are all good effects to have on people and I’m glad when I can make that happen for someone.

Yet perhaps I have become overly reliant on this tactic. For the other people-pleasers who are out there, you may recognize yourself in this scenario. How do we sometimes sabotage ourselves by being too nice? When are we falsely believing that being nice will earn us respect?

In fact, how do I/we miss opportunities to deepen respect for ourselves when we are overly focused on making everyone else feel good?

Speaking for myself, there is certainly the perception that I may not be hard-nosed enough, blunt enough or unable or unwilling to see and take action on hard truths. And when we see this kind of fortitude and bravery in others, doesn’t it deepen our respect for those individuals?

Yet I cannot rely on others to tell me when I have become too nice. I need to be the vigilant keeper of the balance between making others feel good and earning their respect. I must not allow myself to become too comfortable that I have earned their respect just because I have relaxed them. At the same time, I must not give up what is intrinsically part of me and has served me well.

And so, as is so often the case, the answer lies in the balance of two extremes.  We must retain what are the essential parts of ourselves while also being aware of how we are being perceived by others.  Which extreme do you lean towards? How do you know when you must adjust your balance?

If we can become aware of this balance, then we might be almost as happy as that guy above.  But not overly so, please.

I felt angry toward my friend.
I told my wrath.  My wrath did end.
I felt angry toward my foe.
I told him not.  My wrath did grow.

– William Blake

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