Mr Nice Guy: Why Nice Isn’t Kind


 Mr. Nice Guy, that’s me.

And it’s a shame, too.

Because nice and kind are two different things. And sometimes to be kind, you can’t default to being too nice. Here’s what I mean by that.

The difference between nice and kind is that sometimes you want to be nice. You want to go along with things. Not kick up a fuss.

But being nice is not always the kind thing to do with your clients, your partner, or your friends.

I can’t let you do ten incorrect repetitions without saying something. I could actively hurt you by trying to spare your feelings.

It’s kinder to tell you. But that doesn’t always seem nice.

And there’s the rub. Some people would rather you go along with them down the rabbit hole. Their misery would rather have company than a guide. They never want things to get real. This group rarely makes real progress. They might even get gradually worse.

These people will tell you how hard things have been for them. And that they can’t possibly be expected to ______ [fill in the blank].

The part of me that’s nice doesn’t want to call them out on this.

But the part of me that’s kind realizes that without a realistic and objective point of view, people can’t learn and change.

I’ve written a few blogs about compassion here, here, and here. It’s a quality I developed in part by being bullied, and by witnessing injustice in the world. My perspective grew as a result. Now compassion is one of my most important tools as a coach.

But there are limits to compassion.

Caring about people in general is a good thing. But as a coaching tool, compassion has its limitations.

Coach Craig Weller of Precision Nutrition pointed this out to me. I had just taken a psychometric test, meant to highlight your individual abilities. I noted that I’d scored higher in compassion, so it was clear to me that compassion was what I should emphasize as a coach.

He pointed out that compassion has limits. There is such a thing as too much empathy. For example, a surgeon can’t do surgery on a loved one. The depth of compassion they feel for that special someone could prevent a surgeon from making the sort of split-second (and emotionless) decision that saves lives.

The wind wasn’t taken out of my sails a bit. But of course Craig was right.

Compassion is just one tool in a coach’s toolbox.

Compassion can also be tiring. And not just for people who aren’t nice (in other words, people who have to work on their compassion). Some of the nicest humans I know get real compassion-fatigue when they have to use the compassion “tool” a bit too much.

(The Googled definition of compassion fatigue: “indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of those who are suffering, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such appeals.” In other words, you basically stop giving a crap about other people’s pain. You just run out craps to give.)

Anyone who helps others work through their problems can experience this kind of fatigue. Social workers and nurses are a couple of examples. Good people? Yes. Susceptible to compassion fatigue? Also a big yes, due to the multiple demands of their work.

I think of myself as a good person — Mr. Nice Guy, like I said before.

I’ve done dumb things, and wrong things. I’ve hurt people, and myself. I’ve fallen out of touch with people I’ll never get a chance to know again.

Regrets, I’ve had a few.

But deep down I think that I’m a decent guy.

For me that means:

I value compassion and loyalty. But I also value strength.

The strength to do the right thing, even if it’s uncomfortable. The strength to follow up on compassion. The strength to make loyalty mean something. The strength to turn loyalty and compassion into a sustainable and autonomous future.

There’s this public perception, meant to be funny, of the trainer or coach who is a total sadist. People assume that you are trying to crush them in the gym. They joke about it.

And the thing is, I’m not mean. I’m not trying to crush you when you come to my gym. I’m compassionate to the feelings of the people who are trying to get in shape. It’s tough work, and often complicated by body image issues, societal pressure, unrealistic expectations, and outright fear of trying new stuff.

It would be nice of me to tell you not to worry about it. Go home, and relax! And while you’re at it, eat and drink whatever you like.

Sounds nice right?


If you come to me for a result, the kind thing is for me to help you.

Telling you what you want to hear doesn’t help. Mr. Nice Guy can’t do the job.

Compassion increases perspective, and is an invaluable element of coaching practice. We create a more complete picture when we look at a situation with compassionate eyes.

But compassion has limits. And that’s important to remember when you are considering how much or little of this finite resource to spend. It must be a recoverable expenditure of compassion if both coach and client are to benefit from it in the long term.

Ron Dykstra
Co-Owner Iron Lion Training Inc.
1485 Dupont, #312, Toronto, ON
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