Being Nice vs Kind – What’s The Difference? (8 Experts Explain)

Martin Caparrotta
By Martin Caparrotta
Updated on 2 November 2020
Expert Content

Nice vs kind. What’s the difference?

On the face of it, being nice and being kind may seem like similar behaviors. But, as you may already be aware to some extent, that’s not quite the whole story.

We asked a selected group of experts to deliver their thoughts and explanations on being nice vs kind.

Here’s what they said.

Kindness Is A Deep-Seated Characteristic

Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

In my work over many years with my therapy clients, nice and kind are words that often get used and abused, with confusion about how couples and family members actually respond to each other.

Being nice is most typically defined as: pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory. These are certainly acceptable behaviors, but lacking any sense of emotion; nor are they behaviors that would feel particularly special to those you deem close to.

Nice is more about manners, culture, and general expectations of decent behavior to others.

Being kind goes beyond nice in ways that are essential for happy and emotionally healthy relationships within marriage and family life.

Kindness is a deep-seated characteristic that allows us to put forth sympathy for others, and gives us the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes to understand their needs.

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Niceness Is Overrated. Be Kind Instead

Banu Hantal, Leadership Psychologist and Executive Coach

In my practice, I see frequently how people create hell for themselves paved with good intentions.

They do not ask for what they need, they do not give crucial feedback and they enable dysfunctions of others by overcompensating for them – all in the name of being nice.

That’s only the surface reality, though. Niceness is a tricky trait.

Frequently, it’s the disguise of our selfish need to be liked. We want to think that we are nice, but more than that, we want others to think that we are nice. This kind of niceness makes us lose our voice and leads us to become inauthentic.

When we stop speaking up on important issues because we are afraid to hurt or offend others (translation: when we are afraid they won’t like us or be mad at us), it locks us and others to the status quo. It rips off the chance for things to get better.

Be kind instead. Kindness is about having our hearts in the right place. It’s about wanting the best for others and for ourselves. It has nothing to do with being liked.

Kindness requires that we speak up on crucial matters. It allows us to let people face their reality and grow from it.

Kindness allows us to be authentic and caring at the same time. Niceness is overrated. Be kind instead.

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Nice And Kind Are Worlds Apart

Donna Cameron, Author and Speaker

I’ve spent six years researching and writing about kindness.

One of the major premises of my 2018 book, A Year of Living Kindly: Choices That Will Change Your Life and the World Around You, is that nice and kind are very different things, and that we should strive to be kind.

While, for some people, the difference may be merely semantic, I’ve come to see that nice and kind are worlds apart.

Nice just doesn’t ask that much of us. It’s doing the safe thing, the polite thing, taking the easy and expected action.

We can be nice without expending too much effort, without making a connection or taking any risk.

We can even be nice while merely tolerating someone with gritted teeth and a false smile. We can be nice and still be critical and make judgments about the person we are interacting with. Kindness asks much more of us.

It requires that we be vulnerable – willing to risk that our kind action might be rejected or misunderstood.

When we extend a kindness, we risk calling unwanted attention to ourselves, potential embarrassment, and appearing awkward or clumsy. And we do it anyway.

Kindness asks us to withhold judgment, to genuinely care about what the other person needs or expects, and to want to make a connection.

After six years of exploration, I see kindness as a verb – one that can be summed up by the phrase, ‘extend yourself’.

Being nice doesn’t ask us to step outside of our comfort zone. It’s easy. But being kind often takes both courage and strength.

It may mean having the courage to stand when everyone else stays seated, or to speak when others remain silent.

Kind people go beyond what’s expected of them. And they do it without any expectation of getting something in return.

They do it because of who they are and their vision of the world they want to live in.

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Being Kind And Being Nice Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

Bonnie Tsai, Founder and Director of Beyond Etiquette

Nice and kind are words that are often used interchangeably when we’re describing people.

Being nice is when you are polite and treat people well. We can be nice by holding the door open for the next person or apologize when we accidentally bump into someone.

However, being kind is a little deeper than that; being kind is more intentional, empathetic, unconditional.

For example, kindness being unconditional is being willing to help someone without expecting anything back or if you’re only willing to give if they’re willing to do this.

We can also think of it as what is the underlying intention of the action we’re putting forth, are we using it to create a favorable impression for the purpose of asking for a favor later or to look good.

Whereas, if the intention is to help the other person by saving them some extra work or inconvenience then it can be considered as kind while nice at the same time if it makes the other person happy.

Being kind and being nice aren’t mutually exclusive.

Kindness Is Expressed In The Actions You Take

Randi Levin, Transitional Life Strategist

The words “nice” and “kind” are often used interchangeably yet their definitions vary in scope and in depth.

You can be nice to anyone, even strangers. Niceties often are expressed externally in words and simple gestures more than in actions taken. The daily pleasantries we express like saying “thank you”, are often conveyed as a part of a societal norm, sometimes exchanged on auto-pilot.

Being nice is a positive way we can choose to treat others, expressing respect and levelling up interactions.

Being kind is much more significant because it goes beyond words and external interchanges.

Kindness is expressed in the actions you take and it is most often an outward expression of genuine internal feelings.

Being nice is an intended response to the moment, yet being kind tends to have more longevity and commitment.

Kindness is seeped in feelings and action steps that consistently build rapport.

Being nice is something you may opt into in the moment, being kind is a mindset habit that authentically transcends your daily interactions.

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Being Kind Is More Genuine And Heartfelt

Dr Alice Kerby, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Health Consultant

Being nice is more of an external practice based on years of conditioning.

Especially for women, we are told to be nice and play nice through our coming-of-age years and early childhood development.

Unfortunately, this coaching rarely came with more instructions as to how to put being nice into a practice that felt internally driven. Being nice feels more like a placating action, something we do to appear nice, something we do to show how good of a person we are.

Being nice is more like acting nice regardless of our internal thoughts and feelings on the interaction. Being nice can also be detrimental in that it negates our ability to stand up for ourselves and maintain a good sense of boundaries.

If we are being nice just for the sake of it, because we have grown up believing this is what we are supposed to do, it can keep us from speaking up when being nice isn’t the best option.

Being kind feels completely different, doesn’t it?

Being kind is more of an internally-driven approach to human interaction.

Being kind means we see someone else for who they are and like it or not, we can still treat them kindly.

It feels more genuine, heartfelt, and grounded in an embodied human experience.

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Kindness Includes Being Nice

Doug Noll, Lawyer and Professional Mediator

Being nice refers to behavior. So being nice means treating people with dignity and respect, being polite, using good manners, smiling, and engaging others so as to give them unexpected pleasantness.

Being kind implies that the other person is in distress. Kindness is both a behavior and an attitude of soothing the distress, helping to relieve the distress, providing accommodation for the distress, and so forth.

Generally, kindness includes being nice. Being nice does not necessarily include being kind.

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Why I Always Try To Be Kind

Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls

In my experience, people who are considered nice tend to be ‘pleasers’ looking for approval who others find agreeable.

Some are genuinely nice, while many just want to fit in and so may behave that way out of insecurity. If it is not authentic, they can become resentful if it backfires.

Kind people tend to be generous, compassionate and come with confidence, so they do not care if other people like them because they both love themselves and care about others.

They give from their heart and are treated with respect. I always try to be kind.

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