Nice or Not?

There is an often used word we apply to other people: “nice”. What is the definition of nice? Do we ever think about it? According to, this simple word actually covers many things, but a few are: pleasing, agreeable, delightful, amiably pleasant and kind. These seem like basic words that we all understand, but isn’t it fascinating how in one venue a person can be so “nice” and in another, they aren’t “nice” at all?

An example that came to light for me this week is related to a serious head injury that my oldest daughter got in dance class. She fell to the floor during a practice move and received a concussion and whiplash as a result. I had heard over the years from her friends and others that the school nurse at their school is “not nice.” I didn’t know her at all, so could not render an opinion, but the students portrayed a person who wasn’t “amiably pleasant and kind.” However, I had the occasion to call this same person today to talk about my daughter’s situation. She could not have been more “pleasing, agreeable and delightful” to me, taking the time to explain what would happen once my daughter is back at school and how she can provide support.

Is she nice? Or not? When I had a chance to meet her, I observed a generally low-key and serious person. She was to-the-point, but referred to my daughter as “Honey” several times. She was clearly caring, careful and interested in my daughter’s well-being. So, is she “nice”? She is good at her job and knowledgeable, and obviously cares deeply about the students. Does she have to be nice?

When I was leaving a meeting the other day, I offered to follow up with someone who was giving the team I am working with some trouble. I offered to send a note of clarification on some things we are working on. My colleague said to me, “Be nice!” I stopped for a minute pondering this comment. Did this mean that I needed to use superfluous, flowery words when writing the email, so the other person didn’t feel badly? Did it mean that I should use “please” and “thank you” several times over? Did it mean that I ought to simply follow up right away so the person knows what the issue is?

We use words like this all of the time thinking that because we know what we mean, through our filters, others will also understand exactly the same way. I may see someone upbeat, motivational and enthusiastic as “nice” and you may see them as a “cheerleader” or “phony” because they are too promotional. I may find the nurse who took her time to explain and educate to be “nice” but you may see her as taciturn and unyielding. We assume each other has similar views, but then we find that our assessments don’t connect at all.

As you use words this week that you assume everyone should know and understand, stop for a minute and think about what you really mean. Are you assuming too much in your communication? Do you have favorite words that you use to describe others that could be interpreted in many different ways? Become more aware of your language and its impact on others.