Beyond Pleasantries: Understanding Kindness vs. Niceness 

 March 12, 2024

By  Jane Frankland

In the tapestry of human interactions, the words ‘kind’ and ‘nice’ are often woven together so tightly that their distinct threads seem indistinguishable. On the surface, both suggest a pleasantness, a quality of being agreeable or gentle in nature. But is there more to it? Could these two seemingly synonymous words actually spell out different narratives in the screenplay of our lives?

The Facade of Niceness

Niceness is like a currency in the social marketplace. It buys us smiles, polite nods, and superficial harmony. Being nice often involves a polished exterior—words and actions are carefully curated to prevent rocking the boat. The focus lies in maintaining a status quo, yielding an outward appearance of agreeableness.

“Have a nice day!” “Nice to meet you!”—the taglines of niceness are scripts we’ve all memorised. It’s the glossy finish on the surface of our day-to-day exchanges. But niceness can be a mask, one that conceals true emotions for the sake of civility. It rarely demands sacrifice or deeper understanding. It’s a script for peacekeeping, useful in cyber, but one that can be devoid of genuine personal engagement.

The Substance of Kindness

Kindness, however, is a deeper well. It doesn’t just skim the surface; it plunges into the waters of empathy and consideration. To be kind is to be fundamentally concerned with the welfare of yourself and others, even if that concern requires going beyond what is comfortable or expected of you.

True kindness is not an act; it’s a disposition—a consistent behaviour that stems from a place of genuine care and compassion. Kind acts require no audience. They are as pure when they go unnoticed as when they are lauded. This distinction is critical. Kindness is rooted in the intent of your actions, not just the actions themselves.

In a world of performance, high pressure and burnout, it could be you giving yourself permission to say no, to opt out, to take a break, or even sick leave! It’s about understanding the value of being kind to yourself as well as to others. Practicing self-care is a powerful leadership example, and of kindness in its purest form.

The Intersection and Divergence

Being nice can bring comfort, and kindness can challenge; both have their place. Striking the balance between them requires understanding of what drives each concept. For example, you can hold the door open out of niceness, adhering to social etiquette, and also from a place of kindness, recognising someone else’s need. The divergence lies in motivation and depth. Niceness can be a reflex, sometimes empty of real sentiment—it’s the low stakes game. Kindness, on the other hand, is the high stakes game—it invests in others and often requires personal sacrifice.

I was reminded of this when I attended Sarah Armstrong-Smith’s book launch last week. It was a fun-filled evening where she talked about her book, Understand the Cyber Attacker’s Mindset’ and introduced many of the people she’d interviewed, including a former Anonymous hacker (Lauri), Britain’s biggest fraudster (Tony), a retired Supervisory FBI Special Agent (Miguel), as well as professors, and technologists who deeply understand the hacker’s mindset.

When there I was introduced to several people, some of whom needed my guidance. However, as the evening was quickly drawing to an end, I was unable to chat further. So, I suggested we jump on a call. This moved from a nicety to an act of kindness, taking the time to listen and engage with people whose stories truly intrigued me.

I was reminded of this by Miguel when we spoke.

Why Draw a Line?

Why bother distinguishing between kindness and niceness? Because intention matters. In recognising this difference, we empower ourselves to pursue authentic relationships and connections. A culture that prioritises true kindness over performative niceness is one where individuals feel seen, supported, and valued—not just as passersby in our life, but as co-authors of our shared human narrative.

All too often this is missing in corporates where relationships are built transactionally, on a veneer of niceness. This leads to a culture where kindness is at best, an afterthought—a sentiment we talk about but rarely practice.

Embracing True Kindness

None of this means that you should forsake politeness altogether; it’s still nice to be nice! And there’s a value to it—it oils the gears of societal functioning. However, the world calls for the substance of kindness now more than it maybe ever has. We need to reach beyond pleasantries and offer real support and understanding to one another.

Next time you find yourself on the cusp of an act of ‘niceness,’ pause and consider how you might transform that action into one of kindness. Instead of complimenting someone’s work to be polite, take a moment to genuinely engage with them, perhaps leading to a meaningful conversation. Instead of just smiling at someone to ease an awkward moment, offer assistance if it seems like they could use it.

To End

In the end, we must strive to move beyond superficiality. While ‘nice’ smoothens interactions, ‘kind’ transforms them. It’s this transformation—this ability to change lives for the better—that underscores the profound power of kindness. By valuing kindness over niceness, we can forge deeper connections and build a more compassionate, empathetic world.

Remember, it’s not just about holding the door, it’s about why we choose to do it. Choose kindness, and see how it transforms your own life as well as others’.

Now I want to hear from you…

Tell me about a time when someone showed you genuine kindness and how it impacted your life. Drop me an email or join in the discussion on LinkedIn. It’s open for discussion and sharing stories related to kindness. 

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Jane frankland


Jane Frankland is a cybersecurity market influencer, award-winning entrepreneur, consultant and speaker. She is the Founder of KnewStart and the IN Security Movement. Having held executive positions within her own companies and several large PLCs, she now provides agile, forward thinking organisations with strategic business solutions. Jane works with leaders of all levels and supports women in male dominated industries like cybersecurity and tech. Her book, IN Security: Why a failure to attract and retain women in cybersecurity is making us all less safe' is a best-seller.


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