I was puzzled, embarrassed, and a little annoyed. I had reached out to an acquaintance. I wanted to give her a heads-up about something I was planning that I thought would affect her.
I did not anticipate her particular response. I felt like I had just touched a hot stove.
I was only trying to be nice.
“Trying to be Nice” is Tricky.
I had heard that same phrase from a client a few weeks before. She was angry with a colleague for not appreciating she had gone out of her way to help him. In fact, he was openly hostile.
She and I had very similar motives. She was trying to save the person time and inconvenience. I was trying to avoid an awkward moment. Both of us were trying to be helpful.
Her words in my ears, “trying to be nice,” struck me in a way I never noticed before.
If We Have to Try Then Maybe We Need to Rethink it.
Let’s think about that phrasing. If being nice requires “trying,” then maybe we should reconsider our motives. It’s tough though because most times we only say it in retrospect, after things don’t go as we intended.
When I think about times I’ve used this phrase I realize I set myself up. The person didn’t ask me to do anything. When they didn’t respond as I expected I’m left feeling some way about it, like disappointed or embarrassed. Sometimes I go to resentment.
I think I’m being helpful. A lot of us are naturally helpful. Sometimes I overdo it. I’m learning to stay in my lane. The key is catching myself before I cross the line.
It’s a Fine Line.
I find myself questioning my motives a lot right now when I feel the urge to be helpful —asking myself questions like:
- Is this coming from genuine generosity?
- Did the person ask for help?
- Did I ask them if they want help?
- Am I expecting a particular response?
- How will I feel if I don’t get it?
The Fate of a Recovering Over-Giver.
For me this is a life-long process of refinement. I’m going to continue to make mistakes because I can’t anticipate every possible outcome. At least now I can bring a little more insight into what I’m getting into. I’ll check myself with my questions. And also cut myself a break when I was just trying to be nice.
Image: Adapted from WOLKE108/Pixabay