04/16/2015 08:41 EDT | Updated 06/16/2015 05:59 EDT

It's Time to Stop Being So Nice at Work

Jessica Peterson via Getty Images

Have you been trying to be a really nice person at work? Have you been noticing that your attempts have been backfiring? You might want to consider the possibility that instead of being so nice, you should work on trying to be kind, and that this subtle shift will make the difference between workplace struggles and workplace success.

The way I understand it, there's a meaningful distinction between being kind and being nice; with the former being a successful interpersonal style at work and the latter being much more problematic.

People are kind and compassionate when they're confident and comfortable with who they are. Having good self-esteem, they're not overly preoccupied with how others see them.

An overly nice person, on the other hand, often feels more insecure, and seeks the approval and validation of others. This type of person tries to please others so that they can feel good about themselves.

Very nice people bend over backward to oblige. They deal with potential conflicts in the workplace by doing more for the other person because they can't bear to have anyone upset with them.

Kind people still expect to be treated with respect at work. They assert themselves when necessary and avoid conflicts by choosing not to engage with the troublesome individuals in their workplace. They're helpful to others but set appropriate limits on how much they'll do.

Overly nice people are often mistreated or taken advantage of in the workplace. They're the ones who do the lion's share of the work -- the ones who come in early, stay late and compensate for the slackers.

The overly nice person focuses on doing for others, to the detriment of their own needs. They rarely, if ever, ask for what they want, for fear of creating conflict.

Sadly, their need for approval makes them look weak in the eyes of their colleagues. As a result, they're more likely to be disrespected, exploited, even bullied. They try to please, but more often than not, their efforts are met with contempt.

Eventually, the people-pleaser can become resentful at work, especially if their attempts to curry favour are met with disrespect, or worse. There might even be emotional leakage, in the form of snarky comments, passive-aggressive behaviour or angry outbursts.

When the overly nice person's resentment begins to leak, the result is the opposite of what they'd intended. Instead of ingratiating themselves with their colleagues and supervisors, they end up alienated from them.

Kind people are happy people to begin with; it's their happiness that causes them to be thoughtful and considerate. Their positive attitude, as well as their confidence and self-respect, inspire the admiration of their colleagues and supervisors.

Nice people inadvertently create more unhappiness for themselves. Their need for affirmation fosters a negative reaction to their efforts to please.

If you've been an overly nice person at work, you should understand that your self-worth can never be improved by trying so hard to please others. You have to learn how to validate and respect yourself, and stop doing so much for your co-workers.

When you can focus on making yourself happy, you'll do a better job at work. You'll conserve the energy that you were previously spending on doing so much for others, and you'll be able to put more into your own performance. When you stop trying so hard to be nice, your relationships with your colleagues will improve.

Paradoxically, the less "nice" you are, the more likely it is that people will appreciate you and want to help you; the more you focus on respecting yourself and taking care of yourself, the more your supervisors and colleagues will respect you and support you.

If you like the idea of being a good person at work, but your attempts at being helpful have been backfiring, it might be time to let go of trying to be so nice, and choose simply to be kind, instead.

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