By Amy S. Courter

Recently, I’ve found some teams struggling to build trust. It appears that our pandemic separation, or perhaps even our reentry into engagement with each other, has added stress and strained trust more than we expected. Our relationships feel different now, don’t they? More than a few times in recent sessions, I’ve felt compelled to explain the difference between being “nice” and being “kind” to our teams. With all the challenges of the day (a pandemic, for starters), many great leaders may think that softening their approach and focusing on being “nice” will win the day. But, will it?

Being “nice” seems harmless. After all, we’re choosing to consider the feelings of others when we’re being nice. We want them to be happy, to stay on our team, to like us. Or, are we simply trying not to rock the boat? Are we more concerned about their reaction and its impact on ourselves? Whatever the reason, choosing to be “nice” rather than “kind” often means we’re withholding important information from the person who most needs it.

Here’s the key difference: being “kind” means being open and honest. Being kind requires us to speak up and to care enough to have difficult conversations. Kindness calls upon our best selves, to respectfully, thoughtfully, and carefully be open and honest with others. Brutally honest? No, I hope you’ll choose to be honest in a care-full way. If we’re truly caring about our team members and the outcomes for the team as a whole, then communication should be coming from both our hearts and our heads. We should be prepared to be open ourselves; we need to be willing to hear others’ thoughts and positions, to communicate well and to listen even better. Being kind is treating others—and ourselves—well.

When faced with a tough conversation, have it. Stop trying to be too “nice” and focus on being open, honest, and “kind.” Trust and respect the other person enough to give them the gift of important feedback—or “feed forward” as I like to say. Lastly, I believe there are two words you should say when others come forward to be “kind” to you in a tough conversation. They’re not what you may think! The proper first two words are “THANK YOU!” Thank your team for their honesty and openness with you, then make sure you reflect it right back at them with your time and response. May you seize opportunities to give gifts of kindness to those around you.