There are two things I know for sure about kindness.

1. Kindness is not weak.
2. Often, kindness not easy.

Kindness is often characterised as an individual who is missing his backbone. Someone who apologizes for something that’s neither his responsibility nor doing or who is standing in the background being trampled on and taken advantage of because he has no boundaries.

True kindness, however, is neither weak nor easy. It takes strength, patience, and wisdom to be kind. The “kind” acts that we do to be “nice” in order to avoid conflict, confrontation or seem mean aren’t kind at all. Unfortunately, by being “nice” we neglect the potential negative impact of our actions. For example, when we tell someone that his below average-level work is really good just so we don’t hurt his feelings, we avoid telling him that his work actually needs more attention. Of course, what happens here is he presents it to his boss who is probably more concerned with the quality of the product and not very interested in being “nice.” In effect, we’re not really being nice to him but are setting him up to be taken down by his boss. We’re being nice to ourselves by avoiding a negative, and potentially uncomfortable, conversation.

To tell him truth about his work may not be easy, especially if he thinks it’s great and he really wants to be complimented. A lot of the time, however, we can be kind and honest by communicating well; we can give negative feedback positively. For example, if your colleague is asking your opinion on his work and the reality is that it isn’t as good as it could be, giving constructive feedback is far more beneficial to him than being “nice” and setting him up for disappointment with his boss’ “feedback” (which as we all know can be pretty harsh sometimes).

It’s times like these when we really need to think about what we should say and how we should say it so we don’t crush his self-esteem but help him understand what’s not working well and how he can make it better. For example, you could say to your colleague, “These two areas are done pretty well, but if you want to bring your work up to the next level, you could do…” and give him some ideas to improve.

Other times, we try to convince ourselves that being “nice” is being kind because we don’t want to deal with the discomfort of kindness. We have to decide who we want to be kind to. If it’s to ourselves, then it’s easier to do the less kind action so we can be comfortable and not face any conflict. If it’s to others, then we often have to have the strength to put ourselves in an uncomfortable position for the long-term benefit of another.

For example, having to tell someone that he has to leave the team because he’s holding back the rest and you don’t have the luxury of time to get him better trained can be a really hard thing to do. It would be easy to cast a blind eye and not deal with the issue because we want to be “nice” and not hurt his feelings. But is that being fair to the rest of the team? If he stays on and the team loses, who benefits? The team will blame its failure on him and this will damage his self-esteem and self-confidence. What we have to remember is to do the right thing in a kind way.

When kindness is expressed in a way that is compassionate, understanding and respectful, it is easier to be kind without the potential hazards of being “nice.” And while it can be hard to be kind, it’s even harder to live with the after effects of “nice.”