Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf -George Orwell
Nice guys finish last. That is, until they learn what I’m about to tell you.
A little background.
I am a full time police officer in a department where the daily population goes up to about 100,000 people.
In my career, I deal with more difficult situations in one month than most people will deal with in their lifetime. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everyone, but working as a policeman gives me unique learning opportunities that aren’t available any other way. This lesson was hard learned, and I want to share the fruits of my labor with you.
It all starts with learning one phrase.
“Be nice until its time not to be nice.”
I must have heard this phrase about 1000 times between my time in police academy and my field training program. I always got the general idea of what it meant, but now that I have more time on the job I realize just how powerful that simple phrase is.
Before I got into police work, I didn’t have the same degree of self confidence and decisiveness that I have now. I wouldn’t say I was a pushover, but I often let people take advantage of me, and I let them overstep my personal boundaries. I did this because I thought that being nice no matter what the circumstances were was the right thing to do. I also didn’t really care for conflict, and I would avoid it any chance I could.
This is a part of my personality that has been radically transformed by police work. I went from running and hiding from conflict, to running full speed, head first into it.
Talk about culture shock! The truth I learned from my experience is that life isn’t always pretty.
Conflict happens. People will push you, and will take a mile when you give an inch… if you let them.
So what in the world does this have to do with you?
It comes down to the phrase I mentioned earlier.
“Be nice until its time not to be nice.”
Through my work I began to stand up for myself and grow from conflict instead of hiding from it. I also learned that this lesson transferred directly to my personal life. This is where you come in.
Here is the reality. You are going to have conflicts in your life, and people are going to try to bring you down to make themselves feel better. People are going to try to cheat you, lie to you and steal from you at some point.
The bottom line: there is a time where being nice just isn’t going to cut it.
Every once in a while, you need to not be nice.
There are two steps to learning how and when to not be nice.
1) Find out where your boundaries are.
It’s important to know exactly where your boundaries are. At what point is someone making you uncomfortable or pushing you too far.
There is a thin line between being nice and letting someone take advantage of you. Intimately get to know this line.
By always being nice, we fail to establish the necessary boundaries in our life that are essential to happiness and success. If you always turn the other cheek, someone will always be willing to hit you again. As negative as that sounds, I know how true it is from personal experience.
You need to establish that it’s not ok to hit you in the first place, and that you will not tolerate it. But this starts by knowing where your line is.
Criminals are especially good at pushing boundaries and taking advantage of others. Every single day I work I get lied to and my boundaries get tested. I have intimately learned where my line is. When my line gets crossed, that is my signal that it’s time to not be nice.
I have had some of the most friendly and open conversations with people I have arrested shortly after fighting with them and literally throwing them into the back of my cruiser. Once I have established that a barrier has been crossed and that I won’t tolerate it, I go right back to being nice again. I can flip the switch instantly between the two because I have clearly established these limits in my head. Anytime one of these boundaries are crossed in my life, it is my “go” button.
You have already begun to establish your limits. Now you need to link an action to that limit.
When someone crosses one of your boundaries, what will you do to let them know?
Honestly think of situations in your mind that have already occurred, or probably will occur in your life where someone is doing something that isn’t ok with you. Imagine situations where someone crosses one of your lines. This moment is one of your “go” buttons. Be as specific as possible and visualize yourself putting your foot down and speaking up. See yourself saying something specific that puts you back in control.
This visualization will become your blueprint for dealing with difficult people. Be nice until the person pushes your limits, then it’s time to put into action what you rehearsed. When one of your “go” buttons is triggered, you do just that, go!
It’s important to be as calm and clear as possible when establishing your boundaries, and expect the other person to get defensive. They aren’t used to seeing you stand up for yourself, and some people aren’t used to being told no. Take their defensiveness with a grain of salt and keep the conversation headed in the right direction. The most important part is that you make it known that you won’t tolerate your boundaries being crossed.
There are big consequences for not establishing boundaries in life. If I only had a nice side and always let everything slide in my line of work, I would get myself or one of my partners killed.
Maybe the stakes aren’t that high for you, but learning your limits and establishing your “go” button is just as important. Letting people take advantage of you costs you just as much, because it makes you question your worth and your identity. When someone does something to you that you know you aren’t okay with, and you are still nice to them and don’t deal with the problem, it eats away at your psyche and your self confidence. When you learn to put your foot down and become vocal about your limits, it is invigorating. You gain a sense of self worth that is only achieved by standing up for yourself.
Now I don’t want you to think I am saying to never forgive and forget. 95% of my day is still made up of me being extra nice and helping others in any way I can. People that know me outside of work can’t believe that I’m a cop because they always say I am way too nice. I still truly believe in being nice and helping others. But I have learned the importance of establishing my limits.
Remember the second part of the phrase, “until its time not to be nice.” The only shift I have made in my daily activities is that now when someone crosses a boundary, I have no obligation to be nice anymore. I do what needs to be done to preserve the peace and my personal identity.
It’s also important to realize that when I say its time to not be nice, it doesn’t mean you have to be mean. Often times a stern tone of voice, or a simple no will accomplish your goal of establishing a boundary with someone. Very rarely at work do I have to actually be mean to get my point across to someone that I won’t tolerate anymore of something.
Learn the power of the word “no”. It is often the simplest way to establish a boundary in any given situation.
A powerful example of this principle is to watch an effective parent disciplining their child. They are not mean, but they are stern in establishing limits. And this in turn helps the child become a better person. Limits are extremely important to living a happy life for all parties involved in any situation.
It’s possible to be nice and still not let anyone take advantage of you. This is the balance you want to achieve. Know your self worth, and don’t let anyone take it away from you.
People often mistake kindness for weakness. Lets show them just how wrong they are.
Is there someone in your life that is taking advantage of your kindness or pushing your boundaries?
How far do they need to go before you reach your limit, and what will become your “go” buttons?
Photo Credit: Pete Birkinshaw