Are you a kind person or a nice person?

If you thought those two adjectives were basically the same thing, think again! Kindness and niceness might look similar, but underneath the surface, the two attributes are completely different. And that difference can make all the difference in your relationships, both personally and professionally. In fact, for some of us, replacing niceness with kindness just might be the key between peace and frustration both at home and at work.

Here’s why: Kindness comes from confidence. Niceness comes from fear.

  • A Woman of Kindness speaks what is true with love and conviction. A Nice Woman speaks what is pleasant to avoid upsetting others.

Whether it’s addressing the person on your team who chronically falls short, or the friend whose personal blind spot is affecting your relationship, kindness has the courage to speak up for someone else’s ultimate good. Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do is tell someone what they don’t want to hear, but need to hear. In fact, Proverbs 27:6 says “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Painful truth from a sincere friend is trustworthy, but empty compliments from someone with a different agenda leads in the wrong direction.

Do you speak trustworthy words? Or do you find yourself more concerned with avoiding an unpleasant conversation? It’s not always easy to do, but true kindness doesn’t settle for superficial niceness. Instead, true kindness cares about others enough to tell them the truth from a spirit of compassion.

  • A Woman of Kindness addresses conflict directly. A Nice Woman dodges it altogether.

Kindness can handle conflict in an emotionally healthy way. Niceness tries to ignore or downplay in order to avoid a negative response. As a result, while our actions might look like kindness on the outside, the inside is just people-pleasing niceness. In her book Leading Women Who Wound, Sue Edwards describes how easily we can act like we’ve moved on, forgiven, and overlooked an offense, but, in reality, we’re just avoiding a tough conversation: “If I want real resolution and lasting peace, I must be willing to dig into difficult issues. Only then can honest resolution restore the relationship. Only then can I see my adversary in the grocery store and not dodge down another aisle.” (99)

Ironically, it’s possible to be nice without being kind, and to be kind without necessarily being very nice! It may not feel nice to address the need for a change or a decision you disagreed with, but it takes kindness to stop sweeping it under the rug and work to resolve the issue and repair the relationship.

  • A Woman of Kindness fulfills God’s expectations. A Nice Woman fulfills other people’s expectations.

If you’ve ever felt trapped in the revolving door of living up to other people’s expectations, you know how exhausting it can be! When we settle for niceness, our decisions are based on how people might perceive us. We filter our words, actions, and even personal views through the lens of others’ opinions. In his book, Loving Kindness, Barry Corey describes how mere niceness deters us from fulfilling God’s expectations. “Niceness may be pleasant, but it lacks conviction. It has no soul. Niceness trims its sails to prevailing cultural winds and wanders aimlessly, standing for nothing and thereby falling for everything.”

When we pursue kindness, however, we direct our lives to reflect God and to live for what He expects of us. Micah 6:8 actually tells us what this is: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” To love and value kindness is one of the basics of being a woman of God. And when we focus on becoming the women God created us to be, we fulfill His purpose for our lives and do what He – not everyone else – expects.

  • A Woman of Kindness sets healthy personal boundaries. A Nice Woman lets people walk all over her.

It’s funny how the first word most of us learned to say as toddlers – “No!” – is often the toughest one to say as adults. We don’t want to seem rude or selfish, so we end up saying “yes” to something we can’t sustain (see #3!). But here’s where switching out niceness for kindness can change your life: It allows us to say “no” when a request or opportunity doesn’t fit our values, priorities, or commitments…even if that means disappointing others.

Perhaps you can’t take on an additional travel weekend because it would take too much time away from your family. It might feel like you’re not being very nice, but you’re certainly being kind and considerate toward your family. Maybe a coworker takes credit for your work and the nice thing to do would be to sweep it under the rug, but instead you can value truthfulness and excellence in a way that is also kind (plus, you’ll help prevent it from happening to someone else on your team – also kind!). Pursuing kindness instead of niceness also keeps us from feeling a false sense of guilt and being unnecessarily apologetic.

  • A Woman of Kindness invests in what is life-giving. A Nice Woman invests in what is life-draining.

When we’re motivated by God’s love for us, we’ll have the power to love others with life-giving kindness, instead of life-draining niceness. Since kindness is among the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), a kind woman is God-centered and God-controlled. Her acts of kindness will flow out of a heart that is filled with God’s love for others (1 Cor 13:4) and she lives in the abundant life that Jesus died to give her (Jn 10:10). When we settle for niceness, we’re not living in God’s love. Instead, we’re living in fear – fear of disappointing others, fear of what people think, fear of disapproval. And sooner or later, the weight of that fear becomes absolutely draining (Can I get an amen?!)

But, for the child of God, fear and love are completely incompatible. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”  If we’re living in the confidence of God’s love for us, we won’t be controlled by fear. Ephesians 4:32 tells us, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Philippians 2:3 tells us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”  This takes more than hollow niceness. It takes tough-minded, stout-hearted kindness.

Bottom line: Jesus commanded us to be kind. But He never talked about being nice. So don’t settle for empty niceness. You were created to live and love more authentically than that. Instead, resolve to be a woman of courageous kindness.

Katie McCoy serves as Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies at Scarborough College of Southwestern Seminary. She is also the editor of Katie loves hanging out with her college students, shopping with her mom, and eating all things chocolate. She’s also a self-professed political news junkie.