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John A De Goes

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Stop Being "Nice" and Just Tell the Fucking Truth Already

I sat on a sturdy wooden chair at one of my favorite shops, sipping a black coffee and listening patiently as a fellow entrepreneur described where he was at with his business.

As he described his product, and the challenges they were having, I flashed back to my days at Precog.

If I was correct, he was about to learn many of the same lessons that I learned, in the same way I learned them: slowly and painfully.

Yet, there was a stark difference between what I was thinking, and what I was saying.

My brain was saying, “Watch out!” But my head was nodding in agreement. All I could offer were feeble platitudes like “That makes sense to me”.

As the conflict raged, I kept justifying my behavior.

I like this entrepreneur.

I should be nice to people I like.

It would be mean to suggest there are serious issues with the startup he’s poured his life into.

Those justifications prevailed, but I left our chat feeling uneasy about the choice I made.

Being “Nice”

In early-stage fund-raising, you’re told no a lot.

Being told no never really bothered me.

What did bother me, however, were the investors who gave me some bullshit reason for not investing, like “There’s no fit,” or “You’re too early stage for us,” or “We’re too busy to make an investment right now” (usually a few weeks prior to announcing another investment!).

It bothered me because I genuinely wanted to know why, so I could evaluate and use that information to make my business better.

Was I chasing a stupid dream? Was I attacking the market in a foolish way? Was revenue too low? Were my reference customers the wrong ones for a business like mine?

For most investors, I’d never know what they were really thinking, because they were too “nice” to tell me.

Later that day, after much introspection, I came to a sad conclusion:

I didn’t offer honest feedback because I wanted the entrepreneur to like me more than I wanted to help him succeed.

Apparently, I reflected, I’d rather see someone lose everything they’ve worked to build than risk being seen as unkind.

That’s the essence of being “nice”.

“Nice” is all about me, not the other person. “Nice” is about wanting to be liked by someone more than wanting to help that person.

Being Nice

That day, I resolved to change. No more Mr “Nice” Guy.

I’m going to tell the fucking truth, even when…no, especially when it’s unpleasant.

Because ultimately, being genuinely nice is about helping people achieve their goals, not about trying to be likable.

That’s what I want from others. So that’s what I’m going to give others.

Say hello to Mr Nice Guy.

I followed up with the entrepreneur, and shared my honest thoughts — not in a mean way, but in a constructive way.

I had prepared myself for the fallout. After all, even implying that someone is making potentially serious mistakes is enough to piss most people off for good.

Somewhat surprisingly, in this case, it had the opposite effect. We’re closer now than before, and hopefully he is better equipped to deal with the challenges he’s going to face.

Of course, it’s not always going to turn out so well. In fact, I expect most people to dislike me for being honest.

But no matter, because I’ve learned my lesson.

Being genuinely nice means I have to stop being “nice”, and just tell the fucking truth already.