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Techniques > Conversation techniques > Conversational Traps > Over-niceness

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



When people are nice and friendly in a conversation then they are usually appreciated. Yet when niceness is over-done it can appear false or desperate.

Over-niceness can be seen in:

  • Constant enquiry about the other person's health' happiness and so on.
  • Rapt attention to the other person, hanging on their every word.
  • Exaggerated responses, such as horrified sympathy for their troubles or hearty laughter at minor jokes.
  • Easy forgiveness even for morally reprehensible statements.
  • Putting oneself last, waiting for others and letting them interrupt at any time.


A person fawns on a friend, prioritizing all their requests and forgiving them everything. The friend just finds it all a bit too creepy.

A man who likes a woman is constantly complimentary. The woman, while appreciating it, does not believe it all and wonders what the man is really like.


When people seem nice, it can be that they really are nice, with genuine care for others and not seeking anything in return.

In practice, when people are nice, especially those who we do not know well, experience may tell us that they really just want us to be nice in return. This is a normal exchange, but can become a problem when they want somewhat more than they give. For example if a person acts nicely then asks for something that is quite costly to provide.

Even when well-intended, niceness can overstep the mark when the other person feel excessively obliged. Social exchange works on a system of credit and if one person feels they owe too much to another person they may feel uncomfortable and can blame that person and even respond angrily or callously to the niceness.

Niceness may also be more about crafting one's own image rather than caring for others. Such falseness, when detected, can lead to disgust or anger rather than the desired reciprocal liking.

It is sociable and kind to be nice to others, even strangers and especially friends. Yet you should be aware of the social balance and not push niceness at them when it seems unwanted or where they are not nice in return. A good principle is to always start nice, then to watch their response and cool off if they seem uncomfortable.

See also

Relationships, Obligation principle

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