in: People, Podcast, Social Skills

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #407: How to Stop Being a Nice Guy

We’ve been told since we were little kids to “Be nice.”

But what if being nice isn’t really that good and it’s making you and those around you miserable?

That’s the provocative argument my guest today makes. His name is Dr. Aziz Gazipura. He’s a psychologist and founder of the Social Confidence Center. In his latest book, Not Nice, he makes the case that being nice is holding a lot of men back in their lives.

We begin the show by talking about what people think “nice” means, but how it usually plays out in reality. Dr. Aziz then digs into the issues that pop up over and over again in the lives of people pleasers, like anxiety, depression, anger, and resentment. We then discuss what the opposite of nice is, and no, it’s not being a complete jerk. He then shares specific tactics the chronically nice can start using today to be more assertive, like saying no without feeling guilty, getting over feeling responsible for everyone’s feelings, and stating your preferences.

If you’re a chronic nice guy, this episode is for you.

Show Highlights

  • What do most people think it means to be nice? How does it really end up playing out?
  • Why being nice often comes from fear
  • Negative manifestations of being nice 
  • How does niceness play out in men?
  • Aziz’s story as a recovering nice guy and getting over his shyness and social anxiety 
  • The disease of over-responsibility and assuming the burden of other people’s feelings
  • How niceness builds resentment 
  • Where people learn niceness and how it starts in childhood
  • The abrupt break from childhood to adulthood 
  • If niceness isn’t the goal, what are we aiming for instead? 
  • Strategies for getting better at saying no 
  • Why you shouldn’t apologize for saying no or not accepting an invitation 
  • The mindset shift that needs to happen in order to stop people-pleasing 
  • Why do “nice” people have a hard time establishing and keeping boundaries 
  • How to overcome being a nice parent 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Not Nice by Dr. Aziz Gazipura book cover.

Connect With the Dr. Aziz Gazipura 

Dr. Aziz’s website 

Dr. Aziz on Twitter

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. We’ve been told since we were little kids to be nice. But what if being nice isn’t really that good and it’s making you and those around you absolutely miserable? That’s the provocative argument my guest today makes. His name is Dr. Aziz Gazipura. He’s a psychologist and a founder of the Social Confidence Center. And in his latest book, ‘Not Nice’, he makes the case that being nice is holding a lot of men back in their lives.

We begin the show by talking about what most people think nice means but how it usually plays out in reality. And then Dr. Aziz digs into the issues that pop up over and over again in the lives of people pleasers like anxiety, depression, anger, and resentment. We then discuss what the opposite of nice is and no it’s not being a complete jerk. He then shares specific tactics the chronically nice can start using today to be more assertive like saying no without feeling guilty, getting over feeling responsible for everyone’s feelings and stating your preferences. If you’re a chronic nice guy this episode is for you. After this show is over, check out the show notes at

Dr. Aziz Gazipura, welcome to the show.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Thanks. Thanks for having me, Brett. I’m excited about this.

Brett McKay: So you are a psychologist. You do counseling with individuals and you wrote a book that has an intriguing title, ‘Not Nice’. Because the way you frame the issue in the book is that niceness is a problem for a lot of people. So before we get into why niceness, being nice is a problem what do you mean by being nice? What do most people think it means to be nice but how does that actually play out in reality?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: You know it’s a great question. And in my experience working with a lot of clients, but also for my own life, I started to see a pattern which was that the people that were the nicest, also had the most anxiety. The most social anxiety, the most problems with self-esteem. And I started to look at the whole concept a little differently. I said, “Maybe being nice is not so great.” And so I started to see it more and more and more. Started to talk about it with clients and then came up with this idea I need to put this all in a book. And I was starting to write the book and then I had this strange thought. I was like, “Wait a minute. Maybe not everyone is against nice. Maybe nice is good for most people.” So I sit and having some dinner with some friends and I said, “When you guys hear the word nice, like so and so is nice, would you say that’s a positive quality or a negative quality?” And you know what I found Brett, it was actually very mixed. Some people said, “Oh that sounds like they’re a really good person.” Some people said, “Oh no they don’t have … they’re people pleasing whatever”.

So I realize first things first when I was writing this book, I had to clarify what I mean by nice. Because even someone listening right now might think, “Nice, that’s good that’s how you want to be. That means you’re a good human.” And what I mean by nice is actually a very specific pattern that is rooted in fear. And at its core there is inability to tolerate upsetting others. I don’t want to make you upset. I don’t want to do anything that’s gonna bother you, hurt you, burden you, irritate you. And so I’m going to limit myself. I’m gonna conform to what I think you want so that everything is smooth. And that’s really what’s behind most nice behavior when you look at it. And it’s very different from being kind, generous, loving, compassionate and these other high virtues that we actually want to be in life.

Brett McKay: So I mean when people think they’re being nice they’re thinking I’m putting others first but they’re not really putting others first for the person. They are doing it for themselves. Because it soothes that anxiety about being rejected or upsetting people. It’s all about them.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Absolutely right, and this is the hard one for people to … it’s a little bit of a bitter pill to swallow. But it is liberating to see that. I’m doing that because I can’t tolerate you being upset with me. I’m doing this out of fear.

Brett McKay: So what are some you said some of the ways that people, niceness manifests itself in a negative way. Is it just a matter of not being able to say no. Just going with the flow, et cetera? What are some manifestations of this bad niceness?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Sure, it’s really all of what you’re saying and more. So if I can’t do anything that’s gonna make waves, make friction then I’m gonna have to go with the flow no matter what. I’m not gonna be able to say no to you because that might upset you. I also can’t ask for what I want directly. Because what if that’s gonna bother you? What if you feel burdened by my asking? I’m certainly not gonna disagree with you, have conflict with you, I’m not gonna point out something that bothers me that you did or that’s not working. I’m gonna keep that all inside. I don’t want to make waves. I don’t want to upset you. So I’m gonna hold more and more inside. So there’s a lot of holding back, restriction, silencing yourself.

And then with that we do a lot of mental games to justify why we’re doing that. “Oh, now is not the time. Oh, I should just let it go. I should be more relaxed. This shouldn’t bother me so much.” And so we keep this lid on. This was a lot of lack of expression of what’s bothering us. And it’s these big things that I’m talking about. Not saying no. But it’s really moment to moment. It’s in that conversation. Do I change the subject? If someone says, “Oh I think such and such.” Do I just say, “Oh cool, yeah, yeah” or do I say, “Huh. You think that? Really? Oh, I see it differently.” Like that seems very minor but it infuses everything. And so really it’s this whole way of approaching life that we steer more and more towards not being real and just being what we think is gonna please others.

Brett McKay: And besides the pleasing others, it’s what’s being nice is all about. Another thing you talk about in your book is that when people are “nice” they do so with this idea that well if I’m nice then people will return the favor to me. They’ll give me what I want. But the nice person because they’re nice they don’t say what they want and so they expect everyone just to know what they want. But because no one knows what they want they don’t get what they want so that causes the nice person to get angry. It’s like this weird symbiosis like a non-virtuous cycle that happens.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Sure, yeah we get stuck in it. And there’s a lot of resentment that can build up from that. And again, stories in the nice person’s head that’s like, “I shouldn’t have to ask for what I want. If they really loved me they would just know.” And that’s another non-virtuous cycle because the person doesn’t know but they might love you very much or care about you. They just don’t know because there’s a lack of assertiveness there. There’s a fear about asking for what we want and so we avoid it and demand that they know.

And at the end of the day, it’s not about … it doesn’t make you a bad person if you’re doing this. It’s just it’s not very effective. And that’s my goal is for people to have more effect where they can really have a better relationship. Really connect more and love more, whether it’s for work or personal life, just have better relationships.

Brett McKay: In your counseling, particularly the men, how does niceness, the negatives of being nice, play out in men and how is that different from women?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: So in both men and women niceness leads to a lot of passivity. And one of the major problems, specifically for men manifests as is it severely can limit their dating relationships and their love life. They can be so passive they might not even initiate interactions. Or if they do initiate interaction with someone they’re attracted to, out of that niceness they don’t want to display or show any attraction, any intent. Like I’m interested in you to date or to be with you. So they’ll be more platonic and friend-y and just nice. And the result is they won’t really have that much success in their dating life. And this is where you get ideas like nice guys finish last and oh, women love assholes and all these stories. And it’s not … I mean that’s a whole another topic but what’s really missing is this clear display of like I’m into you. And yeah let’s see what’s there. Because they’re kind of hiding it all. So really severely limits dating and relationships.

Work is another big area. And what happens is they tend to be more passive in meetings. Don’t rise to leadership positions. A very common pattern with someone who’s too nice is they’re very good, they’re very technically skilled at their job. There’s a lot of potential to accelerate in their career but they don’t because of these issues that we’re talking about. And of course, social life. And they still might have friends. Doesn’t mean they’re like totally lonely and restricted. But it’s just the quality of the friendships might not be what they want. They might not be as real or authentic with people in their lives. And as a result, there can be this sense of loneliness, and that’s what I really experienced.

I had people that loved me in my life. Friends, parents even as I got more boldness and confidence, women in relationships. But I was still doing so much niceness that I didn’t really feel that love because I was just putting up this front. So they were loving the front but deep down I wasn’t actually feeling that sense of I’m loved for who I am. So along with this, there can be a sense of loneliness.

Brett McKay: Well yeah, let’s talk about that. You in the book describe and give vivid detail about you’re a recovering nice guy. What was that like for you and at what point did you discover this was getting in the way of you progressing in life?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: That’s a great question. I’d say there was probably two stages. The first stage was I don’t even know it was niceness. I was just so much social anxiety, self-loathing, low self-esteem. And it reached a breaking point I was like, “I have to do something.” And then I started to look up confidence and dating advice and really was desperate enough to face my fear and actually apply what I was reading and studying. And in that stage, I was more bold. I became more assertive and outgoing in some ways to be able to create dating relationships, even socially. And that works to a degree but what that didn’t resolve was the niceness. So I kind of be a little more bold but my general disposition was still very nice. And even if I did start to date. After the first date or maybe even the first couple of dates and we sleep together then I’d flip into super nice guy.

One of the biggest pain points for the nice person is guilt. And it comes from what I call over-responsibility in the book. You take way too much responsibility for other people’s feelings. And nowhere did I do this more than with dating relationships. So whatever I do I better not create the slightest feeling of discomfort in her. Whether she wants to do x and I don’t want to do x I want to do y, well I better just do x because I don’t want to disappoint her. She wants to hang out on a certain day I better clear my schedule. As I say it, it just sounds so extreme but it was. And so even though I was outwardly a bit more bold and confident this niceness was really plaguing me, and it prevented me from actually being able to have a lasting long-term relationship because I had no boundaries.

Brett McKay: Yeah, so why do you think the over-responsibility got in the way of a lasting relationship? Because people would hear, “Oh wow, someone would want to stay with you if you’re catering to their needs” But why isn’t that the case?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: They might want to stay with me but I don’t want to stay with them. Because the relationship starts to become all about the other person. It starts to become a cage and that’s how I’d feel. I would want to be this super great guy. The man of her dreams and I play that role for as long as I could sustain it which was usually about three to five weeks. And just imagine that you can never say no. You can never really disagree. You can never just be you. And how long can you hold that out and for me it was about a month. And so it doesn’t really work because it’s not a real relationship. It’s a pseudo-relationship. It’s fear based, right. It’s like I have to be this way so that you’ll stay with me. And if I was just me then that wouldn’t work for you. That’s the story, anyway. And so that’s why it didn’t work.

Now here’s the thing though, for some people it does “work” in the sense that they stay in the relationship. Because me, I’d worked on my dating confidence and skill enough to be able to know that I could go out there and meet someone else. And a lot of nice guys haven’t developed that ability or skill so they’re like well this is the best I’m gonna get. This is the only attention I’m gonna get so they’ll stay in that. And that’s a common pattern. I’ve talked to men, clients, or just people that watch my channel or other things who have stayed in relationships for months or even years, longer than they actually want to, because they don’t think there’s any other options out there for them and they’re just stuck in that nice relationship. Plus, “Oh my god it would break her heart. I’d be the worst guy in the world if I were to leave her. She couldn’t handle it.” Over-responsibility all over the place here. And so they’re stuck and they’re in that relationship for years.

Brett McKay: And I imagine, like a lot of things with the niceness problem is that built resentment. Like you feel trapped. You feel like you have no freedom, that you have no say and that just, like the resentment I think is like the kind of reoccurring theme I saw throughout the book. And then it just builds up and builds up in guys who are nice.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: It does and here’s the worst part about it, though. Like a nice person can’t be angry. That’s not nice. That’s one of the first rules of nice training from our parents right. Don’t be angry, to be nice. And so well what is … yeah as you pointed out there’s all this resentment building. So what happens? The resentment has to be pushed down, suppressed and go unconscious a lot of the time. And that doesn’t mean problem solved. That means it’s growing in there we don’t know what’s … it’s like mold growing in the yogurt with the lid on the container. And it’s building and then it comes out in all kinds of ways. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks. Panic attacks is one I had. Physical problems, all kinds of physical pain and injuries, stomach problems, back problems, neck problems, foot problems, whatever any part of your body can be affected, migraines. So we have all this stuff going on. All this resentment and niceness and we can just be totally unaware and think that we’re just trying to be a good person in life.

Brett McKay: Yeah and so you said that resentment builds up you’re getting angry. You can’t express it because that’s not what nice people do. One of the ways that it manifests itself that’s really annoying is passive-aggressiveness. Where you just sort of like you kind of get back at the person but you do it in an indirect way.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Sure, yeah and a lot of the time people aren’t even aware that they’re doing it. Again, because to be aware like, “Oh, I’m angry at you and now I’m gonna display that in a passive-aggressive way.” That takes a lot of self-awareness and it also requires that you acknowledge that you’re really angry at them. And again, for the nice person that’s hard to do. Might not say that we are we, might not even not show it to others but even to ourselves we might not acknowledge it.

And so a lot of this passive-aggressive stuff is happening out of our awareness. It’s subtle things like the person texts you or calls or whatever and instead of texting back you look at your phone and you’re like, “Ack! I’ll get to them later.” Just like some aversion towards that person. We just kind of distance a little. We push back a little. And we don’t directly address what’s going on to resume and get closer to that person.

Brett McKay: Right yeah like at work you could be like if you’re resentful towards your boss. They ask you to do something and you’re like, “Oh I forgot.” And that can get you in trouble though.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Sure, oh yeah. It doesn’t work, passive aggression is not a very good long-term strategy for relationships, in work, or life. But it really is the best that person can be at that moment in time because in their mind, to be assertive and to say to their boss, “Okay, I don’t understand why you want me to do x. The rationale doesn’t make sense to me can you explain why I need to do x because it seems like a lot of work.” That doesn’t seem to bear fruit. That would be a thing that someone who’s assertive might say to their boss to get clarity on why they’re doing the project. The nice person might be terrified at the idea of doing that. So their only option is to say yes. And I talk about this in the book. There’s a formula. When we say yes but we feel like we have to say yes but we really want to say no inside, we’re gonna feel resentful. It’s just human animal. And so when that occurs they got resentment. Now what do I do with it? I don’t know let me just my boss I forgot, “Oh yeah, just didn’t get around to that task. Don’t know what happened, I don’t think I got the email.”

Brett McKay: Or you might take that resentment, you realize you can’t take it out on your boss or be assertive with your boss but you take it out on your family, your kids, your wife, et cetera. Because it’s easier because they’re close to you.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Sure. Yeah it’s less threatening there. That’s called a displacement where we take our anger. You can’t put it at the source which is scary so I’ll direct it towards someone who’s less threatening to me in some way.

Brett McKay: You mentioned our parents we learned how to be nice, we’re told that. But where else do we learn this whole idea of being nice and not asserting ourselves and going with the flow and not having boundaries? Where else do we learn this?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: You know it’s pretty built into the socialization of people, especially in the United States and other western countries as well. Where it just starts in the family but continues on with school. But basically our goal in a lot of ways in society is to create obedience in children. And there’s sort of a whole rationale behind this. It’s like, “Look kids are wild animals. You gotta get them in line. Look at that they have no empathy at age three. Look at them they’re monsters.” So you gotta get them in line. We gotta train them. And that starts in the family and parents are doing this a lot even if they don’t know it. I see this in myself. We have two small kids. The urge to get obedience and compliance is strong because it’s a lot energy. It’s hard to deal with some extreme emotions and desires that kids have. So it starts in the home, “Don’t do that. Stop that. Put that down.”

And here’s an example. There’s a friend of ours that was with our kids. And older brother hits younger brother and takes something. And she says, “Don’t do that. That’s not nice!” And take it back and gives it to the kid. And you might look at that and say well that’s great. That’s great, you’re teaching the kid not to do that. But really you’re not teaching the kid you’re trying to enforce a rule and I think there’s more skillful ways to help that situation that doesn’t impose that nice training.

But then they get to school, and you got, depending on what age you’re starting, but you got 10, 15, 20 kids per teacher in the room. You gotta have compliance and order. It’s the only way with a bunch of five year olds or six year olds in the room. So there’s a strong sense of this is right, this is wrong. Be this way, don’t be that way. There’s a desire in adults to see kids be kind to each other. And we want that to happen, and I think we want it to happen too early. We don’t understand the developmental stages of kids. They might just not have the empathy. So we try to make them do it. And you apologize for what you did there. And the kid just says, “I’m sorry” and it means nothing. But we’re trying to train them. And I think we need to nurture them more like plants than we do need to like train them like a dog.

And I think that training is happening all over the place and as a result, you have people that are trained, trained, trained from age zero to 16 or whatever age they start to maybe even 18. And we say, “Great now you’re out in the world. Now go be assertive! Go after what you want! Handle rejection! Don’t take no for an answer!” And it’s the complete opposite of what we trained them for. And then, “Why are you so passive? Why are you so compliant? Why are you so obedient?” Well, that’s what we trained them for.

Brett McKay: Maybe, later on, we can talk about if you’re a parent what can you do to not train your kid for this type of niceness. But before we get there let’s talk about if niceness isn’t what we’re aiming for. And comes with all these problems like anger, resentment, passivity, et cetera. What are we aiming for? What is the opposite of nice? I think most nice people would hear that well the opposite of nice is just being a jerk and an a-hole. Imagine that’s not what it is.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Right. And that’s the question that people sometimes say. “Should I just go total a-hole for like a month just to solve this problem?” No. It could be an interesting experiment but I don’t think that’s the best route. I think it’s a misunderstanding of what nice is. Still thinking that nice is a caring person.

Really, the solution and the opposite of nice is to be more you. To be more bold, expressive, authentic, direct, and assertive. That’s nice. If you think of nice as like this false persona, we’re just talking about being more the real you. So for example, someone says, “Hey can you do blah blah blah?” And you check in with yourself and you look and you’re like wow I have a lot going on in my life right now. To take that on it feels like too much right now. And you honor that inner … you honor yourself and what you feel like you can handle. Or what you want to handle. And you say, “Listen, I can’t do x.” And that’s being more assertive, more direct. It’s not being an a-hole. Here’s the thing though, people that have been nice for a really long time, here that and say, “Oh I can’t do that. I’d be such a jerk.”

So the problem is if we been nice for too long we’re not calibrated right. It’s just basic assertiveness, healthy boundaries, taking care of ourselves. We feel guilty, at first, doing it. We feel like we’re a bad person but you’re not. You just need to recalibrate to a healthier level of self-interest.

Brett McKay: Yeah that calibration analogy was really interesting for me. I’ve noticed that too, whenever I think about having to say no to someone. I’m not gonna let this person down. In my mind, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, they’re gonna be devastated and it’s gonna just completely they are just gonna be so sad and upset that I have to say no.” But in reality it’s not. I think it’s gonna be a 10 but in reality it’s a four. So how do you recalibrate yourself so you realize that by setting boundaries, by asserting yourself, but saying no, things aren’t gonna turn out as bad as you think they are?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: That’s a great question. Like any other form of fear, the way to overcome it is to face it and see what actually happens. So when I worked with a lot of social anxiety clients. If I talk to this person they’re gonna hate me. It’s gonna go terrible. They’re gonna not like this about me. And we can do all the inner work in the world to get them to have higher self-esteem and feel ready for it. At the end of the day, the thing that’s gonna transform the fastest is to go test that out. Talk to that person and see what actually happens. And just like you said, when I say no I think it’s gonna crush them. It’s gonna be a 10 out of 10, ruin their life. And it turns out it’s a four.

And the only way for you to really get that deep down in your nervous system, not just in your intellect but in your body, so you could feel more relaxed about saying no, is to do it. And to do it many times because the first time we do it we might be like, “Uuuh!” Just overwhelmed and we feel bad and guilty. And you do it again, and again, and again, and again. In fact, I talk about this in the book. I said the three-step process if you want the 30 thousand foot view on how to recalibrate and change ourselves. First is to really get on a front level. Hey I don’t want to be this nice. This isn’t about being a good person. This is about fear so I’m gonna do something different. That’s the first step, is to really get that and decide.

The next step is to do the stuff that’s uncomfortable. So, someone asks you a question. You do say no to them. You do ask what you want. You do tell someone that you’re bothered by something. You’re more direct. That’s the second step. The third step is to work through all the inner discomfort, which is probably gonna be guilt and anxiety. Those are the two biggest discomforts. I feel so guilty for saying that. I feel so anxious because I was more assertive. Did I go too far? Was I a jerk? You know we deal with that anxiety. We calm ourselves and over time we start to see wow the world’s not falling apart. My relationships aren’t disintegrating. In fact, and this has happened for so many clients of mine, they start to see, “Wait a minute. People actually are respecting me more.” People are … rather than burning the bridge and losing the relationship they actually seem to be more accommodating with me now. That I’ve been assertive with them. And it’s really a whole paradigm shift. It’s kind of mind-blowing for people when they see it.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I think that’s what a lot of nice people don’t realize, or people who are having this nice problem is that people respect individuals with autonomy and agency and who are bold and know what they want. They respect that or healthy people respect that I guess I should say. There might be some unhealthy people that actually take pleasure in someone who is groveling and passive. But most people want, especially for guys, women want a guy who knows what he wants in life and goes after it.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Absolutely, yeah which is the opposite of nice.

Brett McKay: Well let’s talk about some brass tacks things here that kind of help people kind of get to those sticking points when they’re first starting on this recalibration process. I know for a lot of nice people saying no just fills them with dread. Because they feel like they’re gonna let someone down. They’re going to upset them. So what are some things that people can do to get better at saying no? In a way that’s maybe graceful because I think it’s like a lot of people are feeling when they say no they’re afraid they’re gonna be awkward about it. So any insights there?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Really we want to let ourselves be beginners. So I want to look great doing some kind of dance. I don’t know, ballroom dancing. I actually don’t want to do that but that’s a great example. I want to look smooth ballroom dancing. Maybe you got a vision of some movie you saw. I want to be that. Okay, great on your first dance lesson you’re probably not gonna be that. And maybe it’s gonna take you a while. And it’s the same thing with saying no. You really want to start to think about all these things as just skills. And usually, if we’ve been nice for 10, 20, 30, 50 years whatever we haven’t built that skill. The muscles kind of atrophied and weak. So we gotta build it up and just give yourself permission to be a little clunky and a little messy. Oh, what if it’s awkward? Okay well my first couple will be awkward and then I’m gonna learn some things. And then I can do a few more and it’ll be smoother, and smoother, and smoother.

And I’ll give some specific tips too though so it can help accelerate that process. One is to first and foremost give yourself complete permission to say no to things in life. Because as long as you have this conflict inside, “Oh, I’m so bad for saying no.” It’s gonna come across either as overtly apologetic because you think you’re doing something super bad. Or kind of harsh and defensive. “I have a right to say no!” So you’re kind of harder in your voice. But when you’re really okay with it you could be a lot more relaxed and loving about it. “Oh come on you should stay an extra day for this thing.” “Oh, thank you for the offer that sounds great but I need to get back to whatever. So I’m not gonna be able to do that.” And you’re just very calm about it because you know it’s okay for you to say no. So that’s honestly, that inner work, that inner permission is the biggest tip.

And then in terms of the nuts and bolts of what comes out of your mouth, I recommend saying no early rather than later. So someone invites you to do something if you know you’re a no don’t say, “Oh yeah totally yeah let me check my schedule and get back to you.” That’s just you kicking the can down the road because you don’t want to feel that discomfort. Or you don’t want to say it to their face so you’ll say it via text. And that’s an opportunity to step up. This is boldness training. This is courage training. To be more real and authentic. So they say, “Hey can you come to this thing?” You say, “Oh actually no I have plans on Saturday. I’m not gonna make it,” or “Oh, you know that kind of thing doesn’t seem like my sort of activity but I’d love to get lunch with you next week.” So you say no, you say it directly.

The other thing is don’t apologize unless you done something out of your values. You hurt somebody or you yelled at someone, berated their character. If someone invites you to do something, and you say no, in my book that’s not apology worthy. Because again, that shows that you think you’re doing something wrong. “Hey can you come join me for this thing?” “No, sorry.” Don’t offer like a really long explanation. “I’m so sorry I would love to be able to do it but I gotta get my cat from the groomers.” I don’t know. And instead you can use things like, “Oh I won’t be able to make it,” or “Oh, thanks for the invite,” or “Oh unfortunately, I’m not free that day.” So things like unfortunately, and thanks indicate that you care but they’re not apologetic. So those are some of the basic tips that I would offer.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I found whenever I offered explanations that gets you in a bind because people are like they’ll resolve the explanation. Well okay just do this and then you can do it. And you’re like ah crap, okay. I’m in a pickle now. Because he’s right.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Yeah and that’s where these opportunities to just be a little more real with people. And this is where there’s this whole part to this to be direct and assertive but with care, with tact. And this is where you really see the difference between niceness and real love, connection, compassion, and kindness, and authenticity. So someone invites you they go, “Hey, come join me for this ball game,” and you’re like, “I can’t that Friday because I got such and such,” and they’re like, “Oh, well hey you know what it’s a series so they’re playing on Tuesday night. You should come out on Tuesday.” And now you’re like, “Oh god. I have to make up an excuse for every night of the week.” So instead of that they say, “Hey come to this ball game on Saturday,” you say, “Wow, thank you. That’s really cool. I know it’s like a series going on right now. Thank you for offering me that ticket, that’s really cool. I want to tell you though that personally I’m not a big fan of baseball. So I don’t think I would really enjoy that. I’d rather do something else with you. You want to go for a hike next week instead?” Now because you been more authentic you’re not hiding anything. And just to check in, Brett, if you heard that, does that seem like that would crush someone? Does that seem offensive or harsh?

Brett McKay: No because that person would find someone else to go with, probably.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Right and you’re just telling them. And I do. Saying hey thank for the invite is acknowledging the other person for inviting you. There’s no apology there and it’s really about connection with that person. Now that person knows and they’re not gonna offer the Tuesday one or the next one, or the next one, or the next one. They know you better. And I talk about this in the book. We have a choice. We can strive in life to be liked by everyone. That’s the people pleasing, approval seeking. Or we can strive to be known. And when you share hey I’m not into baseball let’s do something else. Now that person knows you better. And they know not to invite you to that anymore. It doesn’t mean your friendship’s over. It just means, “Oh yeah, Aziz doesn’t like baseball so let’s invite him to do something else.”

Brett McKay: Let’s get to that people pleasing thing because I think that’s at the heart of being nice. Reason why people don’t say no. The reason why people don’t say what they want. Like what is the mindset shift that has to happen so you stop people pleasing all the time?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: That’s a big one. So people pleasing is also called approval seeking. It’s basically, each person that I interact with I want them to like me. First and foremost, I want them to not have any negative thoughts, feelings, or judgements about me whatsoever. Secondly, maybe,  also I want them to think I’m really cool and be impressed by me. That’s great too but first and foremost I want them to not judge me or dislike me. Without knowing it, most people have that … sorry I just a call coming in there so edit that out. Without knowing it most people have this subtle orientation to each person that they meet. I want them to like me. And it might not be this intense kind of groveling I need this energy but just it’s in there in the background. And we feel bad, we feel uncomfortable, we feel like something’s going wrong. We wonder, why? Someone flips you off when you’re driving. And the most common reactions are to be hurt, “Why?! I didn’t do anything wrong.” Or to get enraged back. Which is just the flip side of the hurt.

So to shift this is … the next person to like me. I need the next person to like me. That means I need everyone to like me? That’s an exhausting quest. And what’s missing is why don’t I feel secure in myself? And to bring it back to child rearing and growing up. This comes from attachment theory, from John Bowlby is a psychologist that really researched a lot of this. But we connect with our parents. We attach to our parents and they attach to us. And ideally, the parent is like, “Hey, I love you. I’m generally patient with you and try to spend some time with you and give you attention and be with you a lot. As much as I can.” And you matter, you’re valuable and so forth. And then we get a secure attachment with that parent. And we feel like, “Hey I’m pretty worthwhile and I’m okay and out I go into the world.”

Problems are to occur though when, unfortunately, that attachment is maybe not the best. Maybe our parent is really busy a lot of the time. Maybe they get really angry at us. Maybe they like us if we do x and y but as soon as we start doing we get messy or we talk back or we’re wild they get really angry. Or they’re just, like in the case of my dad, my dad was just very busy with work. But also when he was at home he was just kind of in his own world and in his own head and not able to like really slow down and be with his kids and pay attention to them. And so with that comes this sense of like, “Am I okay? Am I okay?” And they call it insecure attachment.

And so I think at the root of it a lot of us have that kind of insecurity in our attachment. You might be saying, “What does this have to do with approval seeking?” Well I don’t have that strong attachment bond with anyone. So then I go to you and I’m like, “Can I plug my hose in with you? Will you give me attachment? No, okay. How about you?” And we’re just trying to get it from every person that we meet. And the solution to this is not just a mindset shift it’s like a heart shift. It’s like we have to heal that inside of us that is insecure, that is missing. And that’s a process I can talk more about. Give you the top level if you’re interested. But we really gotta basically learn how to unconditionally be with and love ourselves and heal up those attachment issues so that we feel more relaxed talking to other people.

Brett McKay: Well so yeah, top level what does that look like, that process?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Sure. Basically, it means that when we feel insecurity, inadequacy, pain of not-enoughness, needing, “Oh man I’m so upset because they didn’t like me.” Instead of scrambling so much to get it out there, we need to slow down and take time to find that grasping, aching part of us. And it’s usually in our chest, maybe in our stomach, in our throat, physically in our body and be with it and then start to treat that like the parent we never had. So basically, we give it attention. And I say it, it’s kind of like a part of us or feelings inside of us. We give that … For that part, let me give you a more concrete example.

I really want this woman to like me. Maybe we just met, or we went on a date and now she’s not responding to my texts. I don’t know maybe she doesn’t seem interested in me for a second date. And I have this overwhelming sense of anxiety, and I messed it up, and I’m worthless and all this pain. And a lot of the time we might obsess on, “What was the text that I sent her? How do I get her back?” You go online and look up some pithy texts to win her back or whatever.

And instead of all that, what I’m suggesting is you literally stop what you’re doing. Maybe go for a walk. Sit down in your house or whatever and turn off all TV and everything and just breath and go inward. And find that squeezing pain right in your chest, in your stomach, somewhere else in your body. If it’s strong you’ll feel it. And you just relax and give that … imagine it’s like a 10-year-old kid or a 5-year-old kid, or a 12-year-old kid whatever age just like, “Hey I want this person to like me.” And you just meet it with empathy, patience, and love. Yeah of course, you really want her to like you. It hurts that she’s not responding to you. I know. You want control. You wish you can get it but you can’t. And it’s not so much the words. I’m using words here, but it’s really an attitude and energy towards yourself.

And here’s the biggest thing I found. It’s actually most important more than the words, more than the energy, it’s the attention. It’s giving that part attention. Because it’s that kid inside of us that didn’t get that attention. I found that to really heal this stuff people need to do this on a daily basis. Not that long, maybe 15, 20 minutes a day. As you walk, as you run, do your exercise or just sitting in your house. You just focus in on it. And over time, it’s not like a magic light switch, but over time over a couple of weeks or months people really heal in a deep way and start to feel a lot more secure. And all of a sudden something like that happens, and they’re like wow. I don’t feel so stressed out about it as I used to.

Brett McKay: That sounds a lot like loving kindness meditation or self-compassion meditation I think I heard it described. So yeah and you can find those online if you want. If you’re looking for a guided meditation. Find some self-compassion meditation. And again, once you have that secure attachment I imagine that resolves a lot. Like you feel more secure about being rejected because you’re like, “Well I’m okay.” Because I’m good with myself. You feel okay by saying no because you had that foundation within yourself. So maybe that’s one of the key … like you said about heart change can go a long way in clearing up a lot of this stuff.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Absolutely.

Brett McKay: Well let’s talk about boundaries. What do you mean by boundaries and why do nice people have such a hard time establishing or keeping them?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Sure. Well boundaries are simply knowing what you want or don’t want in a situation. Your preferences, if you will. And the example I use in the book is you’re sitting in your yard. You share a backyard and there’s a fence between you and your neighbor. And there’s a little gate there or something and your neighbor comes over and opens the gate to your yard. And you’re just sitting in your back yard. Does that bother you? I don’t know, maybe not. Then they walk into your yard and they go to your, you have a peach tree in your yard and they walk over and there’s some fresh peaches growing on there. And they grab a peach and they start to each it. Does that bother you? Maybe, maybe not. Then they start to walk over to talk to you and they step on your flowers. Does that bother you?

And it’s a little interesting thought experiment because this is a sign of boundaries. Like do you want them to enter your yard? Do you want them to eat your fruit? Do you want them to walk on your flowers? And we want to know first and foremost, what’s right for me? What do I want or not want? And so in that instance people can usually imagine, “Well maybe I wouldn’t mind them coming into my yard. We like to talk now and then. But wait a minute, eat my fruit? Step on my flowers?” And so those are signs of your boundaries. So you’re talking to someone and they’re sharing about their lives and that’s interesting for you. Great. But all of a sudden they start going on and on and on and on and there is no pauses in the conversation. And there is no focus on you at all. And you start to feel like, “Ewwww, I’m not really enjoying this.” That’s like someone stepping on your flowers. That’s a sign, that’s a signal.

So the most important part of being able to have boundaries is to know what they are. And you know what they are by paying attention to that inner, “ooo, I like this,” or “Ewww, I don’t like this.” We know if we tune in. Now we can have some nice person training on top that says don’t assert your boundaries. If you tell that guy not to eat your peach he’s gonna yell at you or don’t change the subject because you’re gonna crush that person’s feelings. So we can have some nice stories that prevent this but at the core level it’s just knowing, being tuned in to say what do I want or not want in this situation. And honoring that.

Brett McKay: And in the end a lot of people think if they don’t have boundaries it’s gonna make people like them, but as we been talking about if you don’t have boundaries, people, in a weird way, respect you less and they like you less. It prevents you from having that really genuine relationship with that person.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Really and it might “get” people to like you but not the people that you want. You’re gonna get people that have their own issues with boundaries. And probably if you’re the one with no boundaries you get someone who’s used to stomping all over the place in other people’s yards. So someone who’s more controlling. That’s what you’re gonna get. And when you establish this, and have those boundaries, you do have relationships but with people who also respect boundaries and have healthier boundaries. And it leads to a much better relationship.

Brett McKay: Good senses make good neighbors.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Yeah there you go.

Brett McKay: So let’s say you are a parent. Let’s say you’re a parent and you’re like a recovering, nice addict. And you’re realizing you got this issue and you’re working through it. What can you do to ensure you don’t pass this on to your kid, while simultaneously teaching them how to not be a nice person but a good person? Whatever that means.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Yeah that’s a great question to ask is what does that mean to me? Because when you say, I mean, good and bad are these blanket sort of evaluations. That’s a good person or a bad person. What does that mean? So really what we want to look at is what are my values? What’s important to me in life? Is health important to me? Is being compassionate important to me? Is giving to people in need important to me? Is taking care of the earth important to me? What are the values, that I have, that I want to impart on my children? And if you’re a parent and you never sat down and done that oo paper, or gone on a long drive and really thought about it and talked about it with your spouse, whoever you’re raising your kids with? I highly recommend you do that. That’s a fundamental thing that’s overlooked. And it’s good for you to do for yourself too. What are my values? What’s important to me in life? Then how do I want to impart that on my kids?

Well, the first way that kids learn from their parents is modeling. The second most common way that kids learn from their parents is modeling. And the third way is also modeling. Like your kids are gonna learn way, way, way, way, way more from watching you and seeing how you operate in the world. With other people, within your family and with them. They’re gonna observe all of that and they’re gonna replicate a lot of that. So you value health but you smoke. The message is it doesn’t matter what you tell your kids. And same thing if you value kindness and respect and you want your kids to be kind and respect people and then you treat them in a disrespectful way. “Hey, stop that! You put that down! Rurr!” And that’s how you’re talking to your kids. It doesn’t matter what you tell them to do later on. What you’re modeling for them is this is how you talk to people. You boss them around, you bark orders at them. And sure enough that’s what you’re gonna get back. And kids are a great mirror for that.

So I think that’s the second step is first to get clear on your values. Then to do the inner work to really be able to live by your values, and that aint easy because kids are demanding. I absolutely will tell you that. So that’s one of the core challenges. That’s the growth opportunity in parenting is to be able to mature faster with those kids. And then the last part I’d say is if you want them to be … well the biggest thing people want is their kids to be caring about other people, kind. It’s hard to watch your kid, I don’t know, knock some other kid over or something like that. And so parents want to get in there and stop that behavior right away. “Don’t you ever do that again.” And they also feel a little embarrassed. “Oh man people saw my kid do that I gotta, I gotta publicly chastise my kid. Even though it’s not gonna probably do anything. But just to show other parents that I’m doing something here.”

And I really think it’s worth re-examining all that and saying well, how do kids actually grow? And one thing that is different is, in attachment-based parenting, you realize that the attachment and having a really secure, strong, healthy attachment with that kid is going to grow them into a thoughtful, caring, self-directed member of society. And that emerges over time like a plant. So you don’t need to wack it every time it goes out of line. You just keep working with it and have that secure attachment. Treat them with respect. And this is a hard one, can I develop unconditional love? What does that even look like? Because man it’s hard not to withdraw love when they do something annoying. But can I find it in myself to still lovingly tell them no? And not exasperatingly telling them no? These are ongoing challenges for me and I think for all parents. But I think it’s a fight worth fighting and a growth worth doing because ultimately, you have a kid who is kind and caring but is also more self-directed, and assertive and doesn’t have to deprogram all this nice stuff that all of us do.

Brett McKay: Yeah it sounds like having kids can help a nice person. Gives you the motivation to take care of yourself first because you realize how much your kids are watching you and they’re gonna model your behavior. It’s like it’s kind of a turbo boost.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Oh yeah.

Brett McKay: Getting out of your own stuff.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Absolutely.

Brett McKay: Well Aziz, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and the rest of your work?

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Sure. I’d say the best place is on my website which is, And there’s information about all my books there. As well as an e-book that people can get for free to get started right away. And live events and youtube stuff. It’s a great place if any of this intrigues you and you wanted to go further. There’s a lot of resources there.

Brett McKay: Fantastic well Dr. Aziz, thank you so much for your time it’s been a pleasure.

Dr. Aziz Gazipura: Absolutely. This was fun. Thanks Brett.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Dr. Aziz Gazipura. He is the author of the book, ‘Not Nice’, it’s available on You can also find out more information about his work at Also check out our show notes at Where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

Well that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at And if you enjoy the show, got something out of it I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. Helps out a lot. As always, thank you for your continued support and until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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