How to Deal with Fake Nice People

When she smiles at you, but her eyes tell a different story.
When she walks by and says hey, but her body language is frosty.
When she makes that teeny, tiny dig at you with her sweet as pie tone.

I’m talking about fake nice people.

Within the last week alone, I have had several women in my life reach out about tough situations they have encountered with others.

It’s like a new wave of mean girls have emerged, but worse in a way, because they are masked in their nice girl exterior.

I think most people who have been the target of some fake-nicery, would agree that these people are not bad people. Many of these women are typically great to be around. So, what gives? What is up with the fake-niceness? 

For starters, I think we all struggle with confrontation from time to time (myself included). But when efforts to avoid it and positive intentions to brush it under the rug backfire, true feelings buried away start to burst at the seams. Maybe deep down, there are hurt feelings somewhere, or feelings of frustration and fear. Either way, there IS something brewing inside and for some people, it shows up in the form of fake niceness.

So, how do you deal when you are the target?

I always like to think about my choices (because, yes, we certainly have them!) What choices do you have in the situation? The most transparent choice that pops up in my mind when dealing with fake nice behavior is simply to ignore it. While I think this option can be the most effective in certain situations, it all depends on the relationship. If we are talking about someone you have very limited contact with, then this seems like a viable option. However, if you work closely with the person, or if the person is a friend or family member who you interact with frequently, then I think you may need to consider option 2, which is to care to confront.

When I think of caring to confront, it means getting in touch with the part of you that really wants to problem solve and make the situation better. When you deal with fake niceness, you might feel trapped in a way because if others are present, it might seem to them like everything is just fine—and this is certainly the message someone who is being fake nice wants to portray. But you feel the tension, or the sting of their body language or undertones telling you how they really feel. It is frustrating because you care about this relationship. You can’t get it out of your mind because you know you do not want to continue feeling the disconnect or discomfort. Do not go to option 2 if you are in the heat of the moment. (Learn how to create some pause by checking out a post I wrote previously here). After you digest what has happened and how you are feeling, you can address the situation later.

When you are ready to address the situation, I recommend using DEAR MAN[1]. It is an acronym in DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, that goes a little something like this:

Describe: Describe the situation to the person, while sticking to facts only
Express: Express your feelings and opinions about the situation
Assert: Assert what you want or are saying no to
Reinforce: Reinforce the positive effects of getting what you want or need

(Stay) Mindful: Keep your focus, do not get lost in the other person’s comments
Appear Confident: Stand your ground, keep your voice steady, and make eye contact
Negotiate: Work with the other person to meet at common ground; be willing to give some

The idea here is to state the facts, share your feelings, assert what you want, and be willing to completely hear the other person out. Here is a quick example:

“Hey Corinne, can we chat? [DESCRIBE] You know when we were having lunch the other day? I was talking about taking a trip with my husband this winter and when I glanced at you, I saw that you made a look over at Tina. [EXPRESS] I am worried that maybe I said something that might have rubbed you the wrong way. [ASSERT] I want to be sure that we are all good [REINFORCE] so our friendship can keep feeling awesome.”

Sometimes other people, even the fake nice ones, need us to show them how their words or actions are impacting us. Let’s not be afraid to confront the people we care about. I think the key thing to remember is that we have choices. When someone hurts us with their words or behavior towards us, we can look at it and go, “what is really bothering me here?” and “how can I help myself in this situation?” Sometimes the best option is to keep the peace through letting it go, and sometimes the best option is to keep the peace by caring to confront.  Notice the similarity in both scenarios? Both are rooted in keeping the peace. You can’t go wrong either way with an intention like that. 

[1] From DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan