I was surfing Facebook and I came across this interesting essay about the cultural phenomenon of “Midwestern Nice”. I’d often heard of Midwestern Nice ( often referred to as the more specific Minnesota Nice) and often found the concept perplexing. As someone who spent her formative years in the Midwest I couldn’t see what made Midwesterners so “nice” compared to everyone else: or rather, people from other places didn’t seem to be categorically less nice than anybody else that I knew. I chalked it up to just another Midwest stereotype that you couldn’t quite take as a compliment. (See also: down to earth, hard working, silent type, corn fed and uncomplicated).

I think the article hit the nail on the head: the key to Midwestern Nice is what is left unsaid. I knew the exact tone of “Oh” described in the hair cutting story. I have often used “well, I better let you go” to mean “it’s time to wrap up this phone conversation”. I’ve been told that I’m good at using silence as a negotiating technique.

Suddenly quite a lot of things made sense about my life, personality, and communication style.

It’s not exactly “niceness” that I strive for, so much as diplomacy, humility, privacy, and competence. There is a certain pragmatism that plays into it: being cutting and sarcastic may be satisfying in the moment, but if it damages a relationship is it worth it? If I criticize someone and then have to work with them again, how much do I want to deal with hurt feelings? Over the summer there was an incident in which I offered help to a friend on a project and through miscommunication and bad planning found myself scrambling to get to them and then waiting for a full hour before they finally told me where to meet them. I was beside myself with anger, but the worst invective that I dared to hurl at them was “unprofessional” and I still feel guilty about it. I also feel glad for the restraint: I work with this person on a nearly weekly basis now. How awkward would that be? If that’s not evidence of Midwestern Nice instincts then I don’t know what is.

At any rate, I’m not sure that I ever appreciated my Midwestern Nice skills before. “Nice” seemed weak and boring, but I’m beginning to recognize just how often it has helped me to navigate complex situations. This just might be the key to surviving in a business like film I which the same people crop up time and again from project to project. I’m not sure that Midwestern Nice is a trait that I ever want to grow out of.


~ by Gwydhar Gebien on October 24, 2015.

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