Sugar and Spice and Minnesota Nice

Reflections on Authentic Listening

As a native Minnesotan, I’ve heard the phrase “Minnesota Nice,” but never knew its origins. I submitted the question to MN Public Radio’s series, “Ask a ‘Sotan.”  A reporter reached out to me and to another sociologist, Prof. Lisa Waldner, who reflected on the historical and cultural aspects of “Minnesota Nice.”

You can hear the podcast here:

While being nice may get you on Santa’s GOOD list, the phrase is often understood to mean polite to a fault or even passive-aggressive.  Waldner suggests that Minnesotans may use the positive implications of the reputation to sidestep difficult conversations about social issues.

So What?  As researchers, we often engage respondents in difficult conversations. To be truly effective, we must be more than nice – we need to have those authentic conversations that  get to the heart of the matter and reveal gold (truths) for our clients. The secret seems to be in HOW we listen, employing active and empathetic listening skills to seek to understand the other’s perspective.

Here’s a “nice” summary for you from  (I especially like #2. Make it about them, not about you or your next question)

Julian Treasure provides an interesting perspective in this TED talk on Five Ways to Listen Better: If you want to jump right to his five tips, fast forward to 4:00, where he describes various practices that can re-tune our ears for conscious listening. Good reminders!

So whether you rely on mindful listening for your craft (like me), or just want to make your holiday conversations with family & friends more authentic, here’s wishing you a season filled with sugar and spice and LOTS OF Minnesota Nice!