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What Exactly is Minnesota Nice?

You’ve probably heard about it and most likely experienced it in action.  And if you’ve spoken to ex-pats for more than 5 minutes, it’s bound to have come up in conversation.  Minnesota Nice.  It can make what might seem like the most benign interaction absolutely perplexing to an outsider.  And it’s no secret that  Minnesota Nice can create real challenges for non Minnesotans - especially for East Coasters used to telling it “the way it is” and used to and comfortable with conflict.  Read on to find out what Minnesota Nice can look like. Let’s start with a couple of scenarios:

Scenario 1: You’re at the office having a nice chat with your Minnesotan colleague Michelle about your children and learn that not only do both your 10 year old girls love horses, but you both do too.  The colleague tells you about a great stable they go to for trail riding.  You light up.  “That sounds great!  Wow, maybe our girls would get along.  Why don’t we meet up sometime to do this?”  And with all the excitement of a kid in a candy shop say, “We’re free this weekend!”  Suddenly your colleague’s  face looks strained... she mumbles something about a niece's birthday party they need to go to and a friend’s baby shower.  “Maybe another time,” she says as she begins to edge away.  With a waning smile calls out “Nice talking to you!  I’ve gotta get back to work!”   Huh, you say puzzled and deflated.

Scenario 2:  You and Bob have been working on a project for weeks.  In the last meeting you discussed a way to address one of the thorny issues you’ve bumped into and decided on a course of action - which Bob needs to implement.  It’s been a week though and he hasn’t done anything.  You’ve reminded him, but still... no progress. Huh, you say, this is the weirdest thing.  Bob is usually so on top of things!

So, what’s going on?  In both cases you might be experiencing a good dose of Minnesota Nice.

According to Wikipedia, Minnesota Nice is “...the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota, to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered.” 

But the real juice of the definition is in this list of specific characteristics.  Let’s look at them one by one:

  1. Polite friendliness.  When Michelle engaged in talking about your mutual love of horses she was really just being Minnesota Nice.  Polite friendliness is just that; it doesn’t mean interest in being friends or imply any future obligation.  

  1. An aversion to conflict and confrontation.  This goes both ways - Minnesota Nice makes it hard to confront and to be confronted.  This can include a strong aversion or unwillingness to give or ask for feedback that might cause friction as well as a pattern of jumping to surface, agreement rather than dealing with conflicting and divergent ideas.  This might have been the situation with Bob.  He didn’t really agree with your solution but didn’t want to talk to you about it.  

  1. A tendency toward understatement.  This can show up in the workforce as a difficulty to tell others when they have done something well or - gasp - exceptional for fear the receiver will get a ”big head.”  And it’s very connected to #4.

  1. A disinclination to make a fuss or stand out.  Minnesota Nice causes people to squirm under the spotlight.  They still may want to be acknowledged, but in a low key sort of way.  

  1. Emotional restraint.  You’ll hear a lot of “Not too bad” when you ask how a Minnesotan is doing.   Have you heard this joke?  Ole and Lena had been married seven years. Lena was getting worried that Ole might be getting the seven year itch. She thought he was cheating on her. Lena says to Ole "You never tell me you love me. Is there someone else?"  Ole replies "When ve got married I told you I loved you. If I ever change my mind I'll let ya know.
  1. Self-deprecation. This is related to #3 & #4.  When asked to explain their own contributions or critique their own performance Minnesotans are more likely to undervalue or belittle themselves.  
  1. Resistance to change.  As you have most likely discovered, Minneostans tend to be born, raised and continue to live in the same town surrounded by the same friends they’ve had since baby play dates and preschool.  These tend to be folks who are suspicious of anything different and fearful of a lot of change.

And finally, the ultimate characteristic:

  1. Passive aggressiveness. You saw this with Bob, in the above scenario.  Think the opposite of covert aggressiveness; passive aggressiveness hides out beneath the surface.  Look for signs like procrastination, sullenness, stubbornness, or confusion and it’s likely you’ve hit on passive aggressive behavior.  This is so perplexing to non-Minnesotans that we’ve written  “8 Tips for Dealing With Your Passive-Aggressive Colleagues, Friends and Neighbors.  Check it out!.  

After reading all this, you’re likely wondering how you can survive Minnesota Nice (much less thrive).  There is hope!  Start with “12 Tips for Surviving Minnesota Nice”.  

Get even more tips and approaches to help you in our book, Minnesota Nice? A Transplant's Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Minnesota.  And, if you are a Minnesotan and recognize some Minnesota Nice in yourself jump over to the Minnesotan’s Corner.


Check out this video from TPT (Twin Cities Public Television)!

Check out this "Minnesota Mean" music video from Carnage The Executioner