I recently met a new friend and colleague whose business endeavors revolve around doing and facilitating acts of kindness. Since meeting, the word ‘kind’ has been popping up all over the place. In conversations, on the tv show The Voice with their #kindcomments, in books. Usually when a concept or word presents itself with such frequency, I take it as a sign. A sign that I need to be kind, value kindness, and seek it out in my life. And in my work.
What does kindness look like at work? In my experience, kindness is listening before judging, supporting ideas by offering words of encouragement or acknowledging their creativity, and offering to help a colleague work through a problem or fix a mistake so they don’t have to stay late working alone. The phrase that comes to mind is “leave no person behind.” But in a professional landscape where it’s often every person for themselves, kindness can easily fall by the wayside. Just look at this tweet that made its way around the internet last month…
I think it’s safe to say that Kevin here is not working in a very kind environment and I don’t think he is alone in that.
At this point, the research is clear. The highest performing organizations are those with high levels of psychological safety. Psychological safety was first coined by Amy Edmondson, who defines it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” Just take a look at the work Google did recently. Despite the research, it can be hard to be kind in environments with low psychological safety because sometimes showing kindness to self and others means slowing down, acknowledging weaknesses, asking for help, offering help, and showing compassion for others. None of these things are easy to do with your manager breathing down your neck, or your colleagues waiting for you to fail. So how can we start to move away from cut throat competition, one upping, ‘every person for themselves’ workplace cultures, and start building cultures of kindness?
First, take a look in the mirror. Are you practicing kindness with yourself and at work? Are you encouraging your peers or employees to be kind through recognition and role modeling? If not, why not? It can feel like just another thing to put on your to do list, but being surrounded by kindness is actually more likely reduce your to-do list than add to it. Kindness doesn’t need to be grand gesture or a time consuming thing. For example, I encountered a beautifully simple act of kindness recently with a coaching client. My client had just lost her beloved beagle, Charlie. Stepping out of her comfort zone, she shared her grief with a few close colleagues. A few days later, upon returning to her office one afternoon, she had a sticky note on her keyboard with a simply drawn heart and the name “Charlie” in the middle. This small, 20 second act of kindness was a bright spot for my client, showing her that her colleagues understood and cared for her.
Listening attentively is an act of kindness too. How often do you stop what you are doing, and actually look up at and listen to the person who just came into your office? We rush from one solution to the next, trying to keep our heads above water. Just yesterday, Laurel (my co-founder) and I got a lesson in listening. We have experienced an amazing amount of change with our business this year, and we have allowed the fast pace of things to interrupt our usual communication patterns. With a potentially big decision on the horizon, we were both feeling stressed and a little alone. Recognizing this, we set aside 30 minutes to talk through the challenge, and within 5 minutes of actively listening (not interrupting, asking clarifying questions, listening for understanding), we had worked our way through it and felt confident in our path forward. Just 5 minutes of listening made us both feel like a team - yet another benefit of psychological safety.
No one wants to be like Kevin, crying in the bathroom. But the reality is, that workplaces like his exist even when they don’t have to. Acts of kindness do not need be monumental displays, just subtle shifts in how we show up in life and at work. I challenge you to commit to doing one act of kindness each day - small or large and take note of how it makes you and those around you feel. Give it a shot this week and see the big impact even little acts of kindness can have.