“Kindness takes words like “caring” and “respect” to the next level—into action. When we say “be kind” or “show kindness,” we understand what that means immediately.”
In The Business of Kindness: Twelve Habits that Build Collaborative Cultures, bestselling author Olivia McIvor demonstrates the value of kindness, not merely as a way to feel good about ourselves, but as a sound professional investment. Kindness is much more than a personality trait—it is a skill that can be honed and improved. McIvor demonstrates that there is a huge return on investment in implementing people initiatives that focus on kindness in the workplace—“workplace violence and bullying are major contributors to stress in the workplace, and can dramatically impact the bottom line of an organization” (38). With an increasing focus on wellness initiatives and employee engagement, it can be difficult for organizations to know where to start. Kindness is a universal concept that can be easily grasped at all levels, and may provide the framework to create happier, healthier, more engaged teams.
Three Themes of a Kinder Workplace
"We all know what it means to be kind — how it feels to be the recipient of a kind act — and the rewards of committing a random or conscious act of kindness upon another human being. It does not take days of training seminars or piles of manuals to teach people how to be kind to one another. Kindness is something that each and every person knows how to do and can appreciate across all cultures, religions, genders and age barriers."
McIvor defines three key themes that support a kinder workplace: kindness to oneself, kindness to colleagues, and kindness in the community. Each of the themes is broken down into traits and behaviors that can be cultivated over time.
Kindness to Oneself: By beginning with self-worth and building a strong foundation, one is then capable of expressing kindness to others. Traits of kindness to oneself include: authenticity, attitude, resilience, and excellence. Just as we are instructed on airplanes to put oxygen masks on ourselves before helping others, we must learn to be kind to ourselves before we can fully exhibit kindness to others.
Kindness to Colleagues: By focusing on treating others with mutual care and respect, we foster team work and collaboration. Traits of kindness to colleagues include: trust, compassion, courage, and friendship. When you trust and respect your colleagues, you can get a lot more done. It seems obvious in the moment when you are working with kind, respectful people (shoutout to the Actionable team!), but thinking back to other places I worked where animosity or contempt were features of the culture, it’s clear that we spent a great deal of energy navigating drama and walking on eggshells—energy that would have been better spent getting the work done.
Kindness in the Community: Expanding our efforts to be kind beyond our immediate work and life can have profound impact on our sense of purpose. Traits of kindness in the community are: service, responsibility, integrity, and tolerance. In the hustle of day to day life, it is easy to get caught up in an echo chamber of self-importance. I, for example, spend most of my days reading and writing—two of my favorite things in the world—and being able to do both at an advanced level is a privilege. I’m embarrassed to admit how far into my 20s I was before I realized many communities suffer from low rates of literacy, and started thinking about how to pitch in.
Listening is Kind
"Experience has taught me that people would rather have a conversation with a great listener than a great talker."
In the chapter on Kindness to Oneself, McIvor identifies Attitude as an important element to cultivate. A positive attitude is infectious, and it is also a choice. We can choose to be present and engaged, or to be closed off from our surroundings. Becoming a better listener is one way to be more present in the moment, and to contribute to your team in a meaningful way.
McIvor provides a fantastic list of techniques to help improve listening skills (79):
- Show respect for colleagues’ ideas and suggestions
- Don’t assume you are a good listener because you can hear. Ensure listening time exceeds talk time.
- Avoid putting words in the speaker’s mouth or interrupting
- Listen equally to everyone regardless of their position in the company
- Don’t change the topic when talking to someone
- Make comfortable eye contact
- Honor what the speaker has to say without judgment or condemnation
- Use encouraging language to keep the flow going
- Disengage from all interruptions to stay present.
Listening intently to others will give you the best information to get the job done effectively, and will reinforce a positive attitude (which others will certainly notice as well).
The Five-Coin Challenge
"It takes time to cultivate compassion. We need to be patient and give ourselves permission to reach out rather than shut down when faced some unfamiliar emotion, event or person that makes us uncomfortable."
The five-coin challenge is simple: place five coins in your pocket or on one side of your desk. Each time you do something kind for someone, move one coin into your other pocket or onto the other side of your desk. The coins are a reminder, and a way to keep score with yourself about how kind you are actively being to the people you interact with. Compliment a co-worker on a job well done, ask how you can help, acknowledge when things aren’t going well, or just take a moment to share your feelings. The coins will help you keep track, and challenge yourself to seek out new opportunities to be kind.
Using the five-coin challenge as my framework, over the holidays I sought out opportunities to extend kindness and well-wishes to strangers, as well as to my friends and family. I told retail clerks that they were doing a great job, complimented a woman on the street on her style, went out of my way to help parents pick up stray mittens, and bought coffee for strangers. They were small gestures that made me feel great—a feeling I carried with me to my work. Actively seeking more opportunities to exercise those instincts was a revelation—there are always opportunities to reach out and make a kind connection, but they must be sought out.
I’ve always thought of myself as a kind person, but reading this book made me realize that there are a lot of ways I can improve. I also learned that kindness is about a lot more than simply feeling good (though that is an added benefit)—there are massive benefits to productivity that can result from seeking out opportunities to be kind. Individuals at all levels of an organization can benefit from initiatives that encourage people to be kinder—to themselves, to their colleagues, and to their communities. Leaders looking for ideas to launch an programs with their teams will find plenty of ideas to get them started in The Business of Kindness.
How are you making the world a kinder place?