You Have The Right To Remain Kind
Permission granted to everyone in the workplace. In case no one has told you, you 100% always have the right remain kind at work. If I had a dime for every time I find myself in the middle of a workplace scenario where I say to myself, "Wow, if only everyone was kinder to each other we would not be here and HR would not have to be involved".
When I say 'kind' what do I mean?
1. Immerse yourself in the other person's point of view
Immerse: verb--to involve oneself deeply in a particular activity or interest.
It is ingrained in me after all these years to instantly look at both sides of a situation when someone brings something to my attention to help resolve. I wish other leaders had this ingrained in them. Beyond that instinct to hear both sides, I also think deeper than most leaders to try and understand what is really, really really going on with the situations and people involved. By immersion I mean to spend a lot time thinking about it prior to responding or reacting and then when you do, do it kindly.
Example: A friend of mine who is job searching recently got a call from a recruiter for a zoom interview. My friend got a haircut, ironed his shirt, researched, and prepared thoroughly for the big meeting.
The Recruiter? A no show. No follow up call, no apology email, nada. I do understand the recruiter may have had an emergency, but I am going to guess it was not so big that ghosting my friend was the only option. This was well over a week ago and still no response from the Recruiter. Is that kind behavior? We all know the answer.
It seems that if that Recruiter, for a minute, would immerse themselves in thinking about my friend, the candidate, and what they did to prepare for that call, they might have handled that situation just a little better (or a lot better!) and been kinder in how they treated the candidate. Seeing it from the other side and thinking about all the candidate did to prepare for that call might have helped that Recruiter behave kindlier.
2. Practice empathy
Ah empathy, such an overused term in our society. Dr. Brene' Brown has outlined the 4 key steps to showing empathy as the following:
Perspective taking (seeing things from the other's perspective)
Staying out of judgement and listening (and don't jump to conclusions)
Recognizing emotions someone else is feeling (hate, anger, sadness, frustration, happiness, or a myriad of other feelings?)
Communicating that you recognize that emotion (simply say "I understand")
Dr. Brown also goes on to say, "Empathy is a choice, and it's a vulnerable one." She is so right.
Example: A client of mine has an employee who has a serious medical condition. Because of this, the employee is seeking an intermittent leave of absence as well as "acting strange" (my client's words) on the days they are working. Initially my client called me to see if they can either place them on a full-time leave of absence or simply terminate them for their strange behaviors while at work.
I simply asked my client to go back to the employee and communicate with them that you recognize this is a hard time for them and send a message to them they are not alone in this and you are there to listen to them anytime and are not judging their temporary situation in any way and ask them what is really going on with them. A much kinder approach, don't you agree?
As it turns out, when the client actually connected with the employee in that kind manner, the employee opened up fully to what was going on in their life beyond just being on an intermittent leave, which then allowed my client to feel more connected and empathetic towards their situation. Because of this open and vulnerable conversation on both sides, the employee's behavior improved during the times they were intermittently coming into work and the whole situation immediately improved.
The employee felt heard, not judged, and listened to and most importantly their employer approached them in a kind manner and sought to understand them more fully. It helped the employee to focus back on their work, continue to take their intermittent leave when needed and ultimately return to working full time with no continued 'strange behavior' from the employee.
3. See your colleagues as humans first, employees second
With the rise of AI in the workplace, I realize this one can be controversial. I get it, the business world can be cold and callous, even in nonprofits and small businesses. It's too easy when we are in 'work mode' to only think about the tasks at hand, data, profits, losses, and project deadlines.
When I engage with people in the workplace, no matter who they are, I see them as human first. That person next to you is just like you...with goals, dreams, aspirations, and desires. What are those for your teams? If you don't know, now the is time to find out.
Learning a bit more about each of them will help you to see them as human first and employee second. For everyone to see each other as humans on this earth simply having an earthly experience, it will help us all be a little kinder to one another when we interact professionally.
Example: Years ago when I started doing more trainings for leaders in the workplace, I realized that in the room full of people that I knew some of them better than others and vice versa that some of them knew me a bit more than others did. In other words, I saw only some of them more as 'humans' than leaders first and more than likely only some saw me as a 'human' first vs. the big scary HR lady that I am sure some saw me as :).
To rectify this, I decided to start adding a slide at the beginning of all of my trainings titled "A little bit about me" which literally has 5-6 bullet points of personal/human facts about me (you can email be privately if you want to know what those are). I then asked the group to do the same in the room. It immediately allowed for everyone to see each other as human first. No one was talking about work; they were talking about themselves as human.
As a result, we all walked away knowing a little bit more about one another which then led us all to be just a little kinder to each other when we passed each other in the halls after that.
I have heard it before that kindness can be thought of as putting you “behind” not “ahead” in the business world. I do not agree with that at all.
Whenever I am asked what is the single most piece of advice I can give emerging leaders about how to be successful, I always say "be kind always". I have never in 25+ years in business come across a scenario where decisions cannot be made without being kind. Even in the toughest HR situations I have been in, there is never an excuse to not be kind.
I have a mix of clients. I have clients where kindness is woven within their values and I have seen just how amazing the impact is firsthand. I also have clients where kindness is not practiced, or only sometimes practiced with the nasty knee-jerk non-emotionally intelligent responses by leaders and I can assure you that impact is not well received and is perceived by employees as being very unkind.
And if kindness truly signaled weakness, I would have never made it to a Chief HR role at a national organization and would never have been able to launch a consulting practice with loyal clients.
To me, kindness is not a way, it's the only way.
Aldous Huxley, English writer, philosopher, and author of Brave New World, said it best on this topic: "It is a little embarrassing that, after forth-five years of research and study, the best advice I can give to people is to be a little kinder to each other."