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Kindness at work: part one

Kindness is something we all connect with, deeply; it’s in our bones. Yet at work, how do we make room for it when other demands on our time and head-space crowd in?

Can we design more kindness into our working lives?

You can’t pour from an empty cup…

Can we hydrate our organisational cultures with kindness?”

…this was some advice I was given recently. Kindness, to ourselves and others, is a hot topic right now and deservedly so. It can be difficult to keep our own glasses topped up, but in our working lives how do we keep others’ cups refreshed too? Can we hydrate our organisational cultures with kindness?

During our recent Festival of Ideas, ‘On Kindness’ was the session that booked out almost before we could blink. Beforehand, we asked participants ‘what does it mean to them, to lead with kindness?’ And ‘how can we propagate and spread this so it becomes part of our organisations culture and DNA?

These are big questions. And in their shadow, are the whispers of doubts that can follow kindness at work.

If we’re kind, are we going to be perceived as less effective?

A weaker leader?

Does it mean we will be, or seen to be, less confident, strong, or decisive?

Context has something to say about this. During the pandemic, the perception, if not the quality, of kindness that people showed each other, mattered. It was OK for hours to be shifted, for life’s other priorities to be…well, priorities.

This solidarity was at its zenith in the earliest days, as we adjusted to the changes in our lives. As our worlds reopen, what are the things we need to hold on to (or let go of) that will help us keep kindness at the forefront of our minds? How best can we keep ourselves, each other, and our organisations topped up?

Are we talking enough?

If we don’t make opportunities to talk…we risk disregarding our very human need to feel heard, valued and understood.”

One of the revelations of the 2020 was just how much we could connect in the virtual world. It’s so efficient, we can beam into multiple meetings without racing between rooms. There is a quality of connecting online from home too. We see each other’s worlds beyond work, becoming familiar with colleagues’ families, pets, or hobbies; getting to know people’s whole selves.

And yet, we’ve also seen and heard through our work that this efficiency of being online is coming at cost. Conversations are becoming funnels of action and updates. Meetings are more directive, and there are simply just more of them. There is less room, and time, for connection.

Something has to give, and it’s often the space given over to talk about how people feel, what matters to them in a particular project and their experience of work. When there is so much to be done we home in on what we can control, and that’s what’s on our to-do lists. Our kindness is concentrated on being kind to our diaries. But if we don’t make opportunities to talk, to be curious about how people feel at work, we risk disregarding our very human need to feel heard, valued and understood.

Kindness as a practice

Kindness emanates from the smallest of actions”

Kindness emanates from the smallest of actions, and this is as good a place as any to start. Finding kindness in those extra 5 seconds we pause and hold our question to give others a chance to reflect. Gently checking in with one another. Recognising, maybe questioning, assumptions that we make. Giving our words, actions and time in the spirit of generosity.

Wrapped up in all of this, it’s knowing that our experiences are relative. One of the greatest gifts we can give is to be curious about what kindness looks like for ourselves, and for others too. This could be as simple as asking yourself, ‘what would be different about my day if I were more forgiving of myself, or others?’, ‘How would I feel at the end of it?’, and asking your colleagues, ‘what does kindness look like, for you?’ and ‘tell me a story about when you’ve experienced kindness.’

These questions breathe expansiveness. Listening to, and understanding, ourselves and one another better – two key parts of kindness – becoming the driver of our actions. By practicing these small actions and amplifying our curiosity for how kindness is felt, in turn we can help grow a culture at work where kindness can flourish.

There is so much more that could be said about kindness, and infinitely more we could explore to create more of this in our organisations. As a small reflection, in this first of two blogs on kindness, we leave you with two thoughts and one question:

You can be strong, and kind.

You can be confident, decisive, but driven by kindness.

How does kindness shape your day?   

Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

By Louise Clifton

Louise is the former Director of Marketing, Communications and Operations at Invisible Grail. Louise’s passion is to help people bring alive the stories that show the wider world who they are and why what they do matters.

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