The human spirit craves opportunities to be kind. But at work, when there are deadlines to keep and decision to be made, it can get left by the sidelines. Can we tap into our stories – professional and personal – to ignite ideas about how kindness can work, at work?
When I wrote about kindness earlier this year, I said that it was in our bones. What I mean is, it’s intrinsically human. Whether it’s through action, words, sentiments, or just a feeling we get; no matter our similarities or differences as people, we know it when we experience it.
For this follow-on blog, I wanted to tap into stories from the Invisible Grail team about where they have experienced kindness. To provoke, inspire and ignite ideas about what and how kindness can work, at work.
Here are our stories. Graham will kick us off.
Graham on the small things
The roots of kindness are in our values and how we enact these in our everyday interactions and activities.”
The roots of kindness are in our values and how we enact these in our everyday interactions and activities. Reflecting on this led me to think about where the roots of my professional values started to grow. I spent the school holidays working with my Dad, as an electrician’s mate. A good grasp of electrics may not have been a great deal of help with my career in higher education, but dad’s way of going about things has permeated my professional practice throughout my career.
The recent session in our Festival of Ideas exploring the role of kindness in the workplace highlighted how small acts can transform the quality of our connections with others and help them to feel heard, valued and understood. The examples that participants gave accentuated the importance of friendliness, generosity, and considerateness in our interactions. It was these values that made the connection for me back to those summers learning how to go about things. Looking back it was the small things that dad did that stayed with me. The polite and friendly way he interacted with people; the care and consideration in the way he did things in order to minimise disruption for people; unexpected offers of help beyond what we were there to do.
Throughout my career I have been lucky to have been the recipient of many acts of kindness both big and small. But it was the small things that had the biggest impact, whether it be a colleague thanking me for taking the time to do something, someone checking in to ask how I was after a particularly difficult meeting, or a simple thank you for a job well done. These small acts of friendliness, generosity and considerateness made a real difference leaving me feeling valued, and encouraged me to keep on doing what I was doing and in the way I was doing it, no matter how difficult it might be.
Louise on learning from unkindness
I became curious about kindness when I came across the question, ‘how can we design in more of it at work?’
I’d just never thought of kindness as something that needed to be ‘designed in’. I feel strongly, that being kind, being human, being reasonable, in a professional setting should be a given. But this thinking unearthed an assumption of mine that everyone will not only feel the same, but have the same benchmarks for what each of these mean, too.
[It’s] in the moments where I’ve experienced unkindness that how I work and what professional values I hold close have been shaped.”
It struck me, that it’s as much in the moments where I’ve experienced unkindness that how I work and what professional values I hold close have been shaped. In one instance, a team I was working in was under review. These happen, and oftentimes it’s necessary to know what’s working well, and what could be better. But this occasion didn’t feel like that. The final report was glowing, but it was buried. No one was to know we were, in fact, doing the best we could with the resources we had, because this wasn’t the outcome that validated the reason the review was done in the first place.
In another example, I worked with a manager whose responsibility it was to lead our flagship awards show, and who left me high and dry managing a crowd of over 300 eminent engineers who had travelled across the world to be with us on that night.
These are the moments where I thought, I would never want to put others through the same experiences I had been through. When reviews are done and tough decisions need to be made, clarity and honesty go a long way. When the stakes a high – in important meetings or big events – feeling supported and that you’re not alone makes a world of difference. It’s not about avoiding difficult decisions or tough environments, these are inevitable in any place we work, it’s about how you to choose to be in those moments that matters.
Paul on kindness online
During a year when we’ve all spent so much more time than we ever imagined in online meetings, it might often seem that there’s little room for kindness. Yet my experience suggests otherwise.
Whenever I’ve had the privilege to bring together groups of people across an organisation – yes, in a Zoom session! – I’ve been amazed at how much kindness people have shown in connecting with one another.
The human spirit…craves opportunities to be kind.”
In small breakout rooms, I see colleagues confiding in and trusting one another. They bring people up to speed who might have lost their wifi signal for a moment. They take care to listen. They take turns with consideration. They become fascinated with the verbal and visual maps they’ve created to make sense of the figurative landscapes they’re navigating. I’m so often moved by depictions of hot air balloons soaring over infested-looking swamps; by the human spirit which craves opportunities to be kind.
This happens time and again. I get the sense that because we know how tough it is not to be able to drop in to one another’s offices and put the kettle on, we are all the more determined to use the engagement opportunities we have for all kinds of acts of kindness.
The greatest surprise of the year so far?
When a student taking part in a session took a calm and assured lead, and kindly got the group of managers to spend the first five minutes doing stretch and breathing exercises. This act of sharing not only made a memorable connection; it also led to a strikingly productive outcome to the problem-solving which had brought us together in the first place.
Kindness can often be viewed as a woolly concept and even a sign of weakness, but research shows that giving and receiving small acts of kindness – not just a simple thank you but a thoughtful, genuine compliment which requires us to think in detail about a colleague and their situation — engenders and strengthens our social connections, making the workplace a happier place.
So how can we design more kindness into how we are at work, and make it part of the culture?
Maybe those values of friendliness, generosity, and considerateness can provide a spark of creativity to help us think about our work and connect differently with people.
Maybe we can look to where we felt the absence of kindness, to help choose how we act now and in the future.
Maybe we need only look to the small acts that we can make to gradually shape a culture of kindness, for ourselves and our colleagues too.
Maybe start with your own story of kindness and go from there.
By Louise Clifton, Graham Holden and Paul Gentle
Louise is the 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.
Graham is a Client Relationship Director at Invisible Grail. An experienced leader and academic, Graham is passionate about higher education and how it transforms lives.
Paul is the Academic Director at Invisible Grail. A leadership expert, Paul has dedicated the last twelve years to creating and delivering leadership development programmes in higher education.