First of all, what is kindness and how does it fit into our workplaces?

Some might say that work is not exactly the place to focus on kindness. After all, we are busy with working hard and doing all we can to help the organization achieve its goals.

However, if we believe that kindness leads to increased happiness and a sense of appreciation, which in turn motivates people to give more of themselves, shouldn’t we find more ways to be kind to each other at work?

Kindness is a value recognized in many cultures around the world. It means being generous of heart, showing genuine concern for others and a desire to be helpful without expecting something in return. Kindness strengthens relationships and fosters a sense of belonging.  Kindness is cumulative and can be expressed in little ways: an encouraging word, a smile, a cup of tea or a listening ear.

Kindness is lived in words and action. Kindness means:

  • Connection. Love and belonging are universal human needs. ‘We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives” says Brené Brown. In workplaces that promote an environment of support and cooperation versus competition and isolation, people flourish. Through kind acts we connect with our colleagues and form a social bond that increases teamwork and a sense of belonging.
  • Better health: Happiness and wellbeing are critical to living a healthy life. Studies show that the serotonin level of people receiving, giving, or even just observing acts of kindness increases. Serotonin is the feel-good chemical in the brain that impacts our mood. Every time we are kind toward someone, we contribute to that person’s wellbeing and to our own inner peace and happiness. When we feel happy at work, our contribution and sense of satisfaction increases; and that has a positive effect on our coworkers.
  • Empathy: Empathy is the capacity to see the world as others see it and understand another person’s feelings. It is about relating to the emotions of others and being able to connect with them about how they feel. Being kind means putting the Platinum Rule into action: “Treat others as they would like to be treated”. When you relate to others and understand what matters to them, you can show kindness in ways that meets their needs and desires.
  • Be kind to yourself: A famous quote by Jack Kornfield says this: “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” What does your inner voice tell you? Instead of judging and criticizing yourself, are you being understanding and compassionate toward yourself? Because, really, how can we claim to be understanding of other people’s failures or challenges if we judge ourselves harshly when we make mistakes?
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possibleDalai Lama

Just as we want to understand what being kind looks and sounds like, let’s also be clear about what kindness is not:

  • Kindness is not weakness: Kindness does not mean accepting the unacceptable or avoiding the difficult conversation. In fact, it is the opposite. Being kind is having high expectations of ourselves and of others and helping people reach higher than they thought possible. Kindness is being respectful and showing empathy during the hard conversations and in difficult times.
  • Being kind is not the same as being nice: We often use “nice” and “kind” interchangeably when describing people. But there is a difference. Kindness is motivated by love, compassion and empathy – a genuine inner desire to do good things no matter what we get in return. The nice person on the other hand is often externally motivated by doing nice things to get approval and validation from others or putting the needs of other people ahead of his or her own needs, fearful of being rejected. This type of “niceness” can lead to anger, resentments and bottled-up emotions that keep us from being happy. Sometimes the kind thing to do in a situation is to say “no” to a request or a favour, so that we can maintain healthy boundaries and relationships.
  • Kindness – not a random act: Kindness, as a radical way of living, goes beyond doing little favours for people here and there. It asks us to be willing to show kindness to those who may not be kind to us, to have the courage of being authentically who we are and to make meaningful connections with others. That is not random at all – it is acting with purpose.

Another way to put kindness into action is to THINK before we speak. Before we open our mouths, we need to ask ourselves:

Is it True?

Is it Helpful

Is it Inspiring?

Is it Necessary?

and….. is it Kind?*

Being kind goes beyond the annual Pink Shirt Day.

Make kindness the lens through which you work and live your life – every day. Being seen for who we truly are is a human need, one we all share.

By being kind, you show someone that they matter. And let’s not forget: being kind benefits the giver and the receiver, leaving both with a greater feeling of wellbeing and happiness.

*SOURCE: Michael Josephson, 2012, Inspired by Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By (2005).