This article was based on episode 105 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Become a member at themodernmanager.co/join for a chance to win a free copy of Be Kind: A Year of Kindness, One Week at a Time. Membership includes other guest bonuses, episode guides, access to the Slack community and more.
Small acts of kindness exert extraordinary influences on their environment and dramatically impact a person's sense of wellbeing. They are usually so simple, quick, and free that it’s easy to overlook their power and importance, especially in the workplace. Managers often want to employ kindness to support their team, but often feel torn by the challenge of how to do it well while retaining their image as a strong leader.
Going off an intuitive hunch years ago, Jaclyn Lindsey began to investigate the correlation between kindness and happiness. Her results confirmed her theory that kind acts can silently transform communities and individuals. From these results, Jaclyn launched kindness.org, a global non-profit building evidence-based programs for kinder classrooms, communities, and workplaces.
Jaclyn insists that every organization and manager can implement kindness in their daily routine, and offers tips to assist even the most skeptical manager and teammate in creating their own sustainable, kind culture.
BEING KIND DOESN’T MEAN BEING A PUSHOVER
Unfortunately, many managers still believe in the “tough act approach” and associate kindness with weakness. These leaders worry that showing their vulnerable side will lessen their employees’ respect for them. In order to encourage healthy kindness in the workplace, Jaclyn reframes this misconception and points out that effective kindness comes from a place of strength. While a pushover resists rocking the boat, taking a difficult stand, or relaying emotionally painful but important information, an ideal boss - strong but kind - can both challenge her employees and stand her ground while maintaining a generosity of spirit.
Kindness also requires strength during sticky, emotional situations. It’s bound to happen that a boss or employee feels upset or resentful about an interaction. Rising above painful feelings to do what’s good for the betterment of the team, instead of perpetuating a cycle of negativity, takes great strength. An even more difficult situation is sitting down with the offended party and acknowledging hurt feelings in order to work through them. Jaclyn believes that kindness can show up as forgiveness, choosing to let something go, or engaging in honest, vulnerable discussions. All of these situations necessitate strength to be an effective and respected leader.
HOW KINDNESS WORKS; IT’S CONTAGIOUS!
Kindness truly does pay it forward. Jaclyn’s research demonstrates how kindness positively impacts not only the recipient of a kind act and its giver, but even witnesses to the kind act, whether or not they know the people involved. Each party regardless of role registers elevated levels of wellbeing and happiness after experiencing or seeing a small act of kindness! The power of a kind acts spreads even farther than that; evidence shows that the more people who see and experience kindness, the more they want to do it themselves. When children see adults and their parents choosing kind acts, they also adopt kind behaviors.
THE SIMPLICITY OF KIND ACTS
It doesn’t require much effort for a manager to employ kindness to improve their work environment. In one study, Jaclyn surveyed employees about what small acts of kindness they felt would dramatically impact their sense of wellbeing at work. A significant amount identified small gestures such as managers making eye contact with them in the morning and expressing interest in their lives as most valuable. Simple, authentic “good mornings” and calling to check-in on a colleague help employees feel valued and significant. Jaclyn herself, after getting similar feedback from her employees, became more intentional about making eye contact and offering morning greetings. As a result, she noticed a positive culture shift.
In another study, she gave a group of employees a list of options for acts of kindness they could do for each other, such as giving a handwritten note to a fellow employee expressing appreciation, or stopping by a colleague’s desk to say hello. Despite previous skepticism, after engaging in these activities, employees reported increased wellbeing and life satisfaction across the board.
HOW TO INTRODUCE A KINDNESS TO YOUR TEAM
Depending on your team, you may be wondering how to excite your colleagues about focusing on kindness in the workplace without earning eye rolls. Managers, as the group leader, must lead by example. Their words and behavior determine whether or not kindness is welcomed, appreciated, and encouraged in the workspace. If the manager speaks about the importance of kindness and demonstrates kindness as strength, the rest of the team will often follow suit.
Despite the possibility of an awkward moment, Jaclyn suggests you have a conversation with your team. To help set the tone for the conversation, share your own stories of when you experienced kindness and its effect on you. Then ask what kindness means to them, how they value it in a work setting, and what acts they would like to see more of.
KINDNESS DURING THE CURRENT PANDEMIC
In the current isolating climate of physical distancing, people are more in need of outreach and checks-ins than ever. Small gestures, such as sending a card to a fellow employee or having a fifteen minute virtual check-in with a team member, has powerful repercussions on the emotional landscape of the workspace.
Particularly now, when managers need to engage in tough conversations of letting people go, cutting back hours, or figuring out how to reconfigure the business to proceed, having kindness at the forefront of our decision making is paramount. As Jaclyn pointed out, being both strong and kind is not only possible, but the most effective combination for team leadership, and what employees deserve and appreciate in such trying times.
KEEP UP WITH JACLYN
Get the chance to win a free copy of Be Kind: A Year of Kindness, One Week at a Time when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.co/join.
This article was based on episode 105 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.