As the avalanche of women (and men) continues revealing sexual harassment and assault in the workplace — from the entertainment and media industries, the Silicon Valley start-up and investment world, and most recently the political world — I am reminded of a somewhat surprising theme that I found popping up all around me beginning last spring, also having to do with the workplace and women. It addressed a quality that I doubt is being asked about in job interviews — but maybe it should? It is about kindness in the workplace — or rather the lack thereof.
My first inkling of this trend was last May when I attended the “Women of Influence” reception in Santa Monica, where the L.A. Business Journals honored twenty exceptional businesswomen for their trailblazing work.
One of the women I conversed with is a seasoned IT executive in the financial industry. She had just left a position she’d held for five years and was wisely taking a break to reflect on where she was in her life. Even though she found herself somewhat uncertain about her next steps, one thing was crystal clear to her. She stated that she would consider working only for a company that fosters kindness in the workplace.
This woman executive claimed that instead of kindness at work she has too often experienced backstabbing, competition, and “I’m in it for me” attitudes from co-workers. Her own motto is “Be kind and show up,” and this time around she’s adamant that she will not settle for less than finding a match for that in her next job, even though that narrows the options considerably.
The second time I heard this echoed was a week later, when I found myself in Culver City, joining a collaborative community of female Los Angeles-area executives and entrepreneurs called TuesdayNights.
There again, I found the conversation turning to the unexpected topic of kindness in the workplace when I told Kim Jean Taylor that I was working in the Conscious Leadership field. Kim is a seasoned digital media, marketing, and branding professional who has worked for many companies in the technology industry over the years, and she had a lot to say about the issue.
In digital agencies, competitiveness is more often the norm. She observed that, in their eagerness to prove themselves, less experienced people often don’t know how to listen respectfully. They are prone to interrupting and talking over more seasoned colleagues and sometimes respond, “I got it” even though they didn’t. This creates a great deal of conflict, wasted time, and broken communication. She has seen people exhibiting their strong need to show that they are the smartest person in the room instead of taking the high road with their associates. In her opinion, respect and common courtesy have lost a lot of ground in the last five years in the agencies.
“It all comes down to kindness,” Kim said. “That’s at the root of everything. If there is kindness in the moment, other things will take care of themselves.”
The third woman professional I heard from around this time lost her job unexpectedly at a financial institution. Her initial reaction was that of shock and disbelief, but as she started to get some distance and perspective on her experiences with her previous employer, she realized that the environment and company culture had not been even supportive, much less nurturing. Instead, it was competitive and toxic. There was no kindness in the ecosystem. And she had simply become immune to it.
Do you know that how we treat others is a direct reflection of how we feel about and treat ourselves? If we withhold kindness and support from others, then by that rule of thumb, we are withholding kindness from ourselves — unconsciously, of course. It seems that the art of connecting is becoming a forgotten art in the craze of our disconnected digital connection.
If you want to learn more about how to connect and build meaningful relationships in the workplace, you can check out a newly published book by the brilliant innovation and leadership expert Michael J. Gelb, The Art of Connection: 7 Relationship-Building Skills Every Leader Needs NOW
Around the same time that I met all these women, I attended a webinar held by Conscious Company Media and 1440 Multiversity entitled “What Is Conscious Leadership?” a discussion that is dear to my heart and is reflected in more than one of my speaking topics — Conscious Leadership and What Is Conscious Leadership And Why Should I Care?
At the end of the webinar the moderator, Aaron Kahlow, asked the panelists to give their definition in one, short sentence of what Conscious Leadership meant to them. Marc Lesser, the co-founder of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, said that one way he sees Conscious Leadership is simply “Being Kind.”
Kim Rubey, the Head of Global Communications and Strategic Engagement at AirBNB echoed Marc’s words and added — and “Being Conscious.”
It did not escape me that the professionals that shared their stories with me about the lack of kindness in the workplace were all women. It seems like women in general are, yes, angry, and fed up with the lack of respect and the sexual harassment and assault they have had to endure for far too long. And yes — let’s add lack of kindness to that mix.
It also does not escape me that it is the women politicians on Capitol Hill in Washington and actresses in Hollywood who are spearheading the current revolution of making people accountable… So why wouldn’t it be women who also start the dialogue about kindness in the workplace and ask the question in job interviews if the work culture they might be joining is a kind culture or not?! The more women we have in top leadership positions, the more issues like sexual misconduct and the fostering of kindness will be made top priorities.
No one goes to work in the morning with the intention of being unkind! However, when people are stressed, pressed, and under tight deadlines, they often act in ways they wouldn’t if they had a deeper sense of self-awareness and were conscious of the effect that their behavior has on others around them. That is part of what the practice of Conscious Leadership addresses.
Many articles and books have been written about the importance of emotional intelligence, compassion, and empathy in the workplace. For many, those terms are deep and complex, and they don’t really know how to start cultivating these qualities. I am therefore offering simplicity here and proposing very basic, practical acts of kindness that anyone can do, starting right now.
Why not experiment with one or more of the ‘7 Simple Ways to Human Kindness’ I suggest here below and see where it takes you? Take stock of what happens around you and what happens inside of you as you break out of your unconscious stupor and become intentional with how you communicate and behave at work, at home, and everywhere else.
Below are some suggestions, tips, and resources intended to inspire and support you in your ‘Kindness-Practice’ at work, at home, and wherever you go. Dive in!
Replace verbosity with deep listening. It is said that listening is one of the loudest forms of kindness.
It is amazing how much more you learn and understand what’s happening in a room and with other people when you listen well. Deep listening shows respect and indicates interest, openness, and connection.
One of the evergreen training topics that companies offer employees is “Speaking Effectively” and/or “Communicating Effectively”. The missing piece is the listening. Why not educate yourself on what it means to be a good listener with the help of the “10 Steps to Effective Listening” published in Forbes? The more you practice, the more kindness is co-created.
Smiling (and laughing) happen to be the simplest and greatest stress-management tricks of all. It shifts our physiology by reducing the stress hormone cortisol, which releases us from the fight-or-flight mode that we are too often stuck in at work. Plus, it increases our endorphins — the “happy hormones” — which also act as the body’s natural painkillers. Less stress un-binds our energy and we become lighter and kinder.
“Smile like Mona Lisa” is one of Michael Gelb’s encouragement in his book, The Art of Connection: 7 Relationship-Building Skills Every Leader Needs NOW. By doing so we are sending a disarming energetic message to others of our confidence and trust that all is well. And don’t just limit your smiles to the workplace. Smile to total strangers on the street. I do it all the time and it feels really great.
And let’s not forget they are social magnetizers…smiling and laughing is naturally attractive. People trust someone who smiles, and they love dealing with a person who is happy and fun.
For those of you who are bolder, you might want to take a minute at break time and get your team to do some laughing yoga as a group. Try it — I promise it will totally change the energy in the place and open up the creativity floodgates!
In some of my workshops, I have the participants do a smiling and/or a laughing exercise. Once they have broken through the terror of having to smile or laugh on demand, they release a huge amount of energy and get totally vitalized. This is giving kindness to themselves and to each other.
Replace indifference with interest in other people, and to your surprise, they might just open up to you. Curiosity instead of blaming and judging creates trust, and you’ll find that people will be more willing to engage and give of themselves.
Everyone is required to be more innovative and creative these days, and the key to unlocking ingenuity and cleverness is to be curious. Asking questions and being willing to learn from others not only benefits you but also empowers them, and that is an act of kindness.
Don’t take my word for this wisdom. Curiosity is one of master Leonardo da Vinci’s seven principles that you find referenced in another of Michael Gelb’s great books, How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day
Saying “Thank you” and “I appreciate you” goes a long way in creating kindness. When you give appreciation to others, you are expressing and expanding the energy of seeing them, hearing them, and valuing them. You will get appreciation reflected back to you. That feels good. Kindness flows both ways.
I often have participants do an appreciation exercise at my workshops and retreat. They are encouraged to give acknowledgement to anyone or anything that they have experienced — it could be gratitude for taking the time to attend with an open mind and invest in their own growth and learning, it could be thanked for kind words or actions by one of the other participants, appreciation for something they learned or felt. Or simply an appreciation for life.
At Whole Foods Market, they are known to start meetings with an expression of appreciation. That immediately generates a positive and kind atmosphere that sets the tone for the meeting. Try it out at one of your next group meetings. The leader could give kudos to the team, or invite each team member to give a recognition to someone for some appreciated act since the last meeting, or in general. Play with it.
And don’t forget yourself! — Self-appreciation is the very foundation of personal self-esteem and centeredness. From a place of confidence, you are more likely to be both kinder to yourself and others.
Generously give of your knowledge, wisdom, time, and appreciation, and your “Kindness Bank Account” will start to swell.
Instead of focusing on yourself and your individual success, focus on the team and the company’s vision of success. That’s where the power lies, as together you will contribute to something greater than yourself.
Being supportive, helpful, caring, and loving of our co-workers doesn’t cost us anything except a hint of awareness. And the deeper our awareness becomes, being generous takes on a life of its own, and we begin embodying generosity effortlessly.
As we heard in the stories earlier, competition is the present norm in too many workplaces. The new workplace evolution is to shift to collaboration, in which everyone shares generously of their genius, which in turn creates much greater results and a win-win for all.
A young entrepreneur friend of mine, who is wise beyond his years, recently posted a blog that spoke beautifully to this. Jay Velasco talks about the importance of giving credit where credit is due, versus taking credit for what your team member(s) did. You can read his post on Medium — “Accept Credit When It’s Earned. Give Credit Where It’s Due: Respect Yourself and Respect Others.”
Do you know that hugging is healing? When we touch heart to heart, love, and kindness flow freely.
This important knowledge was brought to my attention in 2011 when I attended the Conscious Business Conclave at Esalen Institute in Big Sur. One of the participants, Roy Spence, the Co-founder and Chairman of the Purpose Institute and the Chairman and Co-founder of the advertising agency GSD&M, insisted on giving everyone a hug. He did more. He gave us a copy of the first draft of his book about hugging, a book that later became The 10 Essential Hugs of Life. Roy told me that his dad had been a hugger and that he is simply carrying forward the family tradition. Yes, this was in a business setting. The business leaders present happened to be Conscious Leadership practitioners, and hugging is a regular practice among them.
I have myself been attending yoga and energy classes at the Body & Brain centers in Santa Fe and Los Angeles for the last fifteen years. When you arrive at one of these centers, the masters greet you with a hug and say goodbye to you with a hug. And often after class, they ask the participants to give a hug to at least one other person before leaving. Why do they do that? The Koreans know that hugging gives you a feeling of belonging — it opens hearts, activates connection, and creates kindness all around. When you enter a Body & Brain center you enter an energy of love and kindness.
Sometime around the series of kindness conversations that presented themselves last spring, I attended a TEDxUCLA event. And guess what? Underneath our seats, someone had placed a small flyer that simply said “FREE HUGS.” That surely was an act of unexpected kindness that both my fellow companions and I appreciated. That was yet another inspirational sign to me to write about kindness.
We are taught to judge and evaluate. Judge what is “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad”. For some people, something is “good” and for others, it is “bad”. And sometimes we find ourselves changing our minds about something we had judged as “bad“. Has that ever happened to you? It has happened to me. Therefore the less we judge the more open space we hold to see things in a kaleidoscope.
When you judge anybody or anything, your experience of the person or the situation remains the way you see it. You immediately trap your own energy around the experience and what you know about the situations. Plus, what you judge in others or situations also indicates that you are judging yourself in the same way. Ouch!
If you release the judgment, you automatically free up your energy, open your heart, and that helps you to expand your mindset. Your acceptance and understanding deepen. Kindness is created for yourself and the others.
Take stock of your judgments over one day. Jot them down as soon as you become aware of them, and at the end of the day look over the list and ask yourself if it was worth spending all that energy on judging. I bet the answer is “No.” The more you keep your energy free and open, the happier, more productive and joyful you become — and kindness becomes your best friend.
What has been your experience? Have you seen a lack of kindness where you work? How can kindness be expressed more powerfully in your workplace? Can you see kindness as one of the cornerstones of a great company culture? Add your own favorites to the ‘Kindness-Practice’ list and share with us. And why not share your experiment also with your family, friends, and co-workers and start a dialogue in your workplace around the topic of “Being Kind”?
About the author:
Runa Bouius is an accomplished serial entrepreneur from Iceland and a Conscious Leadership catalyst. As a speaker, author, facilitator, and mentor to entrepreneurs, business leaders, and people of influence — she is on the vanguard of the new business paradigm thinking, the creation of better workplaces and growing the visionary, next-generation leaders. Runa sits on advisory boards and is a contributor to a number of publishing platforms. In addition to Runa’s companies in Reykjavik, Iceland, she co-founded the Conscious Leader Network, the Conscious Capitalism LA Chapter, and the TOGETHER Network!
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