Are myths about workplace kindness holding back your organization?
Workplace kindness has a history of being shortchanged. We’re taught the benefits of being kind to family, to friends and in the community, but not on the job.
Traditionally the workplace has been idealized as a place of ruthless competition, independence and closely guarded emotions.
This is changing, as research reveals the profound benefits of kindness in all aspects of our lives, including business.
JoAnn C. Jones, a longtime nurse, tells the magazine Guideposts of a lesson she learned about kindness in her second year of nursing school. Her professor had given the class a quiz, and the last question on the quiz was, “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Jones thought it was a joke question.
I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. “Absolutely,” the professor said. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.” I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.
Kindness can be as simple as noticing other people. Still, fear of the supposed pitfalls of kindness keeps many people from fully engaging with it.
This week here at gThankYou’s Celebrating Work blog, we’re taking a closer look at workplace kindness in honor of Random Acts of Kindness Week 2015, which runs through this Sunday, Feb. 15. So far we’ve covered the good business sense of workplace kindness and how to cultivate a pay-it-forward workplace culture.
Now let’s debunk the myths that hold back too many of us from being kinder to our coworkers and employees.
Myth #1: Showing Kindness Is Weak
Since showing kindness can feel vulnerable, there is a false assumption that it makes us look weak to others, or even childish.
Illana Simons, a therapist and literature professor, has written a thoughtful essay for Psychology Today on the perceived weakness of kindness. She shows how a New Yorker profile on kidney donors depicts some of them as childish or even suffering mental illness as a result of their altruistic act.
It raises an essential question, Simons writes: Is altruism pure or is it a sign of possible psychological imbalance, like “excessive submissiveness or a repressed need to be recognized as worthy”?
Kindness is actually a sign of maturity and a catalyst for creativity, Simons’ research reveals. Kindness comes from moving beyond “an infant’s idealism, on to a young person’s defensiveness, on to a wiser willingness for vulnerability.”
“The wise-and-kind are the people who give in order to risk and thereby create,” Simons writes.
Kindness takes bravery. It might make us feel vulnerable at first, but ultimately it sparks a power in us to collaborate and solve problems. In today’s workplace, where creativity and collaboration are increasingly valued, we can’t afford to not be kind.
Myth #2: Being Kind Is Exhausting
JoAnn Jones, the nursing student whose professor quizzed her on the cleaning woman’s name, probably thought it was too much work to remember the name of someone who didn’t bear direct influence on her life.
Being kind can seem emotionally exhausting — you have to notice people, listen compassionately, consider your language carefully, and be nice when being dismissive would be easier or even briefly satisfying. Why bother?
Because, in the long run, kindness is energizing!
Since kindness is contagious and spreads easily to other people — even bystanders who witness acts of kindness — you’ll be sustained by the joy, helpfulness and collaboration that results from it.
Check out Inc.‘s “6 Awesomely Random Acts of Workplace Kindness” for quick ideas on how to jump-start kindness in your workplace. Don’t get trapped into thinking that an act of workplace kindness needs to be a big production or is only worthwhile when you’ve really worked for it. Even a smile or saying “thank you” counts! It’ll get easier from there.
Myth #3: Self-Kindness Is Lazy
Being kind to yourself, also known as self-compassion, can at first glance appear self-indulgent — especially under the false assumption that getting ahead and achieving peak productivity can only be achieved by pushing ourselves and others to extremes.
The myth we’ve created for ourselves about self-kindness is self-defeating — that if we give ourselves a break we’ll fall back, right onto the couch, and never get up again.
But, the truth is, not being kind to yourself is exhausting. It means staying angry instead of forgiving yourself, making commitments you can’t realistically keep, pushing yourself past reasonable limits and wearing yourself down to a point of despair. The fallout can be ugly: resentment, sulking and, yes, laziness.
Meanwhile, self-kindness allows for breaks when we need them and realistic goal-setting. Refreshed, we’re able to keep going, keep the commitments we make and stay on course.
Kristin Neff, researcher at the Greater Good Science Center, recently wrote about the power of self-compassion, concluding that self-compassion actually trumps self-esteem.
“I realized that self-compassion was the perfect alternative to the relentless pursuit of self-esteem,” Neff writes. “Why? Because it offers the same protection against harsh self-criticism as self-esteem, but without the need to see ourselves as perfect or as better than others. In other words, self-compassion provides the same benefits as high self-esteem without its drawbacks.”
How will you be kind today? Do your employees and coworkers know about Random Acts of Kindness Week? Inspire and spread kindness this week by sharing your acts of workplace kindness with the hashtag #RAKWeek2015 on social media.
Celebrations like Random Acts of Kindness Week are an important part of building workplace gratitude. For a comprehensive guide to growing a sustained workplace culture of happiness and appreciation, download our FREE eBook: Transform Your Workplace with Gratitude.
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