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We all know what kindness is, surely?

There’s no end of well-intentioned articles about feelings and conduct on the internet. We have all kinds of movements and “isms” and philosophies available to us, and we pay varying degrees of attention to them, depending on our situations and beliefs.

One of the reasons for this proliferation is that our age is not precisely known for courtesy. We’re all rushed, and brusque, and snarky, and sarky. Or if we aren’t, we feel that everyone else is.
We can’t change this at the level of our entire culture. But we can start turning it ourselves. And we can do that by considering kindness—what it is, how we can spread it, and why it’s a good thing.

This can seem facile, of course—we all know what kindness is, surely? But like so many things related to our behaviour, it can be much more complicated in action than it is in theory. This is especially so in the workplace—a place where, as I’ve written about in a former post, we’re supposed to feel perpetually discontent and out-of-place. We can find it difficult to be kind in the workplace, especially during times of high stress, or when we’ve genuinely outgrown a job and want to be elsewhere, or when we work with particularly unpleasant people (who are, guaranteed, pretty unhappy themselves).

The fact that we may find kindness a “hard ask” in the workplace, of course, is no reason to leave it aside—any more than being kind at the office means instant happiness for all involved. The critical point is that kindness is worth considering—thinking about—and then trying out at the office. Even if we think we’re pretty easygoing with colleagues, it’s always worth examining our day-to-day behaviour with a little more consideration than usual.

It’s not just about how we greet people or whether we ever smile at them—although those small things are part of it, and can be surprisingly significant; it’s about our entire approach to them as individuals. How do we speak to them? When they talk to us, do we listen—and do we act and look like we’re listening? Do we see any number of our colleagues and think, “What an idiot”?

Seriously—how often do you hear people say that of those they work with? Do we do this? If we do, why? Are people we find difficult in the workplace deliberately stupid, obstructionist imbeciles, or are they people with challenges and sources of stress we may not know about, people who may be unhappy in their situations but are trying to muddle through, people who are doing their best, but lack social skills?

Looking at people and our application of kindness (or lack thereof) to them won’t solve every interpersonal problem in the workplace. But it can put us a bit more in charge of how others affect us, and possibly of how we affect them. We can make an effort to speak more generously, to receive more warmly, and to exercise patience when others try it.

So when you’re thinking of your workplace toolkit—those things that help you get more out of your professional life—don’t forget that small thing, kindness. It’s worth wielding.