Recently, I spoke at a leadership summit where discussion points spread across a variety of topics, from courage and vulnerability to fear and resilience. The topic that stood out to me was kindness — more specifically, how we can work to spread it!
My daily routine has always involved being nice to others, but as I reflected on the topic, I realized I didn’t focus deliberately on being kind. I started to ponder how important kindness is in organizational cultures and realized that spreading kindness is a skill set that we can work on and develop over time.
Dr. Ritchie Davidson, a professor and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, describes growing the skill in this way: “It’s kind of like weight training … We found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”
As I continued to research the different components of kindness, I was intrigued to discover the numerous well-being benefits associated with it. For instance, “perpetually kind people” have 23% less of the stress hormone cortisol, and age more slowly, than the rest of the population.
Kindness can be an intentional act and a part of your organizational culture. Here are three distinct ways you can spread kindness.
1. Listen With Intent to Connect
People enjoy being heard. They appreciate it when someone is genuinely interested in what they are saying. Try setting a goal to have five to 15 minutes of meaningful conversations each day with different people.
Seek to learn about others. Listen with positive intent to what they share, and strive to withhold judgment in the process. Be present and curious. Listen and then follow up on what the person shares with you.
You’d be surprised how appreciative people are when someone shows kindness through simply being present and listening. Everyone is looking to connect and be seen on a daily basis. You never know the impact you can have by being intentional in connecting with others.
2. Spread Kindness in Writing
Whether its a short note or a celebration card, written words, which people can read, hold and cherish can fuel kindness in multiple ways. We never know where someone is on a particular day, in a specific moment. A kind note may put a smile on their face or be the uplifting moment that pulls them through a rough day.
Spreading kindness through written messages isn’t easy, because to be meaningful, they must be specific. Look for what’s important to others and how you can connect with them about it. People notice when someone is being genuine.
I’ve received thank-you cards that lacked specificity and meaningfulness, and they did not leave a good impression. On the other hand, some of the most impactful moments in my life involved reading a note that I could tell was written out of thought and care for me.
Think about a time you received a text message from a friend or team member who was just checking in. Words are powerful, and we can use them to spark kindness in multiple ways. Be sure to never underestimate the power of kindness in written or spoken word. Research shows many of us underestimate the value of showing gratitude, but it can impact people in many positive ways.
3.Be Kind to Yourself
Part of spreading kindness is being kind to yourself. Think about some of the unkind things you’ve said to yourself. Would you ever say those things to others? I’ve asked this question to so many groups, and learners are quick to say, “No!” Why then, would we do it to ourselves?
While I’m sharing this behavior as the third way to spread kindness, I recommend starting with this one. Reflect on how you can be kinder to yourself on a daily basis. How are you capturing events to reflect on that stimulate kindness to yourself? It could be through writing, with practices like journaling, or through meditation. Whatever your practice is, it should be deliberate and consistent.
Start by striving to practice self-kindness daily, and spread the kindness from there. Think about what your organization would look like if kindness were treated as an expected competency or tool that employees exercised daily. How can you lead the way in modeling and prioritizing kindness?
While kindness doesn’t usually show up in reportable workplace metrics, it does have a return in our connections and culture. Challenge yourself to treat kindness with the focus and intensity that you treat the activities you know leaders will ask you about. Even if no one is asking about it, you’ll know the impact your kindness has on others.