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November 4, 2013
A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way
 
I’m always interested in and impressed by the things my kids learn at school, whether in books or on the playground. Recently, though, my nine-year-old daughter came home with a lesson that transcends generations.

The teacher created a large heart made of red construction paper. It was pristine. She asked the children to pass it around to one another, but as they did she told them to say something “mean” to the heart and crumple a piece of it. After 20 elementary insults and much scrunching, she took the heart back.

“Does it still look like a heart?” she asked.

The answer was a resounding “no.”

The teacher directed the children to take the heart once again and pass it around. This time they were told to say something nice to it, while smoothing out a part that was crinkled.

After 20 elementary compliments and much flattening, she took the heart back. It was no longer pristine.

The lesson she shared with these curious students was simple: What you say to someone always matters. You may get mad and frustrated sometimes, but we must remember that saying something hurtful to another person, despite the ability to apologize later, will change the person’s heart forever.

Why is it so hard for some to be kind to others in the workplace? Sadly, there are many excuses for people’s harmful demeanors, including deadlines, client demands, pressure from a supervisor, personality clashes, misunderstandings, and lack of communication. It might even be because someone didn’t get a seat on the subway on that particular day. It may be that ”niceness” is seen as a weakness in your respective company’s culture.

Regardless, being kind is one critical element to an engaged and happy workforce; being nice doesn’t have to be a curse. I am fortunate to work in a culture that believes happiness breeds success. Seriously, tell me you’re not more productive and fulfilled when you’re happy. Kindness isn’t just good for business, but for our personal well-being too.

Whether you’re just starting in a new role or have been at it for years, you can make a difference to everyone around you by just being kind. Start approaching others differently today by keeping some key things in mind:

The Little Things. Hold the door for someone coming into the building behind you, even if it means waiting six seconds. When you see a stranger in the elevator, smile and say hello. Pick up a piece of garbage from the floor on the way to your desk instead of loudly complaining that the space is a mess. Compliment someone’s work on a project they completed. Don’t check your BlackBerry when a colleague is speaking. Despite being small things, they count.

Equality. No matter your level, keep your door and mind open. Ask colleagues what they think, or how they’d approach a problem, so everyone feels comfortable to express their opinion. Let them speak, and listen. Then watch out —  it’s important to foster open conversation, but be mindful of politicking. Make sure your voice is true, and that you are constructive and have positive intent. Office gossip and hearsay, and relentless nitpicking (with no solutions) breed confusion and discontent.

Development. This is critical to the growth of individuals as well as an agency. If your people aren’t actively seeking out training opportunities, they are short-changing their own futures. Even worse, if you aren’t encouraging, supporting, and approving the time they need to attend developmental opportunities, you’re sending a clear message that individual growth doesn’t matter. Consider ideas your employees may have in terms of developing themselves, and help to prioritize their time so they can become stronger people.

Mutual Respect. It’s plain and simple, and works both ways. In short, don’t abuse privileges. You want a better work/life balance? Don’t expect a six-hour day to get you there. You may not be punching the standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. clock, but that shouldn’t prohibit you from contributing a solid, honest day’s work. Want to work from home? Then really do work at home. Disappearing for half the day doesn’t count. You want to speak at a meeting? Don’t talk over others. Listen to what your colleagues have to say before you share your point of view. Quid pro quo goes a long way to establishing a fair, transparent and happier work culture.

Say Thank You. For everything. It takes merely seconds to show appreciation. Say “thanks” often. It’s appreciated when you do, and discouraging when you don’t. 

Being kind isn’t easy at times. Losing your temper or sight of what’s important to others can happen to virtually all of us. Let’s be clear: if you’re reading this article and focusing on all the people who haven’t been kind to you, you’re missing the point. This is about you. Realize that your interactions with colleagues make an impact. It’s up to you to choose whether it will be positive or negative. 

Above all, remember and act with an understanding that people matter. This will lead to a happier team, a more productive workplace, and more respectful, impactful leaders for generations to come.

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Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee. 
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