The Killer of Kindness
One of my all-time favorite role models and entertainers is Ellen DeGeneres. She’s authentic, warm, and on a mission to spread kindness at a time when we so desperately need it. For my job, I’ve walked around many a conference center, airport, and workplace, and seen people of all ages with tees and sweatshirts adorned with Ellen’s iconic slogan “be kind to one another.” All these proud supporters of her message filled me with a simple wonder… if kindness is so powerful, why isn’t there more of it at work? What gets in the way?
Now, to be clear, kind ≠ nice. Nice is putting your own needs aside to please other humans. While this may temporarily soothe a situation, it’s not productive in the long run. Kind, on the other hand, is coming from a place of grounded empathy. One where you own your thoughts and feelings so you can pause, work to understand before reacting, and then do something about it.
So, what gets in the way of grounded empathy and the compassionate kindness it creates? Too often we hear about (or are supporting characters in) stories where coworkers spout nice words in one breath, and gossip or micro-aggressions in another. They misguidedly find comfort in office cliques, turning a once harmonized environment into one pulsing with an undercurrent of distrust. Not too surprisingly, low-trust environments are synonymous with poorly performing companies, unhappy employees, and faltering profit projections. After years of observing and listening to the waxing and waning opinions of, and behavior towards, others at work, my unscientific diagnosis for the dissipation of kindness is simple: unchecked insecurity.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been so deeply insecure in my life that, yes, I might’ve proverbially moonwalked into a corner and cried about my misgivings (body, intelligence, capabilities) while also unintentionally choosing a scapegoat to blame for my woes. I’ve been victim to negative self-talk or, as I like to call it, that toxic imaginary friend who thrives off your insecurity.
Let this be my call to action for you (and for me): check your insecurities. They serve no one, and the trickle effects have a detrimental impact on the workplace.
How do you stop the kindness killer in its tracks? Regardless of where you’re at, if you want to revive kindness at work, the you have to take the first step: be kind to yourself. Everyone, at some point in their career, is going to feel insecure. I would argue that the competitive and hustle-heavy corporate culture we all work in actually creates an environment where nearly everyone experiences feeling less than capable (here is one tactic to change that.) If you’ve always been hard on yourself, this can be a challenging shift to make, but remember: self-compassion is one of the most powerful catalysts for personal and organizational growth.
Once you’ve given yourself permission to complete the first step, then you can try a myriad of different techniques to combat your insecurities:
Write your limiting beliefs on pieces of paper and tear them up (or, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, burn them!) It can be uncomfortable and vulnerable but it’s important.
Find reasons to be secure and confident (trust me, they exist), nurture them at all times, and respect and appreciate the confidence in others.
Ban negative self-talk. You don’t need to compare yourself to others.
Take a pledge to work in a gossip-free work environment by refusing to participate in it.
When you feel the impulse to exclude, make an effort to be inclusive of others.
And when all else fails, just repeat this mantra: human kind… be both.