Last Friday I joined the throngs of people who regularly exit the capital for a quiet weekend away. I was driving to the Midlands to visit old friends with my two sons in the back of the car. It was the end of a busy working week and I definitely had that ‘Friday feeling.’
Outside of the car, stress levels and the volume of traffic was mounting. I stopped at my usual busy services and joined the long queue for petrol where people had started blowing horns and gesticulating to one another. I hastily filled up with petrol, parked up and began to sort out the boys and the disorder building in the backseat of my car…
Someone had ‘helpfully’ pointed out to me that I was parked in the wrong space. I was in the vacuum and air section – the only available spot left on the forecourt. I apologised and proceeded to deal with my children and the mess in the car, when the guy next to me gently tapped on the passenger window. I jumped up and got out of the car, not knowing what to expect. He completely disarmed me however and gently asked if I would like him to check my tyre pressure. He did that for me and then proceeded to pump air into two of the tyres.
His question and behaviour startled me. He was a stranger, not an employee of the service station and under no obligation to help me, but he did so with grace. I gratefully responded with a sincere ‘thank you very much.’ His was a simple and generous gesture but it felt wonderful. This lovely gentleman had no agenda other than being helpful and kind. He explained he was on his way to visit his adult son and had stopped to check his own tyres. In doing so he saw that I was travelling by myself with young, noisy children and remembered how stressful that could be and simply thought it would be nice to help. It was.
This small but selfless act had a powerful effect on me and set the tone for the rest of our weekend. My children and I had a happier car journey as a result and when we got to the Midlands, we shared the tale with our friends, who were also touched by this gentle man’s unexpectedly kind behaviour and we regularly referred back to it over the course of the weekend.
It got me thinking about random acts of kindness in general and in particular in our professional lives. Do we carry out enough similar acts ourselves? Also, as business leaders, do we take sufficient, deliberate steps to create a culture of kindness in our companies? Further, does it even matter?
Does kindness matter?
It matters. Kindness is an important virtue and value, especially in our professional lives but it can often be overlooked. The cynic’s view may be that a belief system where you do something for nothing is a waste of time, but the cynics are wrong. Kindness is an extremely worthwhile value and positive quality which is inextricably linked to happiness. Our sense of well-being increases as our acts of kindness do and this applies to both to our personal and professional lives.
And what of its ‘random-ness?’
Because it is unexpected it startles us and consequently has a bigger, more positive impact.
Is kindness contagious?
When we practice random acts of kindness it releases energy and we like to share it. We feel better and the recipients of our act feel better, which makes them more likely to be kind to other people.
Pret A Manger stores are encouraged to engage in random acts of kindness at least once a day. Team members are empowered to surprise customers with complimentary hot drinks and treats. If you’ve ever received one or know someone who has, you will be amazed at the impact.
London based psychologist, Dr George Fieldman has spent time researching altruism at Oxford University and isn’t surprised at the positive effect of a simple act of offering a free coffee. Dr Fieldman explains,
“Altruism – or the act of doing something for somebody else at a cost to yourself – has a fascinating effect on us. It can help us feel better about ourselves, and a simple act of kindness can create authentic feelings of joy; not just for the person on the receiving end, but also for the person doing the giving.”
So kindness is viral and in our consumer-focused world where we have hundreds of brands and business services to choose from, demonstrating kindness can set you and your business apart.
Is there any science behind it?
Yes. Dopamine and serotonin are opioids released by kind behaviour. When two or more people interact and engage in acts of kindness it releases oxytocin and strengthens the bond between them. Critical in business whatever your profession happens to be.
How can we practice more acts of kindness in our corporate lives?
1. Lead by example. Model selfless behaviour in your leadership role. You cannot expect it of others if you don’t practice it yourself. Leadership has an immense impact on company culture. When leaders practice kindness this value will be evident in everything they do i.e. internal communications, company services and products. So much so that kindness as a core value will become part of the ‘dna’ of that company, resulting in increased employee engagement; fewer hiring needs; enhanced sales and increased customer satisfaction levels.
2. Compliment in public, criticise in private.Use public settings for compliments and save criticism for one-to-ones.
3. Remove superfluous layers and titles. Barriers like these place a person’s function in front of their character.
4. Make time to communicate verbally. Say ‘hello.’ Once a month I visit a client at his office and I am always impressed by how he takes the time to exchange greetings and smiles with every colleague he encounters and its positive effect.
5. Recognise and congratulate colleagues who emphasize or embody company values. This raises the kindness quota of the person who makes the acknowledgement as well as the colleague who carries out the act.
6. Begin face-to-face meetings with the right tone.Start by asking the other person how they are doing, get an update on their day to day lives and offer yours too. This brief moment of vulnerability evokes the others’ kindness.
7. Serve your community. Follow the pioneering Salesforce 1:1:1 philanthropy model.
8. Random recognition. Invite someone you would not normally involve to join you at your weekly meeting and show them your appreciation. You will find that all week people will be looking for the chance to make someone else’s day!
There are many advantages to practising kindness in our daily lives. And in business people who demonstrate compassion toward others are generally more successful and easier to work alongside. World Kindness Day is coming up on 13th November, but my message to you is to make kindness a daily habit. Stay late at the office to help someone else complete their project. Give up your space in the supermarket queue, without tutting and let the tailgaters have their space. It does not matter. Practice being smart and kind and notice what happens.
What are you and your company doing to create a culture of kindness? Please share by contacting Rachael by email searchcoach@