Some years ago I did a business writing course with a company called ‘Dark Angels’. Apart form the fact that it was a damn fine course, and one that I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to improve their business writing skills, it was also a lot of fun. One of the tutors, Jamie Jauncey, had (and still has) a blog called ‘A Few Kind Words‘. In his description of the blog, Jamie describes his choice of title by explaining that ‘the word kindness originally meant being kin, or kindred, or of the same kind. And since we are all humankind, we should remember to be kinder to one another when we communicate. The alternative is to be unkind, to use language which fails to connect or even alienates.’
This explanation really resonated with me, because I have lately been thinking a lot about kindness and how it shows up in the modern world.
One of the areas I cover in my corporate/business school training work is ‘soft’ leadership skills. That’s the ones like personal impact, presentation skills, listening skills, communication skills and so forth, as opposed to financial management or strategic thinking, economics and the like. One of the things I always cover in these trainings is the importance for the leader of getting his team to perform by creating an environment where they can be happy. Happy workers are more productive, it’s that simple. And one of the ways of helping people feel happy at work is by showing a little kindness.
For a lot of people kindness is seen as weakness. It implies being a doormat, or being too nice (and we can’t have that in the corporate world, can we?!) The truth is rather different. Kindness is important, as Jamie Jauncey says, because we are of the same kind. In my time I have seen mangers, friends and parents all communicate in a way that is, quite simply, vile. It sometimes happens because the individual concerned is so wrapped up in their emotions that they can’t control their communication. In leader, or a parent this is bad news. It sometimes happens because the individual doesn’t even realise that their behaviour is unacceptable. And it sometimes happens because the individual thinks they can, because of who they are.
I remember a senior manager in one organisation I worked for who would simply bellow at people. Most of us were fairly robust individuals, and we dealt with it by imitating him behind his back. But it didn’t engender any respect from us, and did very little to improve our collective productivity. Had he been inclined to show kindness, or even some basic politeness and respect for his junior staff, his team would have been way more successful.
I’ve seen parents who are remarkably unkind to their children. They call them stupid, or shout at them when the kids don’t do what they want. As a teacher I’ve learned the hard way that the quickest way to loose control of a roomful of children is to shout at them. My mother went through a phase of being incredibly cruel when she spoke to me. Granted, she herself was unhappy and lonely at the time, and I was an adult. The odd thing, though, was when I asked her why she did this. Her reply? ‘Because there’s no-one else I can be nasty to!’ Ho hum.
But we’re not such unkind to others. We’re also unkind to ourselves. Dove, the soap and shampoo brand, recently produced some adverts which really hit the spot about how we beat ourselves up. They got several women to write a diary of their thoughts about themselves, then turned some of this into a dialogue which an actor reenacted in a cafe. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth watching, because it provides such a powerful insight into just how unkind we can be to ourselves.
A little kindness goes a long way, whether it’s to ourselves or to other people. And if you do find yourself being unkind, why not go for a little self-forgiveness.