Updated: Dec 17, 2020
“Mary, that’s not an okay tone to use with your sister! Start from a kind place.”
As many of you know, I’m a mom. Which means hectic mornings of trying to get it all done, out the door, lunches packed, papers signed, clean faces, and macaroni projects glued. AND hopefully no one emotionally harmed in the process!
It dawned on me how many parallels there can be between being a mom who is trying to leave the house and actually being at work. 1. There are seemingly a million things to do. 2. It feels impossible to do all the things. 3. Inevitably, right when you get into a good groove, someone is going to take their socks off and declare that they are bothering them.
The above phrase is a common statement I make to my kids amidst the madness (or they make to me!). “Start kind.” Kindness is at least a good place to start.
Perhaps you have noticed an uptick in the last several years of people talking about more people-focused, or human-centered workplaces? We know there are many benefits to this concept, from productivity to fighting against the pervasive problem of burn-out. However, we haven’t all landed on what this actually means. And that’s ok! From a policy, strategy and systems perspective, we will continue to iterate on what “putting people first” means for our respective companies.
But for those of us not focused on policy or strategy at the moment, how can we drill down to what this means for OUR workplace TODAY?
I would propose that starting from a kind place could be one of the best ways you can contribute to a healthy team.
Here are 5 ways to #startkind TODAY to at your workplace:
Listen - really. When someone engages you, square your body to them. Listen with your ears, but also with your face and body language. Demonstrate that the person in front of you is more valuable and important than any task. (And yes, sometimes folks catch us at the wrong time! Simply let them know you’re up against a deadline, but you’d like to listen in more depth later.) We spend much of our life at work, and we all would like to be heard sometimes. Though I try to practice this, I have definitely missed the mark sometimes and have to return to a more present mindset.
Walk Around. It’s amazing what can happen if you block just 15 minutes of your day to walk around to say hello to people. I used to do this, and then got caught under the slog of “doing all the things.” I was recently reminded how important this is when I noticed a colleague of mine taking time to say hello to someone on another floor. And just by accompanying him on his walk I remembered how many people it takes every day to pull off this thing we call work.
Ask thoughtful questions. When someone misses a deadline, don’t just call them out. Ask them what caused it. And do so assuming the best and with compassion. And after you ask the question, be ready to employ number 1 again, and really listen. Sometimes the answers reveal complexities of the job or interconnected systems that indirectly correlate to the challenge. Be a partner in the work and continually find ways to better understand each other’s preferences and motivations.
Show compassion. We are real people with real lives. You can have boundaries at work, while still engaging people with care. And, I bet you don’t need an article to tell you this next statement: sometimes, life is hard. Parents age. Families fight. Loved ones pass away. Kids get sick. We get sick. Loneliness is real. All of these things don’t always stay neatly wrapped in a people-proofed box we leave at home. Even things that aren’t as serious can still be a burden at work (a pipe busts, a rodent is loose in the house, gasp! or a car is towed). It stays with us. When someone tells you something is going on in their life, show compassion. Ask if they have communities of support to help them through. Get a card. Bring them tea. And be mindful that we all need A little extra grace sometimes.
Speak up when something stinks. If you notice a colleague or superior being blatantly unkind, heartless or disrespectful, speak up. Especially as it relates to race, class, gender, differing abilities, or other groups which have historically not been given the opportunity to speak against ill-treatment. Easier said than done, I know, but nonetheless important. If you don’t feel like you’re able to speak up in the moment, be sure to reach out to that person at a different time or consider what other options are available to you.
If you are reading this and thinking to yourself, "well are we just supposed to be a bunch of powder puffs at work now?" First, if that’s your reaction, it may be time to ask for 360 review and consider how your peers perceive you in the workplace! But no, being kind is not being a “powder puff.” You can be a high-performance team with accountability structures while still starting from a place of kindness. In fact, it under girds all healthy team communication.
When we all recognize the humanity in each other, we are one step closer to a workplace we all want.