The difficulty of being kind in business

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

The importance of kindness and being kind is doing the rounds at the moment as these general sweeping statements about transparency and authenticity and being human tend to do. Actually practising kindness in the business environment on a daily basis, however, is rarely discussed. And you know what, sometimes it’s really hard.


Kindness isn’t always the easy option

We live in a time of extremes and absolutes – something is incredible or abhorrent, pathetic or inspiring. We have become used to offering up our opinions, wanted or not, commenting and/or passing judgement on the news, stories and comments we read and watch. Practicing kindness means going against what a digital and intensely social world demands of us. It is not easy to be kind in world that thrives on outrage. Being kind in today’s world requires going against the grain, being kind often means going against popular opinion, which can ostracize us from our fellow humans.


Kindness requires awareness of the challenges of others

Our personal bubbles can make us oblivious to the many different challenges faced by others. If our lived experiences are vastly different to the person next to us, our ability to feel empathy and understand the impact of those challenges on the life of another person is diminished and it’s easier to be dismissive, judgemental or unkind. If you are familiar with Terry Pratchett’s books there is a character who talks about First Thoughts, Second Thoughts and Third Thoughts.


“First Thoughts are the everyday thoughts. Everyone has those. Second Thoughts are the thoughts you think about the way you think. People who enjoy thinking have those.”


In today’s noisy, angry world our first thoughts are often unkind, thoughtless reactions formed without consideration of others. Our Second Thoughts are where kindness lies. Beyond that first instant reaction is a thought or opinion which tells us about type of person we are. If those thoughts are consistently unpleasant, callous or selfish, any hope of being kind is lost and preaching about its importance is nothing but hypocrisy.


Kindness isn’t a quantifiable ROI

Kindness doesn’t make much business sense, not really, it’s not quantifiable. There’s no column on the balance sheet for the value of kindness. Nothing about the business world lends itself to being kind; getting an edge over competitors, holding on to majority market share, building a bigger audience, more views, more likes, more, more, more. Running a business is set up to make us focused, goal-oriented and self-centered. We can look at a meme which tells us to be kind, read a LinkedIn post about the importance of being kind but when it comes to figuring out how to employ kindness alongside all our other business goals and finding the time to do it, we can give up far too easily, because it’s hard, time-consuming and has no pay off.


Kindness in the business world

Practising kindness in business is more than passing referrals and connecting members of your network – being kind is not a superficial endeavour for LinkedIn likes. It takes patience, understanding and taking the time to educate oneself about everything from mental health, to race, to social economic challenges. Being kind should factor into every decision we as business owners make, not because saying we’re doing so makes us look better, but because doing so inspires others to behave in a similar way, helping kindness become an easy and natural response.