The competitive advantage of kindness

I recently spoke at the Washington Society of Association Executives conference. After my presentation on making meetings more effective, I attended a presentation on kindness by Donna Cameron, author of “A Year of Living Kindly.” She shared some impressive statistics about the return on investment kindness has on an organization.

In a study conducted by Businessolver, 33% of employees stated that they would transfer to more empathetic employers for equal pay while 20% said they would do it for less pay. Kindness beats more money.

According to Gallup, 67% of employees are happier and more productive when managers focus on the positive aspects of their performance. This leads to more engaged and loyal employees and better customer service.

She also talked about how being kind helps people to be healthier, wealthier, have better relationships and live longer lives. Who doesn’t want that?!

Donna shared several ways we can bring more kindness into the workplace and the world in general. It’s also a topic I discuss in my Cultivating a Culture of Respect training.

Look for the positive

It can be easy to focus on the things that bother us in our relationships, our jobs and life in general, but when we consciously focus on being grateful and seeing the positive we tend to be happier. When we are content we are typically kinder to others.

Small kindnesses make big impressions

In her presentation, Donna mentioned that we can’t suddenly change into people who are kind all the time. It takes time to build up the kindness muscle, as she calls it. Start with small gestures of kindness. Say thank you to the barista for your latte, hold the door open for someone, let a driver merge in front of you, wave to someone who lets you merge, say hello to your coworkers in the morning, offer to clean up after a meeting, give your employee recognition for doing a good job, etc. etc. Even these small gestures of kindness will have a positive ripple effect. You’ll feel better about yourself and others will respond positively.


Donna suggested we pause before responding to an unkind act or word. Pausing allows us to gather ourselves before we blurt out something equally unkind. Sometimes that means not responding and being silent. Or sometimes it means giving a neutral response.

When I was a guest on Q-13 Fox News before the holidays I was asked by the anchor how one should respond when a person gives you a gift that appears mean spirited – like a weight loss video. To avoid saying, “You jerk! Are you trying to tell me I need to lose weight?! How rude of you…”. Instead, pause, gather yourself and say something neutral such as, “Thank you for thinking of me.”

Give people the benefit of the doubt

I know that sometimes when I’m facing something difficult or I’ve had a hard day I’m not always as kind and gracious to people, especially those closest to me. So, I always appreciate when others give me the benefit of the doubt and react to me with warmth and understanding. You really never know what someone is dealing with. Rather than react with anger or rudeness, be kind and forgiving. It can be hard to do, especially when someone is really unkind. Ask yourself, what kind of pain is this person experiencing?

Let it begin with me

Kindness begets kindness and disrespect and rudeness is answered with more rudeness. In other words, if you want a kinder workplace let it start with you, especially if you are a company leader. Executives need to model kind behavior before expecting employees to be kinder.

Years ago, I struggled with the behavior of someone I worked with and I kept responding with anger and judgement. But, over time I discovered that my response was only making things worse. Instead of changing her behavior, this person would respond to my self-righteousness with indignation or withdrawal. After much thinking I realized that I needed to change. I needed to let kindness and forgiveness start with me. I changed my attitude and focused on the good traits this person had and I approached her with appreciation rather than judgement. It wasn’t easy, but surprise surprise, how did she respond? With warmth and kindness. And, I stopped being poisoned by the bitterness of anger and smugness.

Being kind seems relatively easy to do, and it can be. The hardest part about being kind is being consistently kind, especially when people around you are rude and mean spirited. Handling those situations nicely is the true test of kindness.

Pope Francis said, “Tenderness is not weakness, it is fortitude.” Let’s all try a little tenderness.

What would you add to the list? How do you express kindness?


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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