Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 7, 2013 2:11 PM

Random Acts Of Business Kindness

What have we become?

Whether we're looking at last month's cover of Fast Company magazine (where Baratunde Thurston is pleading with us to #unplug) or checking out what Arianna Huffington is doing with GPS For The Soul and beyond, we all feel trapped in a hyper-connected business world where we're but a short grasp away from emails, text messages, tweets, status updates, newsfeeds, pings and more. We're shackled to the work that we do - seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day. Many struggle with this sense of constant connectivity combined with our smartphone devices, while others have turned this social habit into a business unto itself (check out Tim Ferriss' bestselling opus, The 4-Hour Workweek or The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau). The notion of work-life balance is constantly being debated in a world where the work that we do has become a more integral component of how we see ourselves, how we define our own happiness, and as we think more about the legacy that we will leave behind (instead of our next performance review). With this new found awakening, where work isn't the life of Dilbert, but rather the life that we were meant to lead, we're all still faced with some realities: a struggling economy, major metropolitan cities filing for bankruptcy, more social and medical issues amongst our global cities than we can comprehend, unemployment and a world where big business just keeps getting bigger (look at the recent merger of advertising network giants Publicis and Omnicom).

Thick is the skin.

While the philosophy of why we work continues to evolve and modernize, it still fees like we hold on to the dogma of what business is supposed to be. You'll still hear sentiments in boardrooms around the world like, "it's nothing personal... it's just business," or "you have to have a thick skin." You don't have to search high and low for stories of whistleblowers, class action suits, employee theft and more. It's like we remove the humanity from ourselves to endure this kind of physical pain and psychological torture throughout the day as a way to earn compensation. It's a paradox. It's an enigma. It's an enigma, wrapped in a paradox... wrapped in bacon ( as Homer Simpson, might say). Why do we all agree to this social contract?

Thin skin. Taking it personally.

Famed business and leadership thinker, Tom Peters (author of In Search Of Excellence, Re-Imagine! and countless other worthwhile bestselling business reads), tweeted out a quote from George Saunders' graduation remarks to a group of students at Syracuse University: "What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness." Is that a line that you can relate to? I'm skeptical that there aren't many business leaders, mid-level managers or entry-level employees who would not agree in the power of kindness. We live in a world where you'll pay it forward by buying a cup of coffee for the car behind you in line at the donut shop drive-through on your morning commute, but ten minutes later you are conducting in business what would be socially comparable to mass murder in terms of trying to cripple the competition or win new business. From a kind gesture of offering a stranger a coffee to primal animalistic acts of self-preservation, where there is no physical imminent threat. Perhaps with all of this moral awakening, sharing on social media, connecting to others and events like Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring, we should be paying closer attention to the human bottom line rather than the financial one?

Some random acts of business kindness:

  • Kindness. What if we compensated people for not only getting the job done, but by the level of which their kindness in the conduct fostered the outcome? What if kindness was not just part of a mission statement, but core DNA to how business must be conducted? The unspoken number one rule.
  • Win-win. By my estimation, the best business deals tend to be the ones where the party that is paying feels like it derived full value from the exchange, and the party receiving the funds feels like it was fairly compensated for the work delivered. It's unfortunate that most deals need involve one party feeling like they either got screwed over or were taken advantage of. If you think there aren't millions of instances where the gap is far and deep between two parties on this notion of "win-win" you haven't spent any time in the office of a law firm that specializes in corporate litigation.
  • Acceptance. Sometimes it doesn't work out. It could be a big business deal or the engagement of an employee. It's easy to point the swords in or to point the fingers at someone else, it would be far better for both parties to simply accept the fact that it's not working (maybe even agree to disagree) and make it much easier on one another. In fact, having been fired in the past, I could have easily pointed my finger or lay blame elsewhere. I was younger... and it took many years... but looking back, I should have accepted that I deserved to be let go. Was it all my fault? It rarely is. Still, acceptance is a big part of personal development.
  • Candid conversations. Imagine having kindness as the baseline, striving for a win-win and accepting that something simply didn't work out. Sadly, we live in a litigious society that encourages laying blame. Wouldn't it be more practical (and mutually beneficial) to have a candid conversation. Not one that points fingers or attempts to lay blame as if we're all trying to tip a scale in a preferable direction, but in one that simply enables both parties to find the time and space to have both a period of mourning and then recovery? Candid conversations are all-too-often discouraged because of the fear of litigation. It's too bad.
  • Help. Whether it's putting the dishes away from a colleague who left their mug in the communal kitchen sink to staying late and helping out somebody on a project that has no bearing on your performance. We see many glimpses of this in our day to day lives, but not enough. What if helping (one another, ourselves, our industry) was as common as holding the door open for somebody or saying, "bless you" when they sneeze?    

Does anybody remember kindness?

We should all thank Tom Peters for bringing this quote more out into the open. We go to work and turn from kind loving family members, friends and community citizens into military generals who use warring terms to get through the work day ("let's crush the competition!"). If It will be Pollyanna to wish that businesses embrace the power of kindness, then I am guilty as charged.

A boy can dream. 

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Mark Reutzel
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, Out of the Park! It seems that when I call companies to request information or place an order or even lodge a concern, it seems like the sigh on the other end of the phone is so strong, I nearly need a towel to dry out my moistened ear.

    I work in a call center and it seems that calls coming in are being met with some since of chore. It saddens me to hear some who are struggling to truly assist the customer in a kind way. There are some who call in with the same strained tone. When I call it to their attention by saying that I sense frustration, they immediately wake up of sorts and even change their tone.

    A kind tone really does wonders!

    Reply
  • Posted by Rob Kingston
    Mitch Joel

    Imagine, kindness driving the next big boost in productivity gains! Great commentary Mitch. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Posted by Anne Laboissonniere
    Mitch Joel

    Nice post. I think a lot more people think that kindness goes a long way in building a successful and profitable business. I agree with you that it needs to be part of ones DNA just as much as the culture of a company. Small acts of kindness go a long way in promoting and encouraging your employees and add value to your customers. Does one really need to be a bully to get their staff or team to perform? Is being the nice guy that supports, teaches, trusts and motivates the one that truly finishes last?

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I'm just getting through the final pages of Stuart Diamond's GETTING MORE...a book about negotiation, and, well getting *more* (not getting all, see the nuance?) -- your post hearkens back to so many of the themes that author harps on as a way of re-aligning out thinking about the power of communication between parties and the constant perpetual need for dialogue, kind or otherwise, as long as people are talking and establishing some kind of rapport with each other.

    One of the examples Diamond uses in the book is as follows, and I love it. A person calls out to you in response to an unsatisfactory interaction:

    "Hey, man, I think you're the biggest nimrod to walk the face of the earth!"

    Rather than knee-jerk respond: "Go jump in the lake!"

    Diamond suggests your response should be: "Oh really? Please tell me you think that's the case?"

    Talk, ask questions, qualify, dig.

    The book reveals that most negotiations are ONLY 10% factual/substantive, while 75% concerns the actual parties to the negotiation = THE PEOPLE, and the things they say to each other and the way they feel about each other...this is an astonishing revelation -- especially within the context of certain business cultures (egs. Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Northern Europe, etc.) in which quantitative methods seem to be the sole way of essentially arriving at a consensus during a parley. In other words, kindness is the major determinant!

    Like you cite, I find the level of rancor doesn't want to diminish as drastically as I'd like to see it in the interconnected era, when a boneheaded move, post, or utterance becomes Times Square-worthy in the blink of an eye, if you're not careful.

    When the temperatures literally rise outside, a small, deliberate toot on your horn to gently nudge the driver immediately ahead of you in the lane forward will usually earn you a stiff-armed bird flip and a bellow of "F--KING A--HOLE!" as you make your way down the street, passing them...this is a small indicative example of what I like to call the overall state of affairs of what to expect when situations are at a low boil...if this is how people interact when stakes are this low (traffic), how do you think they're going to respond when there's money involved?

    Love the idea about paying coffee for the person behind in the queue, My variation on that is I actually spin around to the person behind me in the physical location -- male or female -- and ask them what they're getting...nonplussed, they tell me, like "why the hell is this dude interested in what I'm drinking?" -- but when I whip my card out to pay, they're like, no-no-no -- and obvious because they think it's a pickup move. The drive-thru is a bit more subtle...I may just implement that...

    Reply
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