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How to create a culture of kindness in the workplace

To show kindness is one of the most powerful things you can do for someone. Kindness is like a key to the soul. It unlocks the heart and lets light in.

This is as true in the workplace as it is at home. We’ve too often become conditioned to think of work as somewhere we go and shut down our emotions and humanity. Worse still, some workplace cultures are cruel and callous. Workplace bullying and harassment is allowed to fester if we leave our humanity at the front door each morning and treat our colleagues with disdain or disrespect. In these workplaces, qualities such as kindness are seen as surplus to requirement — an intolerable weakness.

The Greek concept of philotimo plays a major role in my new book Why I Wrote This Book: For Greater Success. It’s an ideal I’ve tried to live in all aspects of my life, including my work as the Managing Director and CEO of The CEO Circle.

Philotimo is hard to translate into English but I’ll give it a go. It encompasses duty, honour, pride, respect, humility, honesty, courage, personal sacrifice, reciprocity and kindness. It’s being mindful of your words and actions and how they affect others. It is self awareness. It’s choosing kindness.

Kindness is powerful because it can be achieved with simple acts. You can show kindness to both strangers and those you know well. It can be planned or random. It can cost nothing. You can be kind in big and small ways. You can start being kind right now on World Kindness Day.

John Karagounis.

Here are six ways you can start to bring the light of kindness into your workplace.

Really listen to people. Your ears are incredible tools that you must utilise. As the Greek philosopher Epictetus once said: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we can speak.” Listening to someone is an act of giving. When you listen to what people say, you open yourself to their views and experiences, and you also show you are interested in them. That recognition is a powerful form of kindness.

And really talk to them. Take the time to talk to your workmates and find out a little about them. Not everyone wants to share their whole life story, but it’s important to share some of yourself with people. The stories we share are like food for the soul. They enrich our understanding of each other and allow us to put ourselves in each other’s shoes and empathise. With empathy, we develop the environment in which kindness flourishes.

Do nice things. Simple things like going on a coffee run or bringing in cake to share are easy ways to show kindness in the workplace. If you can’t use the free movie tickets a client has given you, send an email around letting people know they’re available. These are the kindness ‘one-percenters’ we can all do in the workplace. They don’t have to be grand gestures, but they make everyone feel a little more special.

Show gratitude. A big part of the philotimo creed is gratitude. When we show gratitude we ignite a spark for positive action. “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others”, said the Roman philosopher Cicero. Gratitude is our way of acknowledging the deeds of kindness shown to us. It promotes a circle of virtue in the workplace.

Understand and respect the burdens we all carry. Stop for a moment and think of the many things in our lives that remain hidden from view to most people. We all struggle at some time with life’s many challenges: illness, depression, anxiety, hardship. Yes, some people can be nasty for no apparent reason. And some people can be distanced or aloof. But allow some space in your interactions with these people to consider the very real possibility they are dealing with something you know nothing about, something that is making it hard for them to be who they would like to be at that moment.

Look for ways to help. This might mean doing the littlest things like holding the door open for someone through to big stuff like offering to take on some of your sick colleague’s workload. There are so many things we can do to help in the workplace. Share your knowledge, give up a little of your time to make someone’s day just that bit easier. Your kindness will come back to you tenfold, because there is no greater success in life than being the recipient of someone’s heartfelt gratitude. 

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