Hello dear worker bees,
What with my bride-to-bee preoccupied mind, I have had less time to write, but here I am! In today's post, I would like to shed some light on the topic of kindness. It has come to my attention lately that being kind can definitely backfire. No, no, don't get me wrong. I will always believe, in the big picture, that kindness prevails. However, there are times when an act of kindness went and slapped me in the face, enough for me to re-question my approach and wonder exactly who to share my energy and kindness with. I will inevitably always return to my natural tendency to help others (or I wouldn't be in the field of counselling and psychology in the first place) but, I will not hesitate to aim the arrow and shoot the next person who takes advantage of my cooperative attitude while throwing me under the bus.
Percpetion of kindness in the corporate world
Being kind is one thing, but being kind at work is not quite perceived in the same way. The good part: the kind are seen as cooperative, patient, giving, helpful and keeping an open mind to understand another person's point of view. Every coin has its other side though and too much kindness can definitely be seen in a negative manner.
In the corporate world, too much kindness means lowering your guard, being a push-over, being taken for granted because "you're so nice", you won't mind doing this and that because you "will always say yes". Get where I'm going with this? Yep! You have become vulnerable and even manipulated if you are unable to read others' true intentions. Unfortunately, the kind souls are often associated with weakness even though this behaviour doesn't reflect their competencies or skills. The human brain has already created the mental pathway between kindness and weakness. Yet, just like introverts aren't necessarily shy, the kind aren't necessarily powerless.
Actually, it's quite the contrary. After being thrown under the bus enough times, one develops an intuitive radar for incoming buses. A bruised ego will have much less to lose and will know the ropes of the gutter better than one that has sat on high horses for so long. Plus, who do you think builds allies faster? The mean old hag or the nice guy? Learn how to properly harness your kindness and you can rule.
Know your audience
Regardless of the position or role you hold, you definitely need to take a step back and observe and listen to your surroundings and the people you work with. In a meeting for example, who arrives first? Who always takes the microphone and cuts everyone off? Who are the quiet ones? Who challenges you the most? Who triggers your the most? What triggers them? Who supports who? It is key to understand the ongoing dynamic and the individuals you spend most of your time with. Identifying your colleagues' profiles will allow you to know allies from bullies. Spending time analyzing them a little more may also result in a clearer understanding of their behaviour, making you more objective and giving you leverage.
Channel your inner Michael Corleone
You will most probably laugh reading this but I mean it. In watching The Godfather recently (I love Netflix), it occurred to me that part of Michael Corleone's power comes from his non-verbal behaviour. A little bit in the beginning but hardly does he ever smile or laugh. The look in his eyes is both piercing and disarming all at once while the way he carries himself, suspenders and all, does 90% of the job. His calm and collected attitude is striking and inspiring. We know that when he walks into a room, he means business. Just like police officers and their uniform command respect and authority (though that could be argued with cargo or pink leopard tights here in Montreal), take their uniform off and we are instantly equals. Appearances and non-verbal behaviour are therefore crucial to master.
That being said, kind individuals are more likely to wear their heart on their sleeve and be expressive in their non-verbal behaviour: smiling a lot, going out of their way to hold the elevator door, keeping their arms uncrossed and laughing out loud (verbal) to name a few. Do this a lot in the corporate world? Your credibility just got shot and "sleeps with the fishes" to be more precise ;). Therefore, if you feel your have been taken for granted lately or feel your presence lacks impact, channel your Michael Corleone. Tap into the observation mode and preserve your energy instead of blindly showering kindness upon the undeserving. Your new reserved look will stop you from revealing your emotions so easily while also keeping valuable information to yourself. In a competitive world where knowledge is power, sometimes silence is the weapon. Others will inevitably have to work a little harder to get your support and know what you are thinking. They may feel they are loosing the precious ally they thought they had in you, and they very well could if they do not realize your worth.
Now hold your horses, I am absolutely NOT saying to quit smiling all together or to change who you are as a person (why would I want you to do something like that?) However, after knowing your audience and also, to change things up for a little bit, do evaluate when to share a hardy laugh and when not to. When to nod in support and when to sit still. When to demonstrate contagious enthusiasm and when to simply agree. When to smile and when to keep your Michael face. This doesn't imply to change who you are, but just paying attention and once again, seeing how others respond to this will be enough. As the song says, there is a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together.
The proper dose
We've talked about how too much kindness can perhaps be seen as weakness. What about the reverse? Do people with a disgusting attitude have better jobs? (well, actually, sometimes they do, but it always comes back to bite them in the butt eventually, trust me). Do folks with snappy and selfish ways easily build relationships at work you think? What about that one who always complains...think he or she has a better chance at being promoted? No. If they continuously do, you may want to question the culture of the company or of the board and/or leaders in charge. The point is, kindness had its advantages as well.
Kindness and open-mindedness should be carefully balanced with a dose of assertiveness, decisiveness, delegation (teaching others) and street sense (reading others). Great leaders will recognize the strength and power that comes with authentic kindness and will reward it with opportunities and stimulating projects. Building strong relationships comes easily to the caring and are effortlessly maintained. On the one hand too much kindness could be perceived as weak but not enough of it could be just as negative. Awareness, thus knowing yourself and your audience, and dosing accordingly is essential.
You may, for example, want to start asking more questions to fetch information instead of always politely answering them like a machine. The kind souls aim to please and sometimes that means openly answering questions too quickly. Always in the spirit of preserving your energy and information, if someone asks you a personal or work invasive question, why not return the favour with a question? "why?" Just that will throw them off. Hey, they are bold enough to ask, they should be bold enough to receive the answer - love that proverb!
And in the end
If your kindness is of alien nature where you work, perhaps you need to find your own spaceship. One should not have to change personality completely to fit the work environment. True, choosing to work in the corporate world does require a certain profile: political acumen, tact, street sense, popularity and many other traits to play the so called game. But if kindness is continuously taxing your credibility or isn't rewarded as much as the others, you need to take a step back, put on your Corleone hat and evaluate what truly matters to you.
In the end, we cannot control how others think and react. There will always be times where your behaviour, no matter its nature and intention, will be perceived as negative or weak. We can however control our own behaviour and just being aware of our own tendencies is a great start. I think there may also be a North-American cultural element to the perception of kindness. Even for simple things like taking the time to compliment or congratulate someone, I have noticed, can sometimes be misinterpreted for being a "suck up" or worse, flirting. It has come to a point when even that has to be strategic and over-analyzed. C'mon, really? Ok. So, I have resorted to just complimenting anyway, life is too short. I know, it's risky business, but I apply my own rules: I know my audience, I dose with assertiveness and I do just fine. And when I do run into the awkward and misinterpreted, I remind myself that the other person's reaction, whatever it is, says more about he or she than it does about me.
Bee nice and harness your kindness! ;)
P.S. Credit to V.B. for coining "Bride to bee"!
My name is Ivana. I love photography and meeting people. I hold a Master's in counselling psychology and work as a career consultant. Music is my fuel and an important source of energy in my life. I drive my vespa around the city and I love what I do! :) About this blog: me on my artistic soap box!
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