Can you make the gift of saying sorry?

Can you make the gift of saying sorry?

We Brits say ‘sorry’ all the time. In most cultures you only say sorry when you believe you have done something wrong. In the UK it is used as a communication tool. We say ‘sorry’ when we accidentally bump into someone or need to squeeze past them. If we want someone’s attention, we tend to start out by saying , ‘sorry to interrupt’, or ‘sorry to ask but…’It’s partly to do with wanting to be polite but it is also part of our difficulty in being direct. Living in the Netherlands, as I do, I have had to unlearn the habit because people find it irritating. Dutch people are very direct.

Being able to say sorry authentically when you know you’ve behaved in a way that was harmful is a wonderful and important skill. Apology has the power to repair harm, mend relationships, soothe wounds and heal broken hearts. 

So why can it feel so hard to say sorry?

Let’s look at a few possibilities:

• When we don’t think what we did is such a big deal, so it’s not worth apologising for.

• If we have trouble seeing things from another person’s perspective, we might not see the need to say sorry.

• The truth is that is very uncomfortable when we do realise that we have something to say sorry about. Sometimes we just cannot manage to admit we’ve done anything wrong.

Saying sorry as a gift to yourself

To overcome these obstacles, we need to think a bit more deeply. 

We might think that saying sorry is all about giving to the other person. Of course, that is an important part and we will come to it soon. However, it is important to realise the benefits for yourself too

Often when we know we have hurt someone we feel guilty and ashamed. It can cause us stress. Depending on how serious the circumstances were, it might even keep us awake at night. The whole experience is painful and distressing. When we say sorry, we are healing our own feelings of regret and remorse.

Having to dig into our actions and realising that we did not behave well is a humbling experience. It’s hard to admit we hurt someone and makes us feel vulnerable. Perhaps we can be less inclined to judge how others behave when we reflect on our own behaviour.  

It can also become more possible to forgive ourselves. It puts us back in touch with our own basic goodness and reminds us that we are worthy of forgiveness and it is alright to ask for it. If we are open and willing, we can also learn from the mistakes we made that got us into having to say sorry. That’s a bonus going forward.

Saying sorry as a gift to other people

Research shows that receiving an apology has a noticeable, positive physical effect on the body. An apology actually affects the bodily functions of the person receiving it—blood pressure decreases, heart rate slows and breathing becomes steadier.

If someone tells you that they are sorry, it helps you to feel better. The ball is now in your court—you have the ability to forgive the person who hurt you. We can move from seeing them through anger and bitterness to seeing them as a fallible human being. The wrongdoer becomes more human, more like ourselves and we are touched by this. Then we are more able to access our natural empathy, and forgiveness becomes possible. 

Apologising re-opens the lines of communication after the hurt has closed them down. It can even be that going through these difficulties together brings people closer and deepens the trust between them. When you go through something difficult with someone and come through it together, it inspires confidence in the strength of the relationship.

Things to be aware of when saying sorry

The most important thing is to mean it! It’s no good saying sorry just to smooth out a situation. People can sense it when you are pretending. It can do more damage that not apologising.

In the same way try to avoid saying sorry and then adding a ‘but’. This can happen when you are trying to apologise for your part in a difficult situation, but you want the other person to take responsibility for their share. You might say something like, I am really sorry that I shouted but you shouted at me first. This is tricky. Of course you want to explain yourself properly but I find that this is easier if you go all the way first.

The more open-hearted and direct we can be the more space opens up for dialogue and exchange.

Maybe Elton John was right, and ‘sorry’ does seem to be the hardest word.  When we manage it though, the benefits for ourselves and others are very nourishing.

Awareness in Action is dedicated to building a community of people interested in living a life of meaning and purpose based on sustainable wellbeing. If you would like to join with us, you could make a start by sharing and commenting on the ideas you find in the blogs on these pages. Your story is part of our journey.

4 Things You Can Do When You Dislike Someone

4 Things You Can Do When You Dislike Someone

We are probably all familiar with the uncomfortable feeling that maybe we dislike someone. Perhaps we get introduced to a new colleague at work and immediately we have the sense that we are not going to get on. Or a friend introduces us to their new partner and straight away we are sure we are not going to hit it off. 

It’s not a welcome feeling. It is much more pleasant to like someone and to want to spend time with them. When we dislike someone, we can spend a lot of time managing our dislike, rather than focusing on the content of the relationship.

So, what can we do?

Take Abraham Lincoln’s advice on dislike

Abraham Lincoln is known to have been unusually fair-minded. When choosing his cabinet on becoming president, he astounded political opponents by appointing several of his former rivals to key positions. He based his decision on whether he felt they qualified for the post, rather than personal slights or bitterness.

He is said to have made the following comment, 

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.

How might this help us? We can be open to the possibility that when we met our new boss, or our friend’s partner we reacted to something about them that irritated us. Perhaps it was even enhanced by the mood we were in. If we manage to hold this initial impression as just that—an impression—we can give ourselves the chance to look deeper. 

Making the effort to get to know someone better is a way of respecting their individuality. Instead of going with our prejudices we are willing to investigate a bit deeper and see if we were wrong.

Listen to Henry Longfellow

The popular nineteenth century poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also has a quote that is relevant here.

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

Even if we follow Lincoln’s advice and take time to get to know someone we dislike, perhaps we decide we still dislike them! We might not consider people we dislike as our enemies, but we certainly don’t want to spend time with them. Even thinking about them can stir us up and make us upset.

I have thought about this quote from Longfellow a great deal and often use it in workshops. It is a challenging idea isn’t it? To understand, without consultation or confirmation, that the person we are struggling with will have all kinds of suffering in their lives. To do this we need to remind ourselves that everyone wants to find some kind of happiness in their lives. Maybe some people go about it in ways we don’t understand but still, they want to be happy. At the same time, we want to avoid pain and suffering and yet, inevitably, life has many challenges. 

So, the person we dislike will most likely also be dealing with all kinds of pain and disappointment—just like we do. Reminding ourselves of this does not necessarily mean we will begin to like the person, but we might start to feel a kinship. If we can shift our focus from the characteristics that they have that annoy us and look instead at their vulnerability, our dislike can maybe take a back seat.

Look for the things you like

One of the things that happens to me when I do decide that I dislike someone, is that I almost resist finding out things about them that are positive. It’s as if once I have decided that I don’t like someone, then I don’t want to be shown that my dislike is unfounded and unnecessary. When I realise that this is happening then I can give myself a shake and try to take another look. It’s not something I am proud of and that spurs me on to try a bit harder.

One way to do this is to observe how other people interact with them. If people you get on with, also get on with the person you feel you dislike is it possible you are missing something? Have you met their family—partner, children? How do they all seem together. Seeing people with their families can help to soften a negative impression.

You can also look more closely into the person’s character. It is hard to dislike everything about someone—although for me there are a few politicians that challenge this idea. Perhaps they have a sense of humour or are kind to animals. Are they good at their job or a great cook? 

Is there anything that you share? Do you have a similar taste in music, art, books? Have you both enjoyed  a recent movie, or TV programme?

It takes effort to look past your own opinions but if it helps in finding a place of ease in this uncomfortable dynamic then it is well worth it.

Give the person you dislike the benefit of the doubt

Once we have decided that we dislike someone it can be hard to cut them some slack. It becomes easier to expect to be annoyed with them, or to judge their actions. This is where we can really try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Again, being able to do this requires that we pay attention. Instead of jumping to a judgement, or an opinion we will need to pause, and to look deeper. Before we decide that the person who we dislike is behaving again in a way we dislike, we need to take time to check if there is some room for doubt. Could it be possible that we have misunderstood, or somehow got the wrong end of the stick?

In practicing giving someone the benefit of the doubt, the Golden Rule can be helpful. The rule recommends that we, treat others as we wish to be treated. There are some important clues here. We need to remember that it is likely that there are people who dislike us! For some people, we will be that person they dread meeting, who presses their buttons. It does not feel so good to realise that you are someone’s object of dislike. We might feel it’s not fair, or that we don’t deserve it. Perhaps we wonder how someone as well-meaning as we try to be could be disliked. 

So, in addition to these four things we can do when we dislike someone, we can ask ourselves what we would request of someone who dislikes us. The answer to that question contains a whole lot of clues that we can use when dealing with our own dislikes.

Awareness in Action is dedicated to building a community of people interested in living a life of meaning and purpose based on sustainable wellbeing. If you would like to join with us, you could make a start by sharing and commenting on the ideas you find in the blogs on these pages. Your story is part of our journey.

How to overcome stress and stay connected these holidays

How to overcome stress and stay connected these holidays

We all know that Christmas is a big opportunity for stress. The combination of having to appear to be having fun, while coping with all the frustrations and extra work can be a real downer.

One of the things we need to know about stress is that it closes things down. It’s hard to feel joyful and enthusiastic when you are stressed. We tend to close in on ourselves and set up a kind of survival regime to get us through. Maybe it does help us to struggle along but it does not help us to care for ourselves, to open our hearts to others, to learn anything about the habits that lead to the stress in the first place.

Let’s take a look at some ways we could set about making connections this Christmas instead of going into survival mode.

Connecting with yourself as the basis to overcome stress

Do you ever feel like the people in this snow globe at Christmas—all in your festive gear but not able to communicate how you are really feeling? The holidays can be a strangely lonely time, even when you are surrounded by people.

As the lead up to Christmas gathers pace, why not take some time to check in with yourself and see what you are hoping for from the holidays.

Whether you are religious, or not you can ask yourself what is important to you about this holiday. Is it having family around and lots of good things to eat and presents to share? Or is it about having a few days off from work and routine in the middle of winter. Whatever it is, it will help you to set an intention for yourself—a kind of inspiration for the holiday.

Then at the other end of the scale, try to see what it is that triggers stress for you.

Take a moment to sit quietly and then ask yourself these questions:
  • At what times do I experience a high level of frustration over relatively small events?
  • How does it feel in my body? 
  • What do I do about it? 

Going through this exercise will help you to identify the times when stress can creep up on you, so you can prepare for it and hopefully, avoid it. Allowing yourself to use your body like a stress barometer shows you the effect that stress has on you. Spending time thinking about how you deal with stress helps to get you off the survival treadmill and really consider how you can ease your stress.

Connecting with the present moment

So often when we are busy our minds are just rushing away with us thinking ahead of all there is still to do. That’s particularly sad at Christmas when there are so many enjoyable rituals in getting ready—like making the cake. 

So one way we can ease a feeling of stress is to connect with the present moment. For example, try not to hurry with making the cake. While you are mixing it, don’t think about making the mince pies, a present for grandma and whether you have enough wine in the house. Instead, try focusing on simply sorting your ingredients for the cake, weighing and adding them in the correct order and mixing it all to a delicious consistency. Take time to smell the fruits and the brandy. Allow yourself to enjoy the texture of batter. Remember to make your wish and just be with the making of the cake. When it is in the oven, you can go on to the next task and approach it in the same way.

Connecting with a sense of enjoyment and celebration helps to dissolve stress

The more we can get our stress into perspective, the more chance we have to enjoy some of the magic that there can be around Christmas. We said earlier that stress closes things down and one of the first things to go is any sense of enjoyment and celebration.

Allow yourself time to look around you and see the things you enjoy. I am a big fan of Christmas trees both indoors and out in the open. There is something about all the lights and glitter on a dark winter evening that just says home and love to me.

What is it that you enjoy most at Christmas?

Connecting with family and friends

Probably if we are honest, one of the biggest sources of stress is how the family is going to manage together over the holidays. It can get complicated with all the in-laws and the extended family. We all know that awful tense feeling that can come when uncle George manages to come out with the opinions that we know will drive our teenage daughter to distraction. Or when grandma insists that we don’t know how to put on a Christmas like they did in her day. You dread the moment when your sister-in-law, who always manages to make you feel like bargain-basement wife, arrives for dinner looking as if she just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine, along with her two immaculate children. You, on the other hand, hot and bothered from the kitchen feel less than glamorous.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind while the family dinner is underway:
  • Everyone around the table wants to be happy—just like you do.
  • None of them want to be anxious, or worried, or miserable and yet, inevitably they all have times when they are—just like you.
  • Chances are that each one of them have their own insecurities about the family gathering—just like you do.
  • Perhaps some of them are even intimidated by aspects of your behavior–what a good cook you are, how you juggle family and career—who knows?

It can help so much if before your irritation arises you can put yourself in the shoes of the person irritating you—perhaps they are more like you than you think.

Connecting with the rest of the world

As well as closing things down, stress makes us lose perspective. Whatever is going on with us seems so much more important than anything else that is happening in the world—which in the scheme of things, really does not make sense.

During the holiday period you can counter-act any tendency to feel that getting the lights working on the tree is more important than, say, global warming by consciously allowing yourself time to think about what is going on for everyone else in the world. Many millions of other people are celebrating Christmas around the world, with traditions that may be very different from your own. There are also millions who are not celebrating Christmas and it is just another ordinary day for them. Then there are the millions who whether or not they wish to celebrate Christmas are not able to because of poverty, or war, or persecution. Keep them in mind also.

So, a very merry stress-free winter holiday to everyone!

How to be kind when following the rules

How to be kind when following the rules

I admit to being not very good at following the rules. It’s always important to me to understand what the rule is for and if it is really necessary. So, when faced with an instruction, I usually come back with why? Or I have  suggestions to offer as to how things can be done differently. It does not always make me very popular! Also, I can see how it can be challenging for someone trying to enforce the rules.

Ways of following the rules

Of course,  we need to have all kinds of rules in order for society to function well. It just seems to me to be important how you decide to follow them. There are the kind of people who enjoy their authority. They seem to take pleasure in wielding the small amount of power that enforcing the rules gives them. They are generally not interested in explaining the rules, just in making you follow them. It can be tough to be at their mercy.

Then there are people who use empathy to help them administer the rules. These people try to see through your eyes and to understand where you might feel challenged. Conversation with people in this category can help you to understand the rules you are being asked to follow.

My recent experience of following the rules

The background

A couple of months back I had a direct experience of both of these types of people in authority. My partner and I went through an extraordinary week of loss and bereavement. We lost two people very close to us through cancer. First, my partner’s brother passed away in Amsterdam. Then a week later a very dear old friend passed away in the South of France. We wanted to attend both funerals and spent an anxious week making arrangements to make it possible. 

My brother-in-law was cremated on a Friday. Straight after the funeral my partner and I left for Schiphol airport to catch a plane to Girona. It was the quickest and most efficient way to get to Roqueronde, where the second funeral was going to be held on the Saturday afternoon.

Both of us were quite exhausted and emotionally frail with all the grief and worry we had been through, but we were very relieved to be able to attend both ceremonies.

Security at Schiphol Airport

I am always a bit uncomfortable going through airport security. There is always a slight feeling of waiting for something to go wrong and on this occasion it did—spectacularly.

We usually favour checking in our luggage when we fly. It’s good to minimise the hassle of security. This time we were taking carry-on luggage because we were in such a hurry. We completely forgot the 100ml maximum for toiletries. We had bought brand new tubes of the cream my partner needs for his skin and the gel I need for my rheumatism. Of course, they were all bigger than the allowed size.

Although we had our outsize tubes in the designated plastic bag, our case was still hauled off the conveyor belt. With her rubber-gloved hands the young woman dealing with us rummaged through everything. She was completely deaf to our explanations—which soon became entreaties—that we needed the creams, that they had never been opened and would cause no harm.

There was even an underlying feeling that she enjoyed the drama of taking about €60.00 worth of creams and throwing them all away.

Bus drivers at the long-term car park

In contrast the bus drivers at the independent long-term car park definitely came in the category of people following the rules with empathy. The arrangement is that you park your car in a protected area and then catch one of the buses that the firm have running between the car park and the terminals. When you return, there is a bus scheduled to collect you.

The driver on the way out was very friendly and helpful. He was happy to talk but kept quiet if you had little to say. He noticed my difficulties getting in and out of the bus because of my rheumatism and made sure he was on hand to offer an arm. I really got the impression that the boring routine of the job came alive for him through the people he met and helped. For him following the rules was simply a skilful means.

Our flight back was already and late evening flight and then it was delayed. We rang to warn the drivers but were still anxious that it was too late for them to wait. Imagine our relief to find the bus waiting patiently at is allocated place in a cold and rainy Schiphol. As I tried to run, he waved me down and shouted for me not to hurry. He tucked us up in the bus and drove us back to our car. We really felt we were home.

We don’t know what is going on for people 

There is a quote that I like very much and often use in my workshops:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

The quote is attributed to Ian Maclaren, as well as  PhiloPlato and Socrates. I don’t know which of them actually said it, but it carries a deep wisdom. As we encounter people during our everyday activities, we really have very little idea of what is going on for them. The woman at security did not know we had just been to one funeral and were on our way to another.

The thing is, if we allow ourselves to take just a moment of reflection to consider how life is, we can see the truth of this quote. We all want our lives to go well and to be happy but so often things go wrong and the very things we want to avoid happen to us anyway. The very fact of being alive means that we can be in the middle of all kinds of worry, anxiety, and fear, as well as hope, inspiration and happiness. The point is that we do not know and therefore it could be a good idea to make sure our behaviour does not add to someone’ pain.

There can be many occasions when we are distracted, or overwhelmed and our wish to be kind gets pushed aside. Remembering that everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle could help to focus our attention.

Barriers to empathy

In his marvellous book, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution Roman Krznaric sets out four main barriers to empathy. 

These are:

Prejudice

When you own opinions about the type of person you are encountering overwhelm your ability to relate to them. Among others this can refer to sexual orientation, social class, race, nationality and work occupation.

Authority

We referred to this earlier when we discussed the kind of person for whom following the rules comes first.

Distance

If the problem you are dealing with is happening a long way away from you either in geographical distance, or emotional distance then it can be easy to disengage from it.

Denial

This happens when we dissolve any sense of responsibility for actions that are taking place.

In my experience the woman at the security desk bumped into all four of these barriers.

The antidote

To put it simply, the main antidote to these barriers is humanising the other. Instead of taking distance we engage. We try to look at each human being as being just like us, with feelings and hopes and fears. Sweeping statements and broad generalisations are set aside. Instead we look at the particular circumstances and individual needs. There is curiosity to really know about people and things. We take time to pay attention.

My insight about following the rules

These barriers to empathy can be crude and obvious but they can also creep up on you in surprisingly subtle ways. When I look back on the thoughts and feelings that I had concerning the woman at security, it dawned on me that I too was bumping into the same barriers. In my distress, she became the ‘other’ for me. I was ready to fault her on the way she was doing her job without giving any thought to how she might feel as a person. Just seeing her at her post in her uniform made me feel uneasy. It built up from there. So, although I am of the opinion that staying kind while following the rules is very important, I would now add another point. When you are being subjected to the rules, you also need to keep your heart open towards the person making you follow them.

office building

If you have found the ideas in this post interesting you might like to look at my new online course, How to Make Kindness Matter at Work. You can find out more here.

How kindness in the workplace saved me

How kindness in the workplace saved me

Copyright for photos www.santulli.nl

How I personally benefitted from kindness in the workplace

Over the last few weeks I have been blogging about kindness at work. We’ve looked at why kindness is important at work and how easy it is for our habits to get in the way and prevent us from being kind. Now it’s time to share a personal story of how I experienced  kindness in the workplace in a way that really helped me when I needed it most. It came from an unexpected source—a shoemaker specialising in orthopaedic shoes.

My diagnosis

A few years ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. No-one else in my family suffers from it, so I was surprised and dismayed when I found out. It can be pretty debilitating both because of the pain as well as the damage to joints. It does not help you to feel youthful! You just have to get used to managing it, adapting to a change of pace and keeping positive.

Shoes have never really been my thing

In my hippy days I used to walk barefoot most of the time and even now, I long to kick off my shoes when I get home. My dressing style favours bold colours and unusual shapes. It’s important to me to feel anything is possible and that I don’t have to follow any rules.

When my specialist advised me to get orthopaedic shoes to help with my walking, my reaction was pretty strong. It seemed like a whole part of who I am was being consigned to the rubbish dump. From now on, I would need to clump around in heavy ugly shoes, and everyone would stare at me!

Santulli Orthopedie B.V. maker of orthopaedic shoes

My GP provided me with a list of possible vendors, and I began to look for somewhere close to where I live. I ended up going to Santulli Orthopedie, a maker of orthopaedic shoes in Amsterdam, just because it was not too far away. 

When I got there, I just felt depressed. I have never been in a shoemakers’ before, so I had nothing to compare the shop with. I was just so sure that it was all going to make me miserable.

A glimmer of hope

In fact, it was very pleasant to be so warmly greeted by Caroline, the receptionist and office manager. She easily spoke to me in English, as my Dutch is not yet good enough to manage a whole conversation. My partner and I were offered tea and coffee and made to feel welcome. Her manner is practical and business like, but all the time infused with warmth and understanding. My appreciation for how she is has only grown over the time I have been going there.

The turning point

I was asked to go through to the fitting area of the shop. Here I was not surprised to find an irritable older woman, dressed in grey and being very difficult. It all fitted my mood and my idea of the kind of people who wear orthopaedic shoes. 

I watched the interaction between the grumpy woman and the person serving her. I did not then but this was Claudio, the frontman for the team who deals with most of the customers. Gradually it dawned on me that he was being very gentle, humorous and patient. He didn’t react at all to the woman’s irritability. 

After a bit he went down to workshop to pick up the shoes the woman had come to collect. Imagine my amazement when he returned carrying a pair of bright red ankle boots that anyone would have been delighted to wear! He put them on for the woman and she walked about a bit to make sure they fitted well. Here was this woman who represented everything that frightened me about orthopaedic shoes walking elegantly out of the shop in a pair of dazzling red boots!

My fitting for my first orthopaedic shoes

Then it was my turn. While all the measurements were being taken Claudio explained each stage to explained to me. Like Caroline, his manner was practical but warm and gentle. He knew when I was likely to lose my balance. Whenever I wobbled he offered me his shoulder to hold on to. It was clear to me that he really understood how the people who come to his shop might be feeling. Immediately it became easier for me to relax.

When it came time to choose the style and design of my orthopaedic Claudio really lit up. By then I had started to look around me a bit more and saw the variety and originality of the shoes that were on display. There are racks of leather samples to choose from. Instead of the drab browns and greys that I had been dreading, there were all the colours of the rainbow! Not only that—there were leathers that shone, glittered and changed colour in the light. It is like an Aladdin’s cave for shoemakers.

Claudio took time to sense my preferences and then made suggestions to help me decide. We settled on a style and chose two contrasting kinds of leather. You get a little sample of the leathers you’ve chosen to take home with you.

A family business

I have just brought home my third pair of orthopaedic shoes made at Santulli Orthopedie B.V. It turns out that they are very familiar with the rules of each health insurance provider and can advise you when you qualify for your next pair of shoes. These ones I just bought are made of soft blue leather that sort of glows, with an inlay of glittery blue. There is even a contrasting stripe along the sole of the shoe. They really are beautiful and I feel great wearing them

It turns out that the Santulli family came originally from Italy, so it’s no wonder they have such an eye for colour and style. Claudio’s father still works there, along with several other members of the family. Perhaps that it is why kindness is so effortlessly woven into everything they do. All day and everyday people come to them to have shoes made because they have some kind of problem with their feet. There is a fundamental, unspoken acknowledgement that having problems walking is not something people enjoy, along with a mischievous intention to at least have some fun while you deal with it.

The more I come to know them, the more I see that along with the service they provide in making orthopaedic shoes, they offer an empathic understanding that this might not have been your choice. There is nothing sentimental, or sticky about this but a down-to-earth kindness that nourishes the heart.

office building

If you have found the ideas in this post interesting you might like to look at my new online course, How to Make Kindness Matter at Work. You can find out more here.

6 Lazy Ways to be Unintentionally Not Kind

6 Lazy Ways to be Unintentionally Not Kind

Fortunately, I do not know anyone who sets out on their day intending to be not kind to anyone at all. It’s probably the same for you too. So why is it that in any ordinary day all sorts of unkind things happen? 

Let’s look at our own behaviour at work. We could ask ourselves if in the rough and tumble of an average working day we find ourselves unintentionally being not kind. The thing is that individually each action may seem so small as to be insignificant. It can be the cumulative effect which is damaging.

Often it is because of habit, or insecurity, or pressure that we fall short in being kind. So, here is my list of six lazy ways it is easy to fall into being not kind. I call them ‘lazy’ because they are not necessarily intentional—in fact, usually they aren’t. They are largely due to not noticing what is going on with other people, or how your behaviour is affecting them.

1. Being pre-occupied can mean being not kind

When we are stressed, or really busy then it is all too easy to become turned in on ourselves. Our priorities take centre stage and our ability to see what is going on around us is reduced. 

At work this can easily become a sense of self-importance. This can lead to the feeling that what you are doing is so vital that it takes precedence over everything else. It gives us permission to prioritise our own story and not pay so much attention to other peoples’.

It can creep up on you in quite a subtle way. From your point of view, you are simply trying to do a good job. There is no intention to let your kindness slip but that is what happens when you become too self-focused. You don’t give your full attention to the needs of people around you and you miss things.

2. Gossip can lead to unkindness

I would be willing to bet that you are not the workplace gossip at your job. They are usually pretty easy to spot and not so difficult to politely avoid. It’s much more difficult to manage your own reactions and emotions without unintentionally being not kind.

If you are in any kind of team-leader, management role everything you say has an enhanced significance for the rest of the team. When someone in your team is struggling then how you talk about them in the group is very important. You need to find a way to give them difficult feedback without damaging their confidence and their ability to learn. They will be listening to every word you say, and what others tell them you said with a sensitivity heightened by fear and anxiety.

Whatever your role is, there are always people at work who are less easy to get on with than others. It is these people that you need to take special care to talk to and talk about with great skill. Just one off the cuff comment made in irritation can cause tremendous harm.

3. Criticism 

How does your workplace handle feedback and constructive criticism? It’s another example of something that, when it is done well, can help a colleague move through challenges. However, if it is done without kindness then it can be an enormous blow. 

Most of us have probably experienced receiving both kinds of feedback ourselves. One of my most useful work experiences was when a colleague—not a boss, or manager—asked to talk to me and set out to inform me of all my faults as she saw them. It was a devastating experience but when I recovered,  I realised I had an excellent list of what not to do if you want to give someone helpful feedback. I still draw on that list to this day.

The main thing that I realised was you need to give the kind of feedback that would be helpful to you, yourself. That is the only feedback that people can really hear and respond to.

4. Blame will make you not kind

According to research, blaming mistakes on other people is socially contagious. Observing someone blaming their mistakes on other people can lead to you doing the same thing to protect your image. Such a cycle does not help anyone.

In a workplace where blame is part of the norm, staff are less likely to succeed, and much less likely to be creative. Anyone who is in the habit of blaming others misses out as well. You don’t get the chance to learn from your mistakes if you don’t take responsibility for them.

It seems that optimistic people blame less, and pessimistic people more—with the prize going to narcissists.

For most of us the time to watch out for lazily blaming someone else for a mistake is when we are tired, worried, or over-worked. It’s not that we want someone else to get into trouble—it’s just that we don’t want to have to deal with it ourselves.

5. Bullying

It would seem that kindness and bullying are pretty far apart—how could someone interested in promoting kindness also engage in any kind of bullying activity?

Let’s take it down a notch—instead of bullying think of steamrollering, pressurising, over-persuading someone. When I think back to my years of managing an international non-profit, I am pretty sure that I used tactics like this. I was convinced that what I was doing was so important that people needed to get on board. Indeed, what I was doing was important, but I forgot to treat each person I dealt with as an individual, with their own strengths and weaknesses. I wanted everyone to go at my pace and it exhausted some people.

Does your enthusiasm and passion for your work ever translate as pressure for other people?

6. Not listening is not kind

Once again, we rarely simply ignore someone when they speak to us—especially at work—but we often listen in a distracted way. We’re busy, the speaker is taking too long to make their point, and so our attention wanders. The thing is that we feel it when someone is not giving us their full attention and it’s unsettling. Our ability to communicate is reduced.

When we don’t listen with full attention then we don’t hear all the levels that are being communicated and we don’t pick up on the accompanying body language, or emotional signs. That’s where the unkindness can come in. We miss stuff—someone’s concern, or even distress—and the person feels overlooked. Maybe it is simply information that we don’t completely process, which leads to mistakes further down the road.

It’s not only distraction which blocks our listening, it can be our opinions and prejudices as well. If we think differently to the speaker, we tend to listen through a critical web which filters out the points we just want to refute. It’s even worse if we don’t like the person who is talking to us because then we listen through a whole range of remembered slights and disagreements.

Wanting to fix what the person is telling you can also get in the way of listening deeply to what they are saying. We are so busy thinking of the response we want to make to put them right that we don’t listen fully to what we are being told.

Something to remember

None of us is perfect and there will be days at work where our kindness might be less than others but watching out for these six lazy ways we can be not kind can become a good reminder. For me, the underlying basic principle is to try and put myself in the shoes of the other person, or people. An easy way to do this is to ask how you yourself would feel if you were being treated in any of these six ways. Think how it feels to be the subject of gossip, or to receive withering criticism. No-one wants to be pressured to behave in a certain way and no-one enjoys being blamed—especially when the blame is unfair. We are all busy and trying our best and we all like to be listened to with kindness. Remembering this is a basic key to avoiding being not kind.

office building

If you have found the ideas in this post interesting you might like to look at my new online course, How to Make Kindness Matter at Work. You can find out more here.

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