Science Proves Demonstrating Kindness in the Workplace is Your Competitive Advantage
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, executive or an instrumental team member, science proves that kindness is your competitive advantage.
Had I heard this in my 20s, I would have expressed concern — concern that demonstrating kindness in the workplace would make me appear weak or give others permission to take advantage of me. Maybe you’ve thought similarly.
As I moved up the corporate ladder and practiced boundaries, I discovered that authentic kindness was my ticket to deeper relationships, increased sales and more efficient projects. Plus, it felt great (and like the right thing to do) to lead from a place of love and kindness.
Not quite convinced? There's plenty of research that proves kindness positively transforms the workplace and gives you the competitive edge.
Kindness Increases Sales
Have you ordered coffee, paid for it and then realized you forgot to mention you wanted an added syrup or non-dairy milk? You tell the cashier your mistake and instead of charging you for your forgetfulness, he gifts you the added syrup or milk. This small act of kindness (less than $1) likely stuck with you as you returned to this coffee shop to buy more.
Going the extra mile with your customers, honoring a return or delighting them when they least expect it, builds trust and pleasure. Retailers like Zappos, Nordstrom and Starbucks have all benefited financially from their loyal followers.
Kindness Motivates Employees
The Zenger Folkman study tracked 51,836 leaders and noted that the most likable leaders who expressed warmth were also the most effective. “If you're seen as low-warmth, you have something like a 1-in-2,000 chance to make the top quartile of effectiveness as a leader," said Loran Nordgren, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School.
What are actions that can increase a leader’s likability score? Some include:
- Deepening positive emotional connections with others
- Displaying integrity consistently
- Acting as a coach, mentor and teacher
- Being less competitive with others and more cooperative
- Inspiring those around you
- Making an effort to change when asking for feedback
- Sharing your vision for the future.
Kindness Improves Creativity
Creativity is the cornerstone of innovation. So how can a leader increase creativity? According toJane Dutton and her colleagues’ research at the University of Michigan, respectful engagement with individuals and teams enhances creativity. They define respective engagement as “conveying presence, communicating affirmation, effective listening and supportive communication.” All of these respectful actions facilitate a more positive social network, a higher sense of worth and better relational information processing. This, in turn, increases creativity.
[Related: Giving Impactful Feedback, Kindly]
Kindness Reduces Attrition
According to a U.K. study, eight in ten Brits would not accept a role, even if it paid more, if it meant working with people they did not get along with. “In fact, pay was only the sixth biggest factor for people staying in their current job, with Brits prioritizing good relationships with those around them, enjoying the role and the commuting time over thinking about the money,” noted the study.
If your boss, teammate or company acknowledged when you were sick, lost a loved one or celebrated a life-event (e.g., the birth of a baby, wedding, birthday, etc.), then you know first-hand the impact kindness can have on your desire to stay.
Kindness Boosts Well-Being
Performing acts of kindness not only feels good, but it also increases your overall well-being. Oxford University conducted three research studies on the subject with great success. One experiment involved participants from 39 countries as they demonstrated acts of kindness for seven days to family, friends, strangers and to themselves. Data showed a positive impact on the giver’s happiness, life satisfaction, compassion, trust, positivity and social connection.
If you want to boost your happiness and desire to be more kind right this very moment, the research team led by Keiko Otake proves that acknowledging your acts of kindness will do just that. So take a moment and list two or more acts of kindness you demonstrated this past week. Do you feel your happiness rising?
Moving Kindness Forward
As you lead at work, remember that authentic kindness transforms so many things. Acts of kindness increase sales, motivate your teams, improve creativity, reduce attrition and boost your well-being.
How will you demonstrate kindness today? If you need an idea or two, considering demonstrating kindness:
- When giving difficult feedback.
- When something doesn't "go right" or you miss the mark.
- When your teammate bugs the heck out of you.
- When your boss, peer or customer "just doesn't get it."
- When you greet yourself in the mirror each morning.
[Related: Why Being Likable as a Leader Matters]
Jennifer Spaulding is a leadership and executive coach who engages business leaders, entrepreneurs, and teams to reach beyond good to achieve the extraordinary. During her two-decade career, Jennifer honed her leadership and team-building skills working for top institutions in the fields of management & IT consulting, sales & marketing, financial services and non-profit. She shares her expertise through speaking engagements, workshops, coaching, and writing.
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