Killing (Gently Bruising) with Kindness

I was surprised (and happy) to recently hear Tom Peters rant about kindness of all things. It’s not a topic covered in business books, B-schools, or board rooms these days. Maybe ever.

My dad is one of the best-read guys you will meet. Even he gave a double take when I suggested kindness had to be one of the most underrated qualities among business leaders today.

In business and anything else that keeps score, kindness is often received as one thing and one thing only: weakness.

Mothers and teachers, grandfathers and preachers, they’ve all tried to persuade us to be kind; that kindness is more than just pleasantness. Kindness — and more precisely, intentional kindness in the form of genuine encouragement — is one of the elements that makes us human.

It has been my experience over the years that dispensing kindness as equitably as you can is the only way to go.

How old were you when you first heard, “Kill ’em with kindness”? I was in Sunday School where other boys with clip-on ties were taught to be kind to their enemies. Like the Good Book says, it’s like “putting hot coals on their head”, which as a kid, and even now, sounds awfully sinister.

This notion felt off to me. Why should I act nice to someone just to get back at them? Especially when I could knock their teeth out and be done with it.

Now that I’m older, here’s what I think they were trying to teach us before we raced off in our station wagon to beat the Baptists to the cafeteria:

Responding to unkind people with kindness is the dignified thing to do.

Of course it’s a hassle. It’s certainly unnatural. But leading with kindness has to be one of the best ways to prevent oneself from devolving into pettiness, resentfulness and ugliness — attributes that devalue ourselves and others.

Having bussed my fair share of tables as a kid, I got a taste for what it feels like to be treated as a nobody. On the flip-side, I also benefited from the kindness of strangers, whether it be a smile, kind word, or a small tip.

A friend reminded me today that learning how to serve others in our youth does three things for us: we learn to be a better people, we become better customers, and for many of us, we pride ourselves in being big tippers.

Take this to the bank:

The next time you are at dinner with a client, pay attention to how they treat the wait staff. Are they demanding? Do they talk down to them or ignore them completely? Did they leave a small tip or stiff the waiter completely?

If this is the case, you may be dealing with a unkind person. If my mom wasn’t reading this, I would say you’re dining with a total dick, a/k/a someone you shouldn't build a relationship with. You can try. But it rarely works out.

At the risk of being soft or being perceived as less-than strong, powerful, or in-control, do yourself and your world a favor: be kind in your dealings. You will reap more kindness than the kindness you sow. And the kindness you receive may be just the thing that opens a door of opportunity and sets you on a path towards greatness.