Kindness: The ultimate business skill

I go to Trader Joes every Sunday morning, after church. I get there at about 10:30. The timing is more important than you might think. I want to see George, and George’s shift ends at 11:00. George is why I love Trader Joes. George is a store-worker who brightens my day every time that I see him. Seriously. I’m not making up some BS story here. I know his name. He knows mine. He loves my daughter. She loves him. She runs into the store looking for George. His coworkers love him, and so do all of the other customers. He possesses the ultimate business skill: kindness.

I will always trust George. If he tells me to try new food, I will. If he tells me that my favorite food is gone for a good reason, I will believe him. George has earned the right to accomplish anything within his workplace because of his kindness. But what if George wasn’t nice? Could he accomplish as much in the workplace? I say no.

What can harshness accomplish in the business world? Can rudeness be productive? Is kindness, weakness? Nothing. No. No.

What do you want people to say about you when you leave a business meeting? Take a moment, and really think about this question. What do you want a person to say to their co-worker the moment you leave their presence during a business engagement? “Oh, he’s super smart.” “Wow, he’s really funny.” “Hmm, he was kind of a dick.” “What a nice guy!”

In my opinion, kindness is the aim. You can accomplish any business goal that you might have, yet still employ kindness. You can fire someone compassionately. You can interrogate someone with care. You can appreciate a job well done with sincerity. We’ve all left a business encounter with someone who values something else. They might value power, belittlement, or superiority. Can these negative aims accomplish something that kindness can’t? Nope. Quite the opposite. Aggressive behavior is counter-productive and a career killer.

My dad always told me that “you can attract more bees with honey than vinegar.” This statement has always resonated with me. But then again my father is a very kind man. I think this is why I see value in kindness. I resolved long ago that I’m not willing to forego human connection in lieu of “business.” No one likes an a-hole, so why be one? Power comes with influence. You can either force your influence on someone by being aggressive, or you can earn their respect by being kind. Your kindness will then result in influence, earned influence, not taken influence.

There’s an increased scrutiny of bullies in our society today, as there should be. But have you encountered a workplace bully yet? Wow. It sucks. There is an entire organization that was created to help people deal with the psychological damage of workplace bullies. I can’t fathom having a co-worker go home at night psychologically damaged by my actions. Yet it happens all the time. Well, not my co-workers. But you know what I mean. So not only are people not being nice, but they are the other extreme, rude. So rude that they literally ruin the days of their coworkers, day after day. Don’t let this be you. And if it is you, why? Why in the hell would you do that? Stop, man.

You won’t always succeed in your goal to be seen as kind. I’m sure that people have left interactions with me saying something less than “wow, he’s really nice.” We aren’t always at our best. But I don’t think we will ever be at our best if we aren’t kind people. If I somehow was able to accomplish every career goal, but did it at the expense of relationships and people, then the accomplishment would be pointless. I choose kindness. You?

“Don’t you take my kindness for weakness” – Dilated Peoples

19 thoughts on “Kindness: The ultimate business skill

  1. This is a great story. I use to frequent Einstein’s Bagels just to see Elizabeth. She, to me, was much like you describe above. Even after I wasn’t all that into bagels (cutting the carb thing) I still went just to see her. These individuals can make or break an experience… and keep you coming back.

  2. I remember one business had Susan, the friendliest lady I’d ever met. Magical in every way. One day they brought in a new manager who was a real jerk. Soon Susan was gone, the magic was gone, and in three years the company too.

  3. Interesting choice, Pete.

    Your words “ultimate”, “business”, and “skill” are really the most fascinating part of all of this.

    I think that kindness may be on par for the ultimate life skill, but not the ultimate business skill. In fact: I’m not even sure that kindness is a “skill.” It seems like more a fundamental way of looking at the world. Kindness is more about character than it is about technical training.

    I would also argue that it’s possible to be unkind and still be successful in business. And if you’re kind but have no particular skills or other qualities, you won’t succeed. So kindness is neither necessary nor sufficient.

    HOWEVER: Kindness may well be the ultimate (meaning: final) differentiator in business. There is nothing more memorable or meaningful than a kind word or deed at the right moment.

    Especially considering every moment you have with someone else could be the last moment you share with them.

  4. I very much appreciate this post. What I know based on my own experience is that I have to consciously and deliberately work on being kind. I have friends who are naturally wired that way. Me, not so much. I tend more towards cynicism and critique. Perhaps I’m a product of an environment where those were the skills necessary to survive…who knows.

    Quick… Pick a color.

    Why didn’t you pick chartreuse? Do we have as little choice in how we filter external experiences and respond as we do in picking a color? Our choices are sometimes made before we are even conscious of them.


  5. Kindness may not be so much a skill, as it is a choice. You make a conscious choice whether to be kind or whether to be rude/arrogant/abusive in conducting your business. It is ultimately about respect and integrity. A coworker or boss who earns respect by being kind and acting with integrity in the work place earns respect from his peers and staff and gains support/loyalty/employee engagement. One who exerts influence through power and aggression only has that influence for a fleeting period of time…..usually only until the employee finds a new job.

  6. I would really like to say by far this is the most influenced article I have read.. I completely agree with after effects of “Kindness”. This would be not only the safest business product, but also a keen learning for entire organization. “Kindness” would be quoted by me as a policy which if injected positively into top management, there is no looking back! This certainly produces a thin like between “The best organization to work for” and “The best organization to work in”. I would go for the second!

  7. A thought provoking article. Indeed it reminded of my employer who treats everyone with kindness but firm in dealing with situations. She has earned the respect of all of us. And this for life and not just until we are employed with her.

  8. Meredith (the photographer) at the Capital St. Starbucks! Talk about a morning-brightener. 🙂

    And Lindsay loves, loves to go see Kris and Andrea at Silver in the City. They’ve actually gone from store-people-we-like to friends.

  9. The aggressive manner never sits well with me and seems ineffective over the long haul. While there are times when you may wonder if you are being “aggressive” enough, it is stories like these that give the answer. Well played.

  10. AMEN! Wonderful article. Can I work for you???

    I wish more people thought this way, particularly when it comes to my industry. My bosses’ told me that they value my coworker’s rudeness (that’s putting it mildly), and it’s just a shame that it carries over into other parts of her life (read: every part of her life). It seems more of a hindrance to me, because other people become defensive and rude as a result and kind people like myself get caught in the middle. I find that if I treat others kindly in the workplace they will respond quickly and graciously. My variation on your saying is “you catch more flies with honey,” and I truly believe it, in the workplace or out.
    Meanwhile, my bosses’ are hiding in their offices…

  11. I spread this mantra of kindness across my social circles. One thing that needed to be discussed was what if your boss is the work place bully? I’ve heard the saying “kill them with kindness” and that does help in most cases, but in some they don’t. Life is too short to come home stressed and aggravated by workplace bullies. Time to spend your life in a better place working for nicer people!

  12. I always did my best to be kind to people when I was in retail. It paid off in more ways that I ever expected. Since then I always try to be nice to people, I’m not perfect at it, but I do make an honest effort.

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