Kindness and human engagementWhy are we so surprised when we are treated with kindness? Ever since last Friday’s #kaizenblog chat, I’ve been thinking how sad it is that we are so moved by being treated with consideration and compassion by someone, particularly when we’re in a business environment. What gives?

We posed this as a discussion topic for the #kaizenblog community and what a conversation! Since we have some new members to the Twitter chat, #kaizenblog, it makes sense to explain in more than 14o characters what this chat is about. Valeria Maltoni (co-host and founder of the chat) explains the premise with this post. Continual improvement is a hallmark of successful business leaders and participants are encouraged to use “kaizen” in their business and/or work with the ideas explored in this chat.

It’s not always an easy process to use “kaizen” in one’s work since it requires one to be honest in asking tough questions and stay with the process. Staying with the process means acting on what one learns in every moment and not stopping just for the results. There is more to learn, to deepen one’s wisdom, knowledge and ability.

She wrote,

“Continuous improvement can be in the content and presentation, but also in the interaction – your ability to become more natural and conversational in tone. Take cues from the experience of being exposed to relationships with ideas and people on a consistent basis to observe and learn.”

Since the interaction is such a key piece to why #kaizenblog works as a conversation starter and thought provoker, this recap attempts to capture some of the ideas expressed by the participants.

That quote seemed so in keeping with the theme of kindness. The conversation starter with this was a post on the HBR blog iste by Bill Taylor (@practicallyrad) titled, “Why Is It So Hard To Be Kind?”. The focus was kindness in the business arena. There are some who would say that kindness doesn’t really have a place in business. Others argue that it is essential to smooth internal operations as well as good customer service. Are either of these true? See what everyone had to say in the transcript ****

We started off the conversation by asking, How is kindness or empathy viewed in the business world? This definitely produced a flurry of responses.

  • Amber Cleveland ”A1: I think generally speaking (not my POV) that ppl take kindness as a weakness in business, when in reality it’s an asset”
  • Parissa Behnia ”Q1 Often mistaken for being slow. gives impression that people can take advantage. however, giving to get always works”
  • Chanelle Scheider ”From conversations I’ve had with others, they question (my) kindness and empathy. See it as ploy to get sales”
  • Sian Phillip ”Kindness goes a lot further than being hard I believe. Treat others as you wish to be treated in everything”
  • Cathy Larkin ”Q1 Kindness in business takes time, so many biz don’t take that step, but as saying goes – shortcuts=missed oppty”
  • Laura Crum  ”kindness brings people back again and again. Hardness may get initial issue resolved”
  • Judi Yi ”When one is secure/strong, easy to be kind. There is no mistaken notion that to give is to ‘lose’ rather than ‘expand’ “

The responses seemed to point more to how people let their insecurities run the business as well as how beliefs can be taken as norms. Is that what we’re really left with? Or perhaps doing business with a customer is always a win/lose proposition?

This seem to be a good segue into the second discussion question, Is it really a failure of the organizational culture or personal value system? Isaac Duke was pretty succinct with his response, “It’s both.” Other responses were either sure it was one or other. Do circumstances affect which values we choose to follow?

  • Joe Sanchez ”If orgs/enterprises want 2 make kindness a “real asset,” it needs 2b embodied in “Values” & perpetuated via #storytelling”
  • Parissa Behnia “It’s both. org culture influences personal values and vice versa. chicken and egg problem”
  • Cathy Larkin “I could be wrong, but wonder if, in US culture, it goes bk to our “Protestant work ethic” founding”
  • Laura Crum “It’s a failure of personal values to influence org culture”
  • Bruno Coelho “When top management doesn’t support the customer focus attitude, then employee focus then turns to boss”
  • Judy Yi ” ‘Authority to be nice?’ Respect, consideration, empathy…these do not require Supervisor Approval, no?”

There was an interesting side thread about the movie “Up In the Air” and how firing can be held in a respectful and kind way. This is certainly a minefield if you have ever experienced it in a managerial role. How do you tell someone they don’t fit the organization?

Another side thread was the role of leadership and kindness. There were some very strong opinions about how leaders should demonstrate the organization’s commitment to kindness in customer relationships and employee relationships. Worth reading! Deb Ellis said “The kindest way to fire someone is to do it quickly w/ a clear explanation of the issues that lead to it” What do you believe a leader and/or manager should exhibit in terms of kindness or empathy? Does gender matter and if so, how?

There was another side thread about how money, kindness and our beliefs about both are intertwined. Do our emotions and beliefs restrict our ability to be kind or empathic?

Our last discussion question, How are we really creating a world in which we devalue human engagement? There were lots of responses to this question that debated whether things were devolving or evolving.

  • Patrick Prothe ”Re Q3 – Via automation, depersonalization, focus on numbers over ppl. And the harder co’s try to rebound, the worse the cycle. Re: Q3 – But I think the pendulum may be swinging back a bit as many business forced to get more social, local and focused”
  • Debra Willis “by not pausing enough long enough to listen or think abt how what we do affects other”
  • Isaac Duke “A3-we naturally devalue hum engagement. Look at toddlrs. Biz helps us reverse that. Ppl don’t buy from us when we dnt share”
  • Amber Cleveland: “A3. we are not devaluing human engagement, I think values are being amplified using SM. Paradigm shift”
  • John Cloonan: “Look at current social media trends, they’re moving away from automation and towards engagement”
  • Judy Yi: “Q3: the sheer SCALE of business today emphasizes margins, but the tipping point is near: differentiation is human”
  • Bruno Coelho: “As technology use and reach increases, the value of analog human interactions also increases”

There seemed to be more optimistic views of how kindness, indeed more genuine and positive human engagement is on the rise. While there may be some preliminary research questioning whether narcissism is on the ascendant and empathy on the decendant , it is unclear how this is being manifested. Actually, is it even being manifested at all?

What really defines human engagement?

How could an organization interact with individual people?

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