In the dog-eat-dog, sink-or-swim world of business, the traditional paradigm for bosses is to be tough as nails to get the respect and hard work of your employees. But contrary to the mean boss portrait often conveyed by Hollywood, supervisors and workers who are nice usually not only earn more friends but also more money. Why? Because kindness is integral to employee engagement—and cultures of engagement are integral to high-performance organizations.
In her new book The Big Squeeze: Hugs & Inspirations for Every Grown-Up Who Loves Teddy Bears, Dr. Susan Mangiero suggests too many workplaces are missing the kindness factor, and paying a price for the incivility, rudeness and secretive approach of some bosses. Employees or co-workers can be stressed to the max, overly competitive, and habitually secretive under unkind management. But in open, communicative, helpful, and friendly workplaces, everyone does better — and jobs are much more enjoyable.
"I've always found when one treats others with respect and kindness, you get a lot more self satisfaction and other people usually respond much better," says Mangiero, who has worked as a teacher and consultant to financial businesses for more than three decades. "So being kind and using the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) is not only the right thing to do, it's also the smart and effective way to get results."
Mangiero says you can compete in business for sales or promotions without degrading or hurting others.
"No matter how many numbers you crunch, a business is still about people, both as employees and customers, and interaction with them is essential," she says. "When someone is not behaving in a respectful fashion, people respond by either spurning that person and doing business with someone else or perhaps withholding information that is helpful to that person."
Mangiero coaches financial organizations on using trust, kindness, and empathy to develop their relationship-building skills and grow their brand. She has worked in both private businesses and academia and insists that kindness doesn't mean ignoring shortcomings or not setting and expecting students or workers to perform. What is key is to be open, honest and respectful of others and to help explain why each person's contribution at work, no matter how seemingly small or routine, is vital to the overall success of any organization or mission.
"People are clamoring for connection and interaction and by working with others and helping them to do better, you can expand the pie for everyone, and not just fight over how the pie is split up," Mangiero says.
When kindness is not present, everyone in the company detaches, stops communicating, and loses trust. Teamwork suffers. Morale drops. Productivity falls. Absenteeism and turnover rates rise. And yes, customer satisfaction plummets—and eventually, customers leave.
Mangiero says the most hard-driven workers need to remember to infuse kindness into their daily interactions, not only with clients but with each other as well.
How do you make kindness a habit in today's often stress-filled workplace? Mangiero has some suggestions.
* Practice being kind to yourself. If you don't know how to nurture yourself, it's hard to nurture others. Mangiero suggests you do something kind for yourself (enjoy a cup of tea, take a short break, etc.) every day. And periodically get a massage, treat yourself to some nice clothes, or enjoy a hot bath and a good book. "Finally, stop being so hard on yourself—forgiving yourself is an important component of kindness," she says.
* Make time to play or commit time to a new hobby to balance out the hard work you might be doing. You may be working aggressively for a promotion, or simply grinding away at an endless list of work projects,. "When your life is all about work, it's impossible to stay balanced," she says. "Trust me, you can't do your best when you don't find ways to bring joy into your life. Playfulness is vital for the creative energy you need to excel professionally and personally."
* Volunteer for a good cause. Finding a way to help others gets you in touch with your humanity and keeps you humble and kind. Whether you're tutoring underprivileged kids, working with the elderly, walking shelter dogs, or collecting food for the homeless, you'll be working on your connection and kindness skills. As a bonus, volunteering looks great on a résumé.
* Stay in touch with your friends and family. Don't get so wrapped up in the rat race that you forget about your tribe, warns Mangiero. Visit your favorite people regularly. Meet for coffee or dinner to catch up. If your job has taken you far away, schedule regular video chats to keep in touch. "You have to nurture these established relationships to get the most from them, the same way you would nurture new relationships," says Mangiero.
* Celebrate the "wow!" in the lives of friends and coworkers. Nurturing others means showing that you care when good things happen in their lives and resisting the urge to be jealous. "Congratulate your colleague on her promotion even if you're working thanklessly at your job," says Mangiero. "One day you'll appreciate it when someone makes a big deal out of your accomplishments."
* Practice your manners. Small niceties like hello, please, and thank you; holding doors for people; and asking how others are doing really do matter and shouldn't vanish when tensions are high. In the hard-charging corporate world, however, manners can take a back seat when deals and deadlines are involved. Keep your work in perspective and remember that rude behavior makes a stronger impression than kindness, but not in a good way.
* Go out of your way to make shy, left-out, or misunderstood people feel comfortable. In life and at work, there's going to be an in-crowd and those who don't quite belong — just like in school. "Be sure to reach out and be friendly to those who need a little help socially," Mangiero says. "You will be doing what's right, setting a good example, and maybe even making a new friend."
* Send thank-you notes (the pen-and-paper kind). It is good etiquette to send a thank-you note when anyone—a client, supervisor, or coworker—goes above and beyond for you. "In the professional world, a non-virtual thank-you note sets you apart from others," says Mangiero. "It's a nearly effortless and thoughtful gesture that goes a long way."
* Listen more than you talk. Be open to the wisdom of others. Mangiero points out that learning is a lifetime process and that listening to those in the know can freshen our perspectives and expand our horizons. "When I commit to really hearing what others say, I learn a lot and feel so much more connected to them," she says.