The power of kindness against stress is more than "feel good"Nov 15, 2021
The role of KINDNESS in times of stress goes beyond wellbeing.
Saturday was World Kindness Day.. not a workday for many … but kindness plays a much more important role in the workplace than I think many of us appreciate.
When you know the changes in our brain that come from being kind it’s easier to understand why it is one of the most powerful de-stressors … but also predictors of employee wellbeing (physical and mental), productivity, and job satisfaction. Especially in a workplace where pressure levels run high and stress is part of daily life.
Effect of Kindness on The Brain
Kindness – giving and receiving – triggers the brain to release oxytocin, a neurochemical that promotes bonding with others, helps positive communication… that builds TRUST. It’s also a natural antidote to stress – lowering levels of stress hormone cortisol and countering some of the negative effects especially on blood pressure and the heart.
It also triggers the release of dopamine – a feel-good neurochemical but also one that motivates action.
When kindness is done out of generosity rather than with a quid-pro-quo or reward in mind, it also activates additional brain regions associated with decision making, empathy, and again, building trust.
In a high-pressure environment, with deadlines looming or if something goes wrong, our brains are probably in the stressed-out, emotional & reactive thinking mode. The “best” part which does rational, creative, logical, executive thinking is offline.
Showing or receiving kindness at work can
- keep everyone calmer, happier
- bring the executive thinking back online
- promote understanding
- motivate solution focus, creativity and problem solving
- support courage and teamwork
- facilitate positive communication
- bring a greater, broader sense of reward
For me, this isn't just a nice theory. The article below is an example from early on in my career where kindness from colleagues delivered all of the above.
How kindness at work brought me back from a big mistake
I was once told by a fellow manager “being kind isn’t part of your job”. If that is the accepted attitude in a competitive workplace no wonder we think society has become less kind and more selfish and materialistic.
But I think this manager is wrong. Kindness, or lack of it, plays a very big role in stress levels, long-term performance and how people react in moments of intense pressure, and overall workplace culture.
In my early days in Investment Banking, I learnt a valuable lesson about the value of kindness. Just a few months into my first job a senior salesman entrusted me with speaking to one of his big clients. It was a huge opportunity to show what I had learnt, how capable was. I took an order – it was very exciting.
More than halfway through the day it hit me. A sudden breath draining, gut-wrenching realisation that I had made a fundamental error. I had written it on the wrong coloured order slip (I’m showing my age here – red for sell, green for buy).
The dealing room seemed very quiet as I made my walk of shame over to the salesman and traders to confess. It felt like everyone was watching me and listening as I garbled my explanation.
I don’t know what I expected them to say. I didn’t expect them to be kind, but that’s what they were. Kind, patient, proactive.
Rather than shouting and reinforcing what an idiot I already knew I was, they focused on keeping me calm so they could fully understand the error. They identified the outcome they wanted and who needed to do what in order to achieve it. Their response gave me the courage to stick with the problem, to keep talking to the client rather than pass the conversation off to someone else.
Kindness is a powerful response to cut through defensive, stressed thinking. It’s how you get the best out of everyone – those who created a tough situation and those who find themselves dealing with it. It promotes creativity and problem solving rather than blame and narrow thinking.
Working in a culture of kindness makes it easier for us to feel safe making mistakes, have difficult conversations and show courage. It means you don’t start every day on stressed alert for slights and digs from others. Kindness has a ripple effect. It’s what builds trust and a feeling of belonging to a unit rather than a collection of individuals.
I admit kindness isn’t always my default response under pressure. But I would like to think that it’s how I behave the majority of the time.
The kindness and understanding shown by my colleagues have stayed with me throughout my 25 years in the City. It’s my anchor that pulls me back to a kinder, more accepting and open reaction under pressure or when I want someone to be the best they can be.
Kindness mindset, like most mindsets, is one we can train by deliberately building actions into our daily life.
But how do we start kindness in a meaningful way ... there are only so many doors we can open, teas or coffees we can make, or smiles to give without seeming creepy! (although all of these are valuable acts of kindness).
Take a look at the list here and choose a different way each day this week to show kindness at work or in your day-to-day.
Let me know how it makes you feel, or the impact it has on those around you (kindness is contagious!), I love hearing feedback!
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