What If Companies Practiced Kindfulness?

Business professionals could use tips and best practices for kindfulness—cultivating kindness and practicing compassion in the workplace, writes Bruce Kasanoff.

“What if schools taught kindness?” asked a recent article from The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “Every school teaches math and reading, but what about mindfulness and kindness?”

The article went on to describe a 12-week curriculum tested at six schools in the Midwest: “Twice a week for 20 minutes, pre-kindergarten kids were introduced to stories and practices for paying attention, regulating their emotions and cultivating kindness.”

My immediate thought was that business professionals could also use a program that shared tips and best practices for cultivating kindness.

Last month, a new book called Kindfulness came out by Ajahn Brahm, a British Theravada Buddhist monk. Brahm writes that while mindfulness merely observes, kindfulness actively practices compassion. In other words, it’s one thing to be aware; it’s another to be aware with the intention of being kind, compassionate or constructive.

An earlier quote from Brahm captures why I think this matters in business. He said, “When you are kind to what you are watching, it relaxes and so do you.”

Let me rephrase this in management terms:

When you are kind to the employees you are managing, they relax and so do you.

For a simple, non-workplace example of this, imagine that you are out walking and you come across a nervous stray dog. He cowers and looks ready to run. If you understand dogs, you instinctively soften your body, lower your tone, and try to project compassion and kindness. The dog’s tail starts to cautiously wag, and you are on your way to making a new friend.

This is the exact opposite of how many companies operate.

Imagine a typical supervisor/subordinate relationship. Many employees live in fear that their boss will:

  1. Yell at them.
  2. Criticize their work.
  3. Give them a bad performance review.
  4. Dock their pay.
  5. Pass them over for promotion.
  6. Fire them.
  7. All of the above.

While visiting a private school years ago with my son, I saw the words “honesty without compassion is cruelty” handwritten on a note above the admission officer’s desk.

Too many companies have come to believe blindly in using metrics to unearth the “truth.” An extreme case of this is Ray Dalio, founder of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. Dalio believes in radical truth and radical transparency. BloombergBusiness reported that “Bridgewater employees—Dalio included—are required to publicly talk about their and their colleagues’ mistakes and weaknesses as a means to improvement. Conversations are either audio or videotaped so that employees can make their own assessments.”

In other words, you have to criticize others in public.

I won’t debate the theoretical merits of this, but I live in the town where Bridgewater is headquartered. More than once, I’ve run into people who nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to survive at Bridgewater.

In contrast, what if companies taught supervisors to practice kindfulness? By this I mean:

Proactively bring kindness to your awareness of employee interactions.

 

  • Karen Dickinson

    I believe I do this in my business. I run music classes for mums / careers and their children aged 0-5 years. You obviously have to be kind to the children – a frightened child obviously won’t learn anything, and by learning I mean social interaction, participation in the singing and movement games. I also have to be kind to the parents – they are all new to the “job” of parenting, so they need reassurance that they’re doing it “right”, doing the best for their child, and making new friends with the same job. Lastly I have to be kind to the other teachers who are working with me so that my ethos carries through to their work too. We all look after each other when we’re going through rough patches.

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