In this blog, I want to share Kindness Beyond Fluffy Concepts: Embracing Thoughtful Challenge as a Path to True Empathy.
I want to do something different by writing this blog and touching on the importance of kindness as I see it.
We don’t need to create a ripple of kindness but a wave, a tsunami of kindness. We have all heard the phrase, In a world where you can be anything, be kind.’ However, that only sometimes plays out. We know the importance of kindness individually; the science backs that up in how it makes us feel and positively impacts others. Yet, when dealing with homeless people, charities involved very often say it’s not about money or gifts but rather more often spending time with someone. In other words, it’s not just about money or gifts or anything like that. Christmas, similarly, has less to do with presents, as in material gifts and far more to do with PRESENCE, as in company. That makes sense.
It’s about being present with people in a fast-paced, challenging world.
There are lots of examples of kindness all around us. I once heard the old CEO of Unilever say there are two things we need: more leaders and trees.
I am a prominent exponent of kindness, but many people discuss it, blurring its meaning. People also say it’s always about doing something nice to people.
I want to address the phrase ‘being cruel to be kind’. I’m afraid I must disagree with that phrase, but I firmly believe you must challenge yourself to be kind. Again, we often narrow kindness down to a fluffy concept. We do something nice for someone, or they do something nice for us, which is kindness. I am not saying acts of kindness are unimportant, but we have to challenge people. Sometimes, the kindest thing we can do in education is to challenge a young person on what they are doing, and the most thoughtful thing in leadership is to challenge people to get the right outcome. That is the very kindest. It’s not challenging; being all fluffy is not kind. From a leadership perspective, the challenge is always to strive to be as kind as possible, even if it means challenging. If we agree that thoughtful challenge is a priority and that we must challenge to be kind, we need to know how to do this effectively.
I have three boys, all teenagers aged twenty, one sixteen, and one twelve. The kindest thing I can do in their lives is to challenge them. How can this be achieved? Most agree we spend a lot of time with different people.
I spend much of my time on calls with people that include tricky conversations. Interactions can be complex. It can be hard to come across as a critical friend. I wouldn’t say I like that phrase incidentally because as soon as we hear the term essential, we associate it with being picked out and pulled to shreds. It is a real challenge. There are three things I will mention that I often speak about that might be helpful for those reading this blog every week.
The first involves timing. We can sit on issues and let them almost build up and get worse. You have to be wise regarding the time to challenge. Don’t delay. If you know you must tackle something, do so out of kindness without further delay. Please don’t leave it a week out of fear.
The second element around framing is avoiding what many people do. Many of us will give a positive, go to the issue, and provide another positive.
I am deciding whether to include this in the blog. But this is a dog sh*t sandwich and something to be avoided at all costs. When needing to hold a difficult conversation with someone, it is best to get them in the office or speak to them by going to find them in their environment. Tackle the issue from the get-go. People are waiting to know what you have to say.
If you say lovely feedback – like this was great; I like this, they know a bolt is coming, which will erase everything that came before. And then all they will do, which is our negativity bias, is focus on the negative thing you first wanted to talk to them about. Speak openly from the get-go; don’t let a matter stew for a week or two or a few days get delayed. When you hold the conversation, address the issue as early as possible because people listening will be waiting with anticipation of all the uncertainty, anxiety, worry, and fear that come with waiting.
So first, do not delay; Make sure you have the proper perspective during the conversation. We each have a particular perspective. We may know all sides and hold all perspectives in sight, and at times, that may be right, but often not.
Let’s consider the great Stephen Covey. Many educators like myself are avid fans of his work and acknowledge the importance of ‘seeking first to understand before seeking to be understood’, the significance of getting where someone is coming from, why particular outcomes play out, and getting someone to share their view. And the third element is being positive in terms of the next steps. We must establish how to move forward after a challenging conversation. We show, ‘I have your back; I am a ten out of ten in your head. This is all good stuff. Where do we go next, however, from now?’ Those three things are great tips for helping people to challenge themselves in kindness; that is a significant part of what kindness is all about.
Conclusion: Kindness Beyond Fluffy Concepts: Embracing Thoughtful Challenge as a Path to True Empathy
Kindness is not a fleeting act; it’s a way of being. It’s about challenging ourselves and others to grow to be better versions of ourselves. It’s about having difficult conversations and giving tough love. It’s about making a difference in the world, one act of kindness at a time.
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